Thursday, June 19, 2014

Day 18 - So this is Christmas (Natal)

Being a bit crazy with a tendency to slip into bad moods, I keep a football score for each day. Things that happen that are great or put me in a good mood count as a goal for, things that piss me off or make me grumpy, I count as a goal against. Wednesday, 18th June was one of the best days in Brazil 2014 so far, with a score of 13-2. The best so far, is still day 2, the first full day in Rio with Simon (13-0), although plenty have come close. 
A new set of guests at Maracajau, mainly a big extended family of Brazilians, met me at breakfast. They were all very friendly but, of course, they had their own pre-occupations so I was rather left out. It’s times like that when your isolation is most apparent and you start to feel a bit lonely.

Next, I got all packed ready to go, as I thought I’d agreed with Daniel, at 10 am only to discover from Joao that this wasn’t the understanding. He wouldn’t be back from Natal until 10:30. So, I went for a quick walk on the beach to retrace some of the steps I’d taken yesterday and then sat by the pool chatting to one of the staff who was having a morning off with his son.

Horses are a well used mode of transport in Maracajau

Morning stroll by the beach

Boats waiting for tourists

One of the features of these kinds of resort is a massage service, right by the pool. Now in my almost 55 years I have never had a massage (nearly had one in Bali a few years ago but bottled out) so I decided that it would be a good way of forgetting about Daniel for half an hour. Well, the Argentinian lady offering the service, made a very appealing case, so Porque Nao? Or as the aussies would say "Woy the blady ell wuncha?"

My first ever massage - sometimes you have to try new things


I must say, it was very pleasant indeed, although I had an anxious moment at the start when the lady who I’d spoken to, after a moment, told me she would have to go and her colleague would take over. As I was face down, looking through a circular cushion thing at the ground I had no idea what was going on but I could sense my things being moved just to my left. So, the Brazil fear bubble reappeared. Was this a scam? While I was being massaged, were they going to go through my stuff in my room? Don’t be silly! I tried to put these thoughts out of my mind, and think about the breathing exercise I’d been encouraged to do as the masseuse started on my feet.

Anyway, I’m not sure I’ll be having many more massages but it was a pleasant enough way to spend R$70 and half an hour. The girl who’d taken over was very nice and we chatted for a bit, about Argentina (unlike her friend, not from Buenos Aires). Daniel arrived and the check out all went smoothly, except for one bit of scamming. Apparently I’d left the snorkel booking place yesterday without paying for my drink! Oops. So the first incident of possible ripping off so far and it was me who had done a runner (not intentionally, of course).

It’s quite a feeling of privilege to have the owner of a resort personally drive you to your next destination. He drove me a scenic route, over the very impressive new bridge in Natal. He then picked up his wife, before dropping me off here, at my cheap ($63AUD/night) Air B&B accommodation. I could tell Daniel wasn’t impressed. “What? This is where you are staying? It is nothing”. True, but places like this keep the cost down. They made sure I got into my room safely before they left. Daniel asked me if I wanted to join them on the beach but, as Australia were taking to the field in 15 minutes, I thought it best if I just nip to a bar to watch the game. I’d seen enough of Natal’s traffic already to realise such a venture might mean missing the start.

Approaching Natal's spectacular bridge

Spectacular View

My Christmas Treat - Cheap ($63 AUD/Night) but it'll do 

Daniel does this trip practically every day

So, bags dropped off, room key securely tied around my neck, off I went. I must say the street I’m on does look decidedly dodgy but I’m only a couple of blocks away from the small but quite swish “Praia shopping” mall, opposite which, I quickly found a bar/café with a decent sized screen. I sat down near the front as the players were shaking each others hands. Holland v Australia was about to start. I ordered a beer and within a few moments I’d struck up a conversation with Brazilian-looking guy to my left who spoke perfect English. World Cups are brilliant for incidents like this. Turns out, he’s Polish and not only that but played at a high level himself, at one point in the same side as Boniek, the famous Pole who played for Juventus. This guy is a real gem. He spends his leisure time going round the world watching big football tournaments and he told me many tales of the tactics he’s used to get out of sticky situations. Anyway, when Robben put Holland 1-0 it was all looking pretty ominous, but not for long. 90 seconds or so later, Tim Cahill scored one of the goals of the tournament – a cracking volley smashing the underside of the bar and in, to equalise. I went bananas! At half time I filled a plate with healthy food and sat down to watch the second half. Amazingly, Australia went 2-1 up when they were awarded a penalty for a clear (but not intentional) handball. Wow! This World Cup just keeps getting betAustralia went 2-1 up when they were awarded a penalty for a clear (but not intentional) handball. Wow! This World Cup just keeps getting better. Holland came back eventually to win 3-2 but it was a heroic performanc by the socceroosAustralia went 2-1 up when they were awarded a penalty for a clear (but not intentional) handball. Wow! This World Cup just keeps getting better. Holland came back eventually to win 3-2 but it was a heroic performance by the socceroos.

Cahill - Goooooooooaaaaaaaaaaaallllllll a Australia!

2-1 to the aussies

Slavek is a cool Polish guy
After the match, I said goodbye to Slavek and went across the road to see if I could find a new cable for my camera (no luck there) or an England shirt (no luck there either). Right, so off to the fanfest for the Spain v Chile game.

Daniel had pointed out that it was beautifully placed, under the iconic bridge in Natal, net to the ancient fort, where the river meets the sea, so I was keen to go. The taxi driver took me the coastal route which was very spectacular. About half way there, I remembered that I really should pick up my bus ticket to Recife for Friday. The web site really doesn’t work so it’s a question of going to the bus station and buying a ticket. I don’t know where I got the impression from (maybe a glance at Google maps in the past, or maybe from talking to Daniel) but I had imagined the bus station was quite central, near the stadium, which was between my apartment and the fanfest. Wrong. It turned out to be quite a bit out of the way and, with terrible traffic, I could see the time ticking by, and the price of the fare clocking up. By the time we got to the bus station, Chile had already scored against Spain and he meter read R$60. Eek! I had only brought cash and After paying R$72 for the fare to Recife, I had to then tell the taxi driver to take me back to my hotel room. The fare I paid him was R$95 which felt like a rip off, but considering the whole trip took over an hour, I don’t actually think it was. I would have caught the bus but that would have only delayed things further. Natal really could do with a metro system.
Buying bus tickets in Brazil can be frustrating

Legal lugar in Ponte Negro where I watched Croatia beat Cameroon

Anyway, re-cashed, I went back to another bar to watch the second half of Chile beating Spain to send them home, like Australia.

I then decided to get a cab to Ponta Negra, the hip beach side strip of bars nearby, which is the ‘cool’ place to go in Natal, apparently. Sure enough, again, all the fears I’d had evapourated when I got there. Thousands of people milling through shops and bars and restuarants by an impressive beach. I quickly found a place which was about to show Croatia v Cameroon and settled down with another beer. A Brazilian guy, who was already chatting with two Americans, invited me to join them and we chatted about football, how to cope with media distortions of Brazil, politics in Brazil and the wading hypothesis of human bipedal origins. There were also a group of Aussies from Sydney near by and I went to join them for a while too.

After that I strolled along the beach for a while before heading back to Praia Shopping where I went to the Claro shop to get a new chip for my phone which now appears to have data/internet access, albeit very slow. That was probably a waste of R$60. Anyway, after seeing a band play Brazilian style music for a while I headed back to bed. It was dark and a bit scary but my fear in these situations has now largely gone.

Holland 3 Australia 2
This was always going to be a tough group but you have to credit the Australians for their spirit and skill in this tournament. Nobody gave them a cat in hell’s chance against Holland today but what a great performance. Cahill’s equaliser will go down as one of the great World Cup goals of all time and no-one will forget where they were when Australia went 2-1 up. But with Holland winning, Australia’s hopes of progressing to the round of 16 almost closed. They needed Spain to beat Chile and then to beat Spain whilst hoping for a Dutch win against Chile.

Chile 2 Spain 0
Those thoughts were dashed by what seems to have been a clinical first half performance by Chile. Missed by me, of course, as I was stuck in a taxi in Natal’s endless traffic. So Spain and Australia became the first two teams to be eliminated after that result. Amazing that the last World champions are out so quickly and easily. All that remains in Group B is pride for them and to see who wins the group to avoid Brazil.
Croatia 4 Cameroon 0
As expected, Croatia bounced back from their defeat against Brazil to hammer Cameroon and send them packing. This now sets up an intriguing match in Recife next week between Mexico and Croatia for second place (assuming Brazil dispatch Cameroon) – A match I have a ticket for, but cannot attend.
Big games tomorrow
Tomorrow it’s another big match day: England v Uruguay and it’s make or break time. If England lose, they’re out. If they win, it’ll set up an exciting last match v Costa Rica.  Ivory Coast play Columbia first before the England game. And then, in the evening it my next live match, Japan v Greece.
Rainy Natal


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