Saturday, June 21, 2014

Day 20 - Popping in and out of Recife

There is always a dilemma when touring around: To spend more time in one place or to see more places. That dilemma was perfectly illustrated for me on the day I spent in Recife (pronounced "He see Fee"). With the benefit of hindsight maybe I should have skipped it out altogether. I really didn’t see much of the place and I had a lot of traveling and hassles getting to bus stations and airports that, perhaps, could have been avoided. Then again, the journey itself was an experience and I saw things and met people I wouldn’t have met otherwise and now, at least, I have some memories of the city whereas if I’d skipped it I wouldn’t have any at all.

The day began very early. After staying up late the night before after the Forro night, to pack, I had to get up at 6 am in order to make sure I was ready for the taxi, which, on word of mouth (in Portuguese, so there was always a possibility of some misunderstanding) two days before, was arranged. I owe that taxi driver a debt of gratitude.

Not only did he drive me to the bus station, he waited in the queue with me to help me get the right ticket and after taking me back arranged the Friday morning pick up too. I paid for it, of course, but this wasn’t someone trying to rip me off, it was someone who genuinely wanted to help me enjoy my time here. The fare to the bus station the second time was R$50 which is par for the course, I think.

So, I was nice and early at the bus station which gave me chance to have several coffees and do my good deed for the day. Because I got a ticket for England v Costa Rica after already buying tickets for a couple of games in Recite and Salvador, it became obvious that I couldn’t realistically go to all three. So it was either going to be Mexico v Croatia in Recite and Iran v Bosnia-Herzegovina in Salvador, OR England v Costa Rica in Belo Horizonte. Either but not both. I opted for England, of course, which meant I had two tickets spare. Now I did know this quite a while ago and the FIFA web site does give you an option to put your ticket up for resale but I wanted to have the option to swap it for another when I got here. Anyway, the match I had in mind for that was yesterdays game in Recite, Italy v Costa Rica, and it became obvious that I wasn’t going to be able to go to that when the earliest bus I could catch was 9am. So, I decided just to give it away if I could find a proper fan who wanted to go. Sure enough, waiting at the bus station I sat next to a group of Mexicans going to Recife too and I asked them if they knew someone who wanted to go to the match but didn’t have a ticket. “I wang to give it away to a real fan. Not for resale”. “Sure. My friend would love to go”. So I gave it him. He wanted to give me something in return and fished around in his bag for a fine bottle of tequila which I guess would have made it a good deal for me too, but I declined. When am I going to drink a whole bottle of tequila and I didn’t want to lug more stuff around. I must say it did feel good doing this little act of altruism and it put me in a good mood for the rest of the day.

Bye Bye Natal

Altruism feels good
The bus was actually very comfortable. It had the softest declining seats with plenty leg room and a foot rest, so I was able to get some overdue shut eye. We stopped half way for some lunch and I had a nice chat with some of the thousands of USA fans that are here. So far so good. But then, as we approached Recife the traffic got worse and worse. I kept revising my plans. From “get to the hotel and watch the second half”, it became “find a café near the bus station and watch the second half” to “never mind, get to the hotel and watch France v Switzerland”. In the end, I did actually catch the final bit of injury time before Los Ticos exploded with joy at winning the game no one gave them a chance at.

The journey actually took about 7 hours

Los Ticos beat the Azzuri - I saw the celebrations after the final whistle live, at least

Then, it was onto the Metro, a pleasant surprise indeed. A change of line and about 20 minutes later I was at the station nearest to my hotel where I caught a cab. The driver was a Nautico fan, the team I had decided to follow ages ago – because they play in Red and White, have a marine theme and play at the new stadium. (Too much information, right?)
Anyway, checked in, showered down and changed, I had a couple of tinnies of Skol (yes, its big in Brazil) in my room watching France surge into a 3 goal lead. Then, at half time I decided to nip to a bar in Boa Viagem, the local neighbourhood, to watch the 2nd half before heading into the city to watch Ecuador v Honduras. I asked the guy on reception if it was easy to walk to the metro station and he suggested it would be better to go via the big shopping mall that was close by. I had noticed on the train a station called “Shopping” so I thought that would probably be the ideal place to go, I could watch the second half there and then hop on the metro afterwards.
It was only a couple of blocks away, about a 5 minute walk. Anyway, when I got the shopping centre, which is far better than Garbo by the way (so much for the notion Brazil is full of poor people - there's a lot of rich here too), I tried, for the fifth time to buy a replacement cable for my camera, the battery of which had been dead for a day now. No luck, not even in the shops that sold the Sony Cybercam cameras itself. So, it occurred to me, damn it, I'll just buy a new camera - a little more expensive here than in Oz, but that the hell - R$500 to be able to take photos, or $0 to have to rely on my mobile which drains its battery too quickly already. So now, I have two cameras - and I'll keep them both charged up all the time. I am within my budget so I don't feel too bad about that.

New camera - not quite as hi spec, a bit pricier, but it's saved my blogging bacon
Anyway, whilst all that was going on, France were putting Switzerland to the sword. I saw some of the goals in the electrical shop. 4-0, 5-0, then amazingly, 5-1, 5-2 and finally, with the last kick of the game 6-2! (Although I later found out that the last goal was ruled out as it was actually after the final whistle) So 5-2 to France, clearly a side to be feared.
Happy with my purchase, and another great game, I set off to do a bit of sight seeing in the old town of Recife. The oldest spot is called Marco Zero and so I decided to get the metro to town, and watch the Ecuador v Honduras game in some bar close by.
It was a nice plan, but, bizarrely the shopping centre isn't actually close enough to the metro station called "Shopping" to walk there. I was told to catch a bus. Ok. So, I go outside and queue with about a hundred other people before the bus comes. This is going to be easy, I thought, the metro station is only about 2 km away anyway - I would have walked if they hadn't told me to get a bus, so five minutes and I'll be there, right? Wrong. The traffic in Recife is an absolute nightmare. It took more than 45 minutes to get the metro station. The folk on the bus were so friendly and helpful though, one girl went out of her way to make sure I got on the train on the right platform. (Maybe she thought I was senile!) And then another girl on the train, an engineering student, asked me where I wanted to go (Marco Zero, remember) and proceeded to walk me there, through quite dark streets. Sweet. Anyway, upon arrival, what should I find but the FIFA fanfest planted, as usual, right next to the most picturesque place in the city. She said goodbye and I was thus released to watch the game, which I'd been holding back on before as I'm always afraid being too keen on football makes you look a bit of a moron!. I did miss Honduras' opening goal. There was an even friendlier vibe here than the other fanfests, which have all been very happy places and I seem to attract a lot of local attention (always from men!). One guy, from Sao Paolo, was so pissed it was comical. But he was determined to speak English and was an impressive guy (an civil engineer) so I kept him talking for about ten minutes, missing the Ecuador equaliser! In the second half I got talking to some English fans and three local guys who were all very keen to hear all my opinions about Brazil and it's politics. One guy in particular, Harry, seemed very keen to keep in touch.
At the end they were all very keen that I caught a taxi back to the hotel, whose name, unfortunately, I'd forgotten. Oops!. Not a problem, the shopping centre, right? So he dropped me off there where I asked a policeman for directions to the hotel which I'd now remembered. Easy.
On the way I stopped at a street seller for a kebab and a beer as I hadn't eaten since lunch. Then I made sure I had a taxi booked for 6am the next day before finally retiring to my bedroom to pack and get four hours sleep.
So, was it worth it? or should I have had an extra day in Natal or Salvador, rather than trying to squeeze some Recife time in? I think it was worth it in the end. I now have some very pleasant memories of Recife and I met some great people that I wouldn't have met otherwise.
Not everyone will agree but I think seeing more places is more rewarding than spending more time in one place.

Near Marco Zero, Recife

FIFA fanfest are always in the nicest spots

Friendly and passionate Brazilians

Stopped for a bite to eat at a street vendor

As for the football, well I didn't see much of it, again, to be honest.
Costa Rica 1 Italy 0
It was at Recife bus station that I got to a shop that had a tiny telly with the match on just in time to see the wild celebrations after the final whistle went, as well as replays of the goal. So I kept up my run of watching at least some of every game (this was the 24th out of 64) of the tournament so far. The significance of this match is that it was the final nail in England's World Cup 2014 coffin. Damn! I still think England were unlucky. If they played those games ten times, I bet England would not lose them both again and a couple of times they would have won both.
France 5 Switzerland 2
After the Dutch 5-1 slaughter of Spain, this has to be the most remarkable score of the tournament so far and it reversed the trend towards the 2.5 goals/game norm. Wow. France look very good and have to be considered one of the favourites now, even though Switzerland are hardly the strongest team in the tournament. It's not fair! Why can't England ever win like that!?
Ecuador 2 Honduras 1
In the other Group E 'local Derby' match, Ecuador did as expected and won, although Honduras made it hard for them. So, in the final matches Ecuador have to get the same result or better against France as Switzerland do against Honduras. Surely, that is too much to ask and both European sides will buck the South American dominance of the tournament so far and go through. So it looks like I'll be watching France in Brasilia in a few days.
Today, Argentina should beat Iran (surely), Germany will inevitably beat Ghana (yawn) and Nigeria and Bosnia will fight out, I expect, a draw.

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