I arrived into Fortaleza on the night bus from rainy Recife early the morning of June 28th. I checked into my dorm room in an Airbnb house a few blocks from the center of Fortaleza’s action; luckily, I had the room to myself, so it made the idea of paying $50 a night easier to digest. I met two English guys from the house and joined them in heading down to the FIFA Fan Fest located right on the beach to watch the Brazil-Chile match on the big screen. The sun was directly overhead and it was scorching hot, made worse by the hordes of sweaty fans who had squeezed themselves into the small area.
After the match and when I could take no more balancing on my crutches in the lopsided sand, I wandered along the beach road. I didn’t make it far before I was stopped by a group of orange-clad Dutch guys who asked me to join them for a beer. Within an hour I had promised them that I would cheer for the Netherlands at the next day’s match, was invited to an Oranjegekte party the next morning, and was given a sweaty orange jersey to seal the deal. I also met two very funny brothers from Georgia that evening, who I ended up joining for dinner and copious amounts of wine before finally heading back to my dorm (and washing that jersey).
I was up early the next morning, dressed in my orange shirt, to meet my new friends at their pre-game party. Hundreds of crazy nearly-drunk Dutch fans were singing and dancing to national songs. It was entertaining, but I was sober, hot, and on a mission to sell my extra ticket. I had originally bought tickets to the match with my friend Carlos, but he bailed at the last minute. I was willing to give it away for free, but at that stage everyone had their own tickets. With no luck, I joined the raucous Dutch fans as they made their way to waiting buses (I was hoisted up and carried on one’s shoulders), and together we made the easy, traffic-free trip to the stadium (finally, a World Cup host city in Brazil that had its sh*t together!).
Once the buses dropped us off, we had to walk over a mile to finally reach the stadium. All along this walk, vendors were selling food and cans of beer, and people were holding up signs asking for tickets. I walked up to a Brazilian girl holding a sign who looked like she was about 20, and I told her I wanted to give her my extra ticket. Her name was Marian and she was elated. I was happy to give my ticket to someone who couldn’t afford to go otherwise, not to mention having someone to sit next to at the match!
Once we were seated, I changed out of my orange jersey and into a green shirt–the Netherlands was playing Mexico, and I was not going to betray my neighbors and fellow North Americans! It was a great match, but Holland won it 2-1 with a last minute penalty. That evening I celebrated (because really, I didn’t care who won) with some of the Dutch guys and the Georgia brothers in a nightlife area called Dragao do Mar.
Following a day of relaxation at my little hostel, I moved into a swanky new pad right next to the beach on July 1st. I had kept in touch with some of the American guys I had met on the Manaus jungle tour, and they informed me that they had a spare room in their rented apartment for a pretty decent price. I went with them to the Fan Fest to watch the agonizing USA match against Belgium before heading back to the flat to welcome my good friend Carlos into town (he’s the guy whose apartment I crashed in Buenos Aires back in March). Yes, he had bailed on me for the Netherlands-Mexico match, but he still made it for the rest of our planned itinerary.
After getting off to a rough start (I accidentally shaved streaks into his head while trying to give him a haircut), we spent the next two days having a good time taking advantage of our fancy-pants apartment and its sparkling sea-view pool.
On July 4th, after watching Germany play on TV (Carlos is half German), we headed on a bus to Estadio Castelao once again, this time to catch the quarter-final match-up between Brazil and Colombia. To say that the energy in the stadium was electric would be an understatement; the roar of the 60,000 Brazilian fans got so loud at one point that I truly thought my eardrums would burst. Of course, to be different Carlos was wearing a Peru jersey (his other half is Peruvian) and I was wearing my Colombia jersey. We got heckled the entire match, and it was a heartbreak to everyone when Brazil’s star player, Neymar, broke his back. I feel ya, buddy.
The next morning Carlos and I were up early to catch a van + jeep combination through sand dunes to get to Jericoacoara.
It’s this enchanting little beach town with no paved roads–just sand. Clearly this is a nightmare for someone on crutches, but the charm of the place soon had me forgetting my sore triceps. We spent the day practicing our handstands on the beach, arguing about relationships, and belly laughing. It felt amazing to spend time with someone who I had known for years. I love that guy.
The next day we took a jeep to nearby Lagoa Paraiso, which I am now putting on my “Places you MUST visit before you die!” list. This massive, crystal clear freshwater lake is located right in the middle of a desert, and as its name implies, it is surely paradise. We plopped ourselves in hammocks that sunk into the warm water while sipping from coconuts. Life doesn’t get any better than this.
Carlos left the next day, and once again on my own, I moved into a dorm room in a hostel. I met a ginormous ex-US military guy named Scott in my room, and I hung out with him for the next few days (and of course went back to Lagoa Paraiso). Sadly, on July 10th I had to say goodbye to Jeri, and I caught the bus back to Fortaleza and directly to the airport.
Next stop: Rio.