After just four days in the Amazon jungle, I came back to a very different Manaus the afternoon of June 20th. What was the previous week a completely unprepared, sleepy town utterly confused about hosting the World Cup was now a bustling hot-spot of ambitious locals ready to capitalize from the continued influx of cash-wielding foreigners. The streets around our hotel were packed with Caipirinha and Brahma beer vendors, there were now two enormous screens in the central plaza for broadcasting the matches, and hawkers laden with Ronaldo jerseys and green and yellow noisemakers were staking out every corner.
That night after dinner, I discovered that our “local” Bar do Armando had gone from casual and calm-ish mingling spot to an unbridled orgy of drunken Americans, Brazilian moms pimping out brace-faced daughters, brothers pimping out sisters, everyone pimping out everyone that overflowed into the surrounding streets and filled the nearby plaza. Clearly word had finally gotten out that not only was the World Cup in town, but it had brought with it thousands of single (or not so single) foreign men with wads of cash and a lust for Brazilian women (or girls, in this case). The streets had to be closed off and the Riot Police were on-hand. It was disturbing and amusing at the same time, and after having a beer in the plaza with a few friends–as far away from the epicenter of debauchery as possible–I went back to the hotel early.
The next day I had some “Me Time” hanging out in the now eerily-calm plaza, watching some of the matches on the big screen. As the sunny afternoon progressed, I was joined by several of the people I had met on the last day of my jungle trip (part of that group of “loud, obnoxious Americans” who were much nicer and definitely more of a pleasure to be around than my group), which consisted of a couple from Albuquerque (Marisa and Cary) and two guys from Chicago (Bob and Jack). We ended up having dinner together that evening as a group (along with Graham and an Irish couple that he brought along for moral support) before braving what turned out to be an extremely fun night in Pimp Your Pre-Teen Plaza. Ask Bob and Graham for more details.
The next day, June 22nd, was game day, so early that afternoon our little group met up in “El Dorado,” a strip of bars and restaurants near the stadium and the official pre- and post-match party venue. We warmed up with lunch, beers, and drinking games (which included high-fiving elderly waiters, push-ups, outbursts of song, and sitting at random people’s tables uninvited); by the time we were ready to head to the stadium, our little group was three sheets to the wind. We proudly marched through the humid Manaus streets alongside the “American Outlaws,” a mob of Stars and Stripes and the official fan club of the US Men’s National Soccer Team. They were loud and proud and belting out all the excruciatingly un-clever and uncreative (but incredibly catchy) US chants (“I! I Believe! I believe that! I believe that we! I believe that we will win! I believe that we will win!!! U-S-A! U-S-A! ‘MERICA! $%^& YEAH!!!).
I should take a moment to say that I’m probably not the most patriotic American in the world (as my dismayed dad so often points out); however, this absolutely doesn’t imply that I’m Anti-American–to be fair, I ball up fists of fury when I hear Americans abroad bashing the US and saying they wish they weren’t American, with their Stanford drawl and fluttering eyelids, carrying expensive backpacks (bought from their trust fund, natch) adorned with Canadian flag patches so that other people don’t realize that–horror of horrors!–they’re American. I, for one, am extremely thankful for being lucky enough to have been born into a country with the resources and opportunities that have allowed me to get to where I am today.
However, after living ten out of my 34 years outside of the US, I have completely lost track of things like Thanksgiving and college football and the World Series and elections and Taylor Swift and gas prices and patriotism. This is not because I’ve become too big for my britches or Anti-American, but honestly these things are just not a part of my everyday life anymore.
Anyway, I can safely say that the intense patriotic energy that arrived in Brazil alongside my fellow Americans, the strong sense of country pride to rival the country pride brought by the Dutch and the Germans and the English and the Colombians, the opportunity to cheer for my country, my home, in an international atmosphere…well, it’s like nothing I have ever experienced in my life, and I was so, very proud of being an American.
And now back to the match: USA vs Portugal. I must admit I was originally more excited about being able to ogle Cristiano Ronaldo for 90 minutes, but once I was inside the stadium, crackling with energy and roaring with the deafening chorus of U-S-A chants interspersed with Portuguese songs, I immediately forgot about the slimy striker and was ecstatic to be a part of this electric, patriotic, sporting experience in the Amazon jungle.
Graham and I were once again rewarded with an obese bench, which we gladly shared with room to spare. It was a stressful match, and I was already celebrating and probably dancing to some Shakira song and slinging popcorn when I missed the Portugal goal in the final seconds that tied it up with a final score of 2-2. Heartbreak.
After the match our pre-game group reconnected in El Dorado for celebratory beers and multiple rounds of the “The Wave Game.” Bob and I had invented this in the plaza the previous day, and it basically entails waving at some random stranger from a distance. You get a point if they wave back. It sounds extremely juvenile and there’s nothing cool about it, but I have never belly-laughed so hard in my entire life. Try it. The Wave Game = food for the soul.
The next two days were spent recuperating from the game day festivities, watching football on the big screen, and saying goodbye. After over a month of traveling together, Graham was happy to be breaking free from yours truly and continuing his travels into Venezuela. Also, the members of Team America were headed back to the USA…but not before one final night together, which consisted of a local play at the Opera House for which I really have no words, other than A. It was entirely in Portuguese, B. The women’s costumes were each plastered with a set of fake titties and a bum, and C. The climax of the play was the entrance from stage right of a large papier-mâché man with a ginormous red papier-mâché penis. I have nothing else to say about that.
Finally, after two weeks in Manaus, it was time for me to say goodbye to the Amazon jungle. My previous plan of leaving Brazil at this point was demolished as soon as I watched the USA play its first match against Ghana on the big screen, and further buried while attending the USA match against Portugal. I was hooked. Therefore, I booked a one-way flight to Recife, home of the next USA match against Germany. I had no room reservation, no friends, no game ticket, and no plan, but that in itself was plan enough for me! Next stop: Recife!