When I started out my planned year of travel through Central and South America, I had a pretty heavy agenda of all the things I wanted to see and do; however, I quickly realized while on the road that due to time and budget constraints, I would have to remove a few items from my itinerary.
Therefore, I decided that roaming the streets of Cuba, cruising around Antarctica, and animal watching in the Galapagos would all have to wait for the next trip. I also reluctantly realized that as much as I wanted to go to the World Cup, it would be nearly impossible to score tickets, find cheap accommodation, and afford what would likely be exorbitantly hitched-up tourist-skinning prices in Brazil.
Fortunately for me, wheelchair tickets exist, and these tickets rarely sell out. Okay, so maybe I’m not in a wheelchair, and I’ve been told I’m going to hell for purchasing wheelchair tickets. I justify it like this: Technically, I should be in a wheelchair. I have met people who are stronger than me, have had better recovery than me, who can walk on crutches, but who stick with a wheelchair for the most part because it’s tiring to stand and walk all the time with a spinal cord injury. And it is! It is so, very tiring, and I must burn 1000 calories just walking one city block. Furthermore, there is nothing more demanding on my body than standing still in one place, which is why I want to either cry in self-pity or scream when I get on a train/bus/tram and nobody offers me a seat. No, I’m not in a wheelchair, because I got lucky, because I push myself ridiculously hard, and because I choose to not be in a wheelchair; but why should I be denied some of the good handicap perks because of it?
Once I discovered the exotic world of wheelchair seating, I swiftly swooped in and bought tickets for the two matches in Manaus: England vs Italy and USA vs Portugal. The plan was to leave Brazil immediately after the second match.
However, World Cup Fever took hold of me on the boat down the Amazon with all the football hooligans, and as soon as I arrived in Manaus, I easily purchased tickets for two upcoming matches in Fortaleza. I was in Brazil for the World Cup, so I might as well enjoy it to the fullest. Additionally, as soon as I watched the USA play its first match against Ghana on the big screen, my new-found patriotism was in overdrive, and I decided I was going to become a groupie and follow my team to its third and final group-stage match against Germany in Recife. Unfortunately, even the wheelchair tickets for this match were sold out.
Not one for letting minor details derail a spontaneous plan, I found myself flying into rainy Recife early in the morning on June 25th. As I had no room booked, I asked the taxi driver to just take me somewhere cheap. We first arrived at a hostel, and they laughed at me for even thinking there would be a bed available. He then drove me to an apartment block near the beach, to the home of a bat$#*! crazy Brazilian woman in lingerie with tatooed lipliner, a pet parrot, and a spare room (her room) going for $65 a night. I spent most of that rainy day catching up on sleep and refreshing the FIFA tickets website until–Voila!–some wheelchair tickets opened up for the next day’s match! I love when spontaneity delivers!
That night I met up with an American guy named Dave, whom I had briefly met in Manaus a few days earlier while scouting for tickets. He was in Recife with a few of his friends for the match, and they were kind enough to let me tag along for dinner and drinks. We even tried unsuccessfully to get into a private “American Outlaws” party, where Will Ferrell was the guest of honor. It was pouring rain, so the night ended relatively early.
The next morning, I woke up to a torrential “Noah, build an ark!” downpour. I was picked up by Dave and his friends, and the six of us squeezed our drenched and slippery bodies into the macro rental car for the drive to the stadium. It was soon very clear that Recife was not prepared for tropical storm conditions, as the roads were completely flooded. Cars were submerged to their roofs and only semi-trucks were going anywhere. Fortunately, we left quite early and had a GPS, so we were able to slowly navigate through the side streets to avoid the impassable, washed-out highway.
We eventually made it out into the middle of thick jungle to the Recife Arena, stopping first at the only other building for miles: a makeshift bar heaving with water-logged American fans. I was jolly and merry and joining in for the U-S-A! chanting for a good thirty minutes, helping people with their face paint, until it was time to venture back out into Alice’s relentless tears for the short walk to the stadium.
We finally got inside the stadium, and luckily my seats were under cover and near the “American Outlaws” fan zone. My game buddy was one of Dave’s friends who I sold my extra ticket to, an incredibly boring American “intellectual” whose name I cannot remember and who probably found me equally lame. It was an amazing match, and I knew that we didn’t stand a chance against the strong German team; however, the US team fought hard and the final score was 1-0. Our loss was quickly turned sweet when the announcement was made in the stadium that Portugal had beat Ghana 2-1, meaning that we would advance to the next round! Thank you, Cristiano Ronaldo! Loverboy.
After the match we passed by the fan bar for a bit before trying to get back to the city; unfortunately, traffic was at a complete standstill for miles and miles. After multiple detours and unintentional favela tours, our cramped and damp group finally made it back to the beachside four hours later for dinner and goodbyes.
The next day I was happy for a little break from the World Cup and people, and I took a bus to the nearby historic beach town of Olinda. I spent the day wandering through the cobblestoned streets, taking in the amazing sea views and breathing in the fresh air while sipping fresh coconut water. It was a glorious day!
That night I headed back to town to pick up my backpack from crazy parrot lady’s apartment before making it to the terminal just in time for the night bus to Fortaleza. I was asleep within minutes of settling into my seat.