My first experience at a soccer match could not have had a more perfect setting - and my vision of getting to visit a country that is infamously known for their passion of the game was beyond perfect.
Since we were attending one of the games for the Round of 16, we did not know which teams we were going to see until a few days before our match. The final verdict? Colombia vs. Uruguay. I feverishly watched almost all of the games leading up to our match in order to prepare myself visually for what the crowds were like, and to ultimately choose who I was to root for if my favorite team (Italy) was not playing in my match.
For our trip, I made sure to pack face paint in all the primary colors. I was not having this experience without having a flag painted on my face. Based on what I saw in the Uruguay vs. Italy match, in which Suarez bit an Italian player, I was going to root for Colombia. So on this day, June 28, 2014 I was Colombian.
As I painted the Colombian flag on my face, strapped on my fanny pack, and ensured that my sneakers were tied tight (in case I needed to run for my life), I was ready for battle. The whole time I was getting ready I felt sick to my stomach almost to the point of where I was going to throw up. Part of my uneasy stomach was due to the fact that I was extremely nervous. I knew what my family and co-workers thought of me going there, as well as the media portrayal of what was perceived to be hell on earth. I had mixed emotions, but I am never one to back down from a challenge. I knew I was going and that my experience would be like no other. As Jenny and I got ready, we were both completely aware that the other one was nervous, and we left our hotel in Rio to face possibly one of the largest (and possibly most dangerous) event we would ever attend in our life.
We knew where the metro station was, but we had absolutely no idea where we were going. I know I have said this before, but Brazilian people are the nicest people I have ever encountered as a whole, and with the help of some Policia we were able to figure out our connecting trains to the stadium. It also helped that we were adopted by a Colombian crowd who also was en route to the match. We smiled and marched on.
Here is what we experienced on the metro en route to the stadium:
We exited the train, and as we took the escalators up and out of the metro (to the main level) my jaw dropped. PEOPLE. WERE. EVERYWHERE. I suddenly felt panic for the imaginary child that I did not have with me. Everyone surrounding the exit of the metro had a sign stating thay they needed tickets, and amist the hundreds of people holding signs we recognized a man that was on our flight to Rio. We laughed and kept moving.
We pushed our way past the crowd and just steps outside the metro station, a thick wall of police were standing there, validating that every person that passed them had a ticket to the match.
As we took in a glimpse of the Maracanã from afar, the fan pandemonium began:
There were about five checkpoints total to get into the stadium. Three of the checkpoints consisted of going through metal barricades, in which we were greeted promptly with the Brazilian police, all of which could have easily been underwear models. I tried my best to not look suspicious as I admired their handsome Brazilian chiseled cheeks. We showed them tickets valid for both of us, and we proceeded through the line. As we moved from barricade to barricade, the lines got shorter, and the more organized everything became. Where were the flying fireballs, or the riots, or the people waiting to steal
everything we had on us? We went through metal detectors, and were patted down. This never even happens at an American baseball game. People – don’t believe everything you hear, and don’t live in fear. Those checkpoints made our day, and we were ready to cheer on Colombia!
Walking up to the stadium was an experience like no other.
I desperately wanted to pinch myself from the surreal dream I was in. Knowing that two years of planning led up to this moment produced salty teardrops that ran down my face.
Every aspect of security was perfection. We happily got xrayed and patted down before entering the stadium. Walking through the actual gates was a pilgrimage unlike any other and a piece of my heart shifted as a dream became a realization.
Our seats looked terrible from the pictures we took, but in reality there was not a bad seat in the house. We got some refreshments and went back to our seats to watch the Brazil vs. Chile game that was going on right before our match. The crowd erupted as the game was tied 1-1. GOL!!!
South Americans are passionate about their sport, and also passionate about proudly singing their national anthem at the top of their lungs. We inevitably learned the Colombian chant, alongside some Colombians who may have frequented the stadium bar one too many times.
Sometimes sports matches get boring. Not this one. There was more than enough visual and audio stimulation to peak your interest. One of my favorite moments was the seamless synchronized wave that involved the 85,000 spectators at the Maracanã. It may have taken more than a few tries, but this was an enthusiastic and determined crowd.
The crowd was estatic, and that alone kept us on the edge of our seats.
Colombia ended up with the triumph over Uruguay 2-0, with James Rodríguez scoring and becoming the messiah of the Colombians that day. Mini alcohol induced fights broke out across the stadium, but they ultimately were broken up and did not last long.
After the match we decided we needed a picture with our country flag, and found a couple who had one in their possession. We excitedly asked to pose with it for a picture. They gave us their flag, and then put their sombreros on us. As we were taking our pictures a French man asked if he could take his picture with us. I nodded my head yes, not wanting to answer and tell him we were frauds. He snapped his picture and both of our dreams came true – his picture with a couple of Columbians, and my secret excitement that we were able to seamlessly transition into our surroundings.
The match may have been over, but the mass of people trying to exit the stadium was severely clogging every exit. Flashbacks of every Warped Tour and of the endless mosh pits that I had ever been in, surfaced. We tried to breathe calmly as we moved with people that were invading every piece of personal space that I had. Just then I heard a loud crash, a few fists hitting flesh, and someone yelled, "HE HAS A GUN". My heart dropped as my body recognized that this could be something that could really happen. I immediately reacted, grabbed my friend Jenny, and pushed her back and to the ground. Five seconds later everyone got up as if nothing had happened, and we were so blindly confused. Getting out of the stadium was seamless after that, and everything seemed peaceful. The walk to the metro, and actually getting a train back to our "home" was also seamless. Despite that last chaotic ten seconds in the stadium, the experience was worth it, and if anything it taught me that you are shaped by the experiences you have and the courage you are to have them.
Bellisima = "Extremely Beautiful" in Italian, and how i would describe the world, and how I view it through travel.