As I prepare for the adventures that await me in Russia this year, I wanted to reflect on what I learned in Brazil, and remind myself that I live for experiences like these. I am going to post these in two parts, and I hope you enjoy. And if you are going to Russia, let me know what cities you'll be in. I would love to meet up! :)
Life Lessons I Learned At The World Cup & in Brazil
1. Believe in Love at First Sight
Nothing can describe the feeling of a dream coming to fruition especially when you can visually process it. I had been planning this World Cup trip for two years, and as the months have passed it seemed as if time were slowing down. Walking into the Maracana stadium in Rio was a life changing experience that did bring tears to my eyes (don’t judge, I’m a Scorpio). The scenic backdrop of Rio, the vibrant World Cup signage, and the excitement of the spectators made my heart race. We didn’t care that we weren’t going to get to see our favorite teams, and at that very moment I felt like the luckiest girl in the world. OK, cheeseball status stops…and now you will read about what I really learned on my trip to Brazil…
2. It’s The Little Things That Count
I won’t lie, I was a little nervous to go to Brazil. 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. We survived two days in Rio before the actual World Cup match we would be attending. June 28th, 2014 finally arrived and my stomach seemed unsettled. As I painted the Columbian 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. I knew if I could come out of Tomatina alive, this would be nothing. We took the metro (which I can happily say we mastered) and followed the Columbian fans (our people) into the stadium. There were about five checkpoints 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. We then had to show 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 was 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 Columbia!
3. Every So Often Push Your Luck
An old co-worker (that is originally from Brazil) made me a “Must Do” list while I was there. She outlined beaches, historical monuments, and anything that a tourist must do for the two cities that we were going to in Brazil – Rio and Sao Paulo. Underneath each of those cities she had an “If You’re Brave” section. I definitely consider myself a safe and cautious traveler, but I still like a good challenge. Every day I did something on my trip that made me a little nervous. In both cities my friend and I pushed our luck, and I am happy we did. In Rio we experienced the samba nightlight, complete with street vendors selling shots of alcohol on the streets. In Sao Paulo, we experienced a shopping district that was definitely not for the faint of heart. We walked with conviction, and luckily we looked Brazilian. We took candy from someone on the metro ride after Columbia won the World Cup match (yes this is legit), and we are still alive. Sometimes I can be too trusting, but you are a product of your experiences…and life is too short to be boring.
4. Patience is a Virtue
When we partied too hard the first night in Rio (damn you sweet sweet Caipirinahs), little did we know that it would jeopardize our visit to the Cristo the next day. Heads pounding, sweating bullets like we had been in a sauna for hours, we traveled to the bus stop only to be turned away and told that our only shot to see this sacred statue was the next day. We internally panicked, as the next day was our last day in Rio, as well as the World Cup match we would be attending. I started to dry heave. I NEEDED TO SEE THE CRISTO. The woman told us to purchase the tickets online, so we headed back to our hotel to do just that…except when we went to pay it was all in Portuguese. We went downstairs to ask for help, and a boy named Felipe (yes, he was probably about 18) was designated to help us. We went in a little humid computer room, and we fired up their dial up computer. Wonderful. We had 17 minutes before the website timed out, and with a language barrier and Felipe pounding the keys on the keyboard like it would help that poor computer go faster, I could not help but giggle. I do not have a poker face, and he saw me and gave me a thumbs up. Felipe got us those tickets 17 minutes later, and thank goodness because we almost died of a heat stroke in that computer room. PS. The Cristo was worth it.
5. Learn To Dance In The Rain
Or in our case, dance in the streets. After 18 hours of traveling from California to Rio, we arrived at 6am and hit the ground running. That evening we discovered the vibrant nightlife of the Lapa neighborhood, and definitely had our fare share of spirits. Unsure of the exact location of our hotel, we walked in the direction that we believed we lived. As we approached the Carioca Aqueduct on our walk home, we heard faint sounds of brass instruments and drums. We both turned to each other with an evil smile and walked towards the music. What we saw next was so amazing – a live street band had begun to practice. We must have danced for hours. Suddenly we were a part of the group, getting offered water (which I don’t think we deserved) and suddenly dancing in their inner circle. Tourists were reaching their arms taking pictures and videos of the trombones, trumpets, and drums that filled the streets of Lapa that night. There was a man on stilts playing the drums, people with instruments strapped to their body, and smiles on every persons face. No matter where you are, don’t forget to dance – whether it is in the rain, or in the streets of Rio.
6. The Truth Shall Set You Free…unless your lie makes a French man very happy.
I would say that we became chameleons on this trip, transforming ourselves into the nationality of whatever soccer team we would be favoring that particular day. The match I attended was Uruguay vs. Columbia (sadly not Italy like I had wanted), therefore we decided to be Columbian that day. We became Columbian because we do not support biters (Luis Suarez shame on you, maybe you should eat a meal before playing). Anyways, we went all out, sporting the colors of the team and painting the yellow, red, and blue Columbian flag on our faces. We were going to cheer them on with our firey spirits until the end-and it worked…they won! After the match we found a couple with a Columbian flag, and asked to pose with it for a picture. They gave us their flag, and then put their sombreros on us. (Sure, no problem…apparently we do not care about catching lice.) As we were taking our pictures a French man asked if he could take his picture with us. I shook my head, 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.
7. Pick Your Battles
The second night that we were in Rio we decided to experience more of the nightlife near our hotel, in Lapa. We met people from all over the world – from Sweden, to Australian, to yes even good ol’ Americans (inevitable). The further you walked through Lapa the less tourists were around, and soon enough only the Portuguese tongue was spoken. At one point we sat at a small bar, pulled up a plastic table to the sidewalk, and drank our Caipirinha’s with pure bliss and not a care in the world. While we sat there, we suddenly heard a chanting crowd coming our way. I have witnessed my fair share of protests/riots (ironically a soccer riot in Paris), so of course I wanted to see what exactly was going on. Some may say I’m like a moth drawn to the flame. I prefer to say I’m a butterfly drawn to a flower. I instantaneously popped out of my seat to witness what exactly was making this crowd so passionate…a banner that simply said, “FIFA GO HOME”. Firecrackers were being thrown while people chanted. Part of my stomach dropped, but part of me wanted to join them. I sympathized with the Brazilians and their poverty and struggling economy, while millions of dollars were put into stadiums that would probably never be used again. It was at that moment that I realized I was the enemy because I did purchase tickets. I stepped aside, picked up my caipirinha, and stood with respect as they marched by.
I will share the rest of my "lessons" in the next post. Re-reading these make me SO excited! :)
Bellisima = "Extremely Beautiful" in Italian, and how i would describe the world, and how I view it through travel.