On Saturday we met up with the Socceroos and Shell, a gorgeous blonde Aussie girl who had our tickets to buy for the Uruguay versus Costa Rica game at Fortaleza’s Castelao Stadium.
We also ran into the Irish couple Graham and Emma who we’d met at the bus station. We teamed up and found the free shuttle bus stop for ticket holders.
Our bus was packed with a majority of Uruguay fans who chanted for most of the entire half-hour ride.
The bus dropped us off a good mile or so from the stadium and herds of fans walked a wide avenue in a very hot humid sun.
The Costa Rica fans sang their own “Olé, Olé, Olé, Olé, Ticos, Ticos” to banter back with the Uruguayans.
The lines were long at security checkpoints but went quickly.
While people queued up, a Christian group handed out exact-sized yellow penalty cards that opened up to pamphlet messaging.
The stadium was sparkling new and will play home to both Fortaleza and Ceará’s club teams post-Cup.
We split off with Shell’s brother Phil from Perth and found our seats.
I ran down to secure us three Brahma beers and almost missed the pageantry of the players walking out with the local kids, the national anthems, the handshakes and exchanging of team crests.
The builders seemed to cut some cost corners with the seats lacking cup holders and arm rests, but the most glaring omission was the lack of a single game clock anywhere to be seen.
I could barely make out the time in the tiny top part of the live feed on the two inadequately-small video boards at each end.
At the half, an older Brazilian gentleman took a spill on the stairs at the end of our row and lost half of the two beers he was double fisting. He was alright, more embarrassed at the debacle than injured.
Cousin Drew whipped out the pamphlet yellow card, and after a moment I walked it down our row and lifted it high, booking him for the party foul. He and everyone around laughed and cheered with thumbs up.
As night fell and the lights came out with the setting sun, the oval opening of the roof produced an ethereal soft purple Easter egg glowing sky that dazzled.
The game was very exciting with the Ticos earning a 3-1 upset.
It was a great experience and after bussing back to town we took in the final games of the night at the Fan Fest, and lapped in a cool refreshing rain on our trudge home.
On Sunday, we caught a bus to head to Natal. The landscape was that of green Nebraska, replacing prairie grasses with waving palms, tropical trees and a few distant mountains.
We were rounding Brazil’s shoulder of the world—that plate tectonic puzzle piece that once fit so nicely into Africa’s armpit.
The distance from Fortaleza was only 300 miles but it took nine hours with stops for breaks. Drew and I had experienced the craziness of South American busses on a previous trip to Peru, Chile and Bolivia in 2002.
I was like Ratso Rizzo at the end of Midnight Cowboy with cheek to glass in a back-right seat as the waning full moon shone in my 1 o’clock view and the famed Southern Cross at my 4 o’clock.
Huge World Cup welcome signs greeted our entry into Natal, as did a lit-up Arena das Dunas with its curling bottom-to-top flowing plates made to resemble Natal’s famous sand dunes.
My full patriotism for the great country I love so dearly awaited with our opening game versus Ghana. “Uma Naçao, Uma Equipe.” (One Nation, One Team.)