Tuesday was the day on our trip that required the most planning. It also ended up being the most annoying day of our trip.
We made our one and only trip to Natal, about four hours from where we were staying in Olinda, to see Italy and Uruguay play their third game in the group stage.
During the planning process, arranging our trip to Natal turned out to be mildly challenging. The game had a 1:00 pm start and bus routes that run between Recife and Olinda would be agonizingly tight. With all the traffic that the World Cup brings, it was a risky proposition.
For a long time, our options seemed limited to renting a car (which may or may not have been impossible, with the demand for rentals brought on by the World Cup) or taking an overnight bus from Recife to Natal. An overnight bus that we would have to get on a few hours after the conclusion of the Mexico/Croatia match. It sounded fairly awful.
We cursed it at the time but, it was a blessing in disguise that foreigners can’t buy Brazilian bus tickets online. Unable to secure bus tickets, we kept searching around. Eventually, we found a group of fans travelling to the matches who were planning on chartering a bus. They had three spots left and, wouldn’t you know it: there are three of us! Perfect!
We took a slight leap of faith and reserved our seats by sending money to a stranger in England via PayPal.
Far in advance of the trip, we knew that we were in the minority. We were the lone women on our journey, which also featured three Irish men who lived in Australia, four American men from Iowa, three English men who lived in Portland and another two English men who actually lived in England.
There might have been one or two occasions when our bus companions were referred to as a “buffet of men.”
On Tuesday morning, we were set to meet our bus at 6:45 am in Recife. We got up extra, extra early — leaving enough time for breakfast, even — and set off to find a taxi with the address in our hands. We hadn’t had any problems with the taxis to that point so, leaving 45 minutes for a 15 minute taxi ride seemed generous.
Getting to the bus involved showing the taxi driver the address, then showing every taxi driver at the taxi stand the address. It was early. There were three or four other taxi drivers who also had no idea where we were going.
They discussed it. We attempted to pull up the address on the phone. There was a mad dash to the hotel. We finally got in the cab. Our driver was doing that thing where you hit the break at every intersection because you’re not sure where you were supposed to be turning.
And it kept getting later. And later. And later.
And then it was 6:45. And 6:50 and we’re wondering if our bus is going to leave us and, if it does, how we’re going to get to Natal.
And, somewhere in there, our British bus organizer placed a call to Michigan, which we had listed as our last-resort contact information and freaked out Jayne and Danny.
(We talked to them shortly thereafter and assured them that we were just having a hard time getting to our bus. Apparently this wasn’t enough, as we received panicked text messages and voicemails a few hours later.)
It was just before 7:00 am when we pulled up to our meeting place and sheepishly met all of our traveling companions. Nothing like being the only women and filling every late/directionally-challenged woman stereotype out there.
There was a lot of profuse apologizing and then we were on our way.
Lauren and Katie slept for 95% of the drive to Natal.
Alyson was trapped beside a dentist who did not stop talking. Ever. Not for a minute. He talked and talked and talked and did I mention that she was also trapped in the tiny seat at the front of the bus, wedged between the driver and the talking dentist?
Four hours have never gone so slowly.
But we made it to Natal. On time. Thank goodness. What if we missed kickoff by 15 minutes? Oh, that would have been just awful.
The match was a do-or-die situation for both Italy and Uruguay. Whoever won would move on in their group. We dressed in Uruguay gear because we had been such bad luck for Italy but, alas, even that couldn’t turn the tide for Italy. Uruguay won the match, 1-0, on a goal in the 81st minute.
But the most memorable part of the match was one that we weren’t quite sure that we had seen: when Luis Suarez bit an Italian defender. There was a big ruckus on the field and we could see the Italian pulling down his shirt to show the referee something on his skin but: no. It couldn’t be!
Those of you watching at home probably knew pretty quickly that Suarez was back to his old tricks. (Biting is a longstanding problem with Suarez.) We had no idea. In fact, it wasn’t until our ride home until one of the guys caught up the news and confirmed The Biting.
Suarez was suspended for the duration of the tournament shortly thereafter. (It’s a shame he can’t control his jaw, as he’s a very talented player.) And now when we tell people about the matches we attended — that’s what people always ask “what games did you see?” — we can explain that Italy/Uruguay featured The Biting. It always brings quite the reaction.
After the match, we went straight back to the bus. Straight back. Katie stopped for a millisecond to take a picture of a pedestrian bridge but, other than that, we went from our seats to the bus. And, for real: we were the last ones. AGAIN.
We should probably mention that our traveling companions were all exceedingly nice about our lateness that morning. They didn’t even bring up that we were the last ones to arrive, again, in the afternoon.
Then we all piled in the damn bus for another four hours. That turned into five hours. Traffic was bad and long bus trips are sort of our thing.
Not by choice.
It rained a little on our way back and do you suppose that a double rainbow is extra good luck if you’re on a bus with three Irishmen?
We arrived back in Recife and joined all of the guys from the bus at Chica Pitanga, another one of Brazil’s many pay-by-weight restaurants (you may remember that we we ate at one at the mall on our first day in Brazil). It was delicious. And gloriously fast. Sitting on your butt for an entire day — in the taxi, on the bus, at the stadium, on the bus again — is exhausting. We didn’t hang about too long before venturing out onto the streets of Recife to head back to our hotel.
We had a hard time finding a taxi.