Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Our second World Cup game: Nigeria defeats Bosnia-Herzegovina

When we negotiated our tour arrangements for our visit to the Pantanal, one of the key points was that there had to be arrangements for son Joe and me to travel back to Cuiabá to watch Nigeria play Bosnia (adding an extra $450 to the cost of the tour!).  As it turned out, there were nine of us at the  Pousada Canto do Arancuã who needed to be back in Cuiabá, although Joe and I were the only ones who needed a ride back into the Pantanal so there was a van to transport us (no doubt saving the tour operator a pretty penny!), but it left a little earlier than our original arrangement called for; another passenger on the van, who had already been to two games at Arena Pantanal, said that the stadium wasn’t even likely to be open two-and-a-half hours before the game   So, instead of going directly to the stadium, Joe and I decided that we would go with almost everybody else to Joel Souza’s Pousada Ecoverde, where they would be staying.

As we arrived, Germany’s game against Ghana had recently begun, so we settled down in front of the TV to watch the game, which was scoreless as we arrived.  Germany scored first, the beginning of what people would have assumed to be a rout –  but then the unthinkable happened: Ghana tied the score, and even went ahead!  There was a German fan watching with us, and when I remarked on the German we had met in the airport in Miami, who said with quiet confidence that Germany as going to win the cup; he said that fan could not be a true fan who understood football.  He repeatedly complaining that the German team was “playing too pretty,” as as each German veteran touched the ball, he would say, “Schweinsteiger, what are YOU doing on the field,” “Lahm, what are YOU doing on the field.”  Germany tied it up late; just as well, the American fans felt, because did not want to face a German team that needed to win to be sure of advancing.  Still, that Germany could not beat Ghana, even though the US team had managed to do so, seemed a promising sign.

At this point, six of us piled into a cab to ride over to the stadium; we were dropped a block from the entry gates.  The arriving crowd seemed mostly local, many pairs of teenagers, couples of various ages, families with young children; we saw no Bosnian fans arriving (although there had been a few Bosnian fans on our flight from Brasilia – I had not noticed their identity as they boarded the flight, but their chanting as they gathered in the Cuiabá airport was unmistakable),  and only a handful of Nigerians.

I had come to the game with no particular routing interest – I just wanted to see a good game.  Seated directly in front of us, though, were a pair of English fans in their twenties who had arrived planning to cheer for Nigeria; one was sporting a Nigerian flag; another fan near us had gone so far as to wear a Nigerian outfit.  There were also a small group of Nigerian fans a few rows in front of us.  Led ny the English fans, chants of “Nigeria” began to predominate in our section; I joined in.

The game was fun to watch.  Early on, Bosnia seemed to dominate the attacking chances, and even scored a goal right in front of us, only to have it called back for offsides.  From where we were sitting, behind the goal, we could not judge whether the call had been correct.  Eventually, though, the speed of the Nigerian players began to manifest itself; finally, a speedy player managed to beat the Bosnians to their end line; he then beat his defender along the end line, and crossed to an onrushing Peter Odemwingie, who put the ball into the net.  “Peter Odemwingie!  Peter Odemwingie!” our English fans led the cheers.

That was the only goal of the game, but it did not lack for other attacking chances, including a shot off the post that rattled the Nigerian goal right in front of us.  Our English fans, though, were apparently bored, so they decided to teach some young Brazilian men near us hoe Manchester City fans cheer for Yaya Toure.  I think highly of Yaya Toure, and it was an interesting cheer, but as they led it over and over again, I could not help wondering why they though it relevant to the day’s game – did they think African players from different countries are fungible?  Or did they know understand that Toure is Ivorian, not Nigerian?  It struck me as pretty racist.

The game ended 1-0, a nice victory for an African team that gave it a chance to advance to the next round while eliminating Bosnia – quite a surprise considering that Bosnia had thoroughly dominated its group in European qualifying.

The crowds poured out of the stadium, walking in throngs back toward the main part of town.  Joe and I proceeded to look for a taxi that could bring us back to Pousada Ecoverde (we had no chance of finding it on foot).  We joined a taxi line a few blocks from the stadium, but no taxis were able to get through to the taxi stand, so we keot walking down the dame street until groups ahead of us began nabbing cabs driving toward the stadium; each cab would then make a U turn to get away from the stadium area.  Finally, it was our turn; we reached the Pousada a bit after 9 PM.  Joel Souza, whom we needed to reach to to find our driver back into the Pantanal, was nowhere to be found; at the suggestion of a guest, we looked for him at a bar/restaurant at a liocal square.  It was 9:30 before we were on our way, and the driver was diverted from the direct road south, which poassed near the stadium, by a roadblock that had been erected so that team buses and their accompanying press could  pass. It was 11:30 PM before we reached the  Pousada Canto do Arancuã, with our pre-breakfast morning walk set to begin again at 5:30 AM (Joe decided to skip that walk).

It had been an exhausting day.  Maybe crazy to have traveled into Cuiabá and back in a single day for a soccer game.  But such is our World Cup this year.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Traveling in the Pantanal -- Part One

On Friday morning, we woke up promptly to take the Executive Bus back to the airport.  The Brasilia airport was confusing, and the line to check in for TAM flights looked very long; but because we had checked in online and printed our boarding passes, we were ushered to a priority line that was shorter and moved faster.  We flew on to Cuiabá, where we were met at the airport by Joel Souza, the proprietor of Ecoverde Tours, who organized our tour; he, in turn, introduced us to Djalma Santos, who would be our guide for our three days in the Pantanal. 

He drove us first to Pocone, the town at the northern entry to the Pantanal.  The roads were pretty good until we reached Pocone, but the speed bumps were truly amazing:  Brazil takes speed control seriously.  Also interesting were the occasional traffic cameras– they were exceptionally well advertised, with a digital sign right next to the camera and a digital indicator or speed.  Drivers would slow down just for those locations, then speed away.

We had a simple lunch there while having the pleasure of watching the final portion of Costa Rica’s win over Italy — this is has been a good World Cup for the CONCACAF teams:  if the United States beats Portugal three of the four teams from our region might advance!  Santos also encouraged us to buy water, which would be more expensive in the Pantanal, so we got two six-liter bottles for the three of us.

Not too far south of Pocone, the paved road became a dirt road, and the scenery opened up around us, with water and flat lands receding into the distance.  As we drove, and later as we walked, Santos talked about what we were seeing, and what we were not seeing, giving us cultural and scientific background fr the plants and birds and other wildlife before is and to come.  There was an amazing profusion of wildlife, and especially birds.   We could see birds resting on posts, on trees, and on telephone wires, as with this kingfisher, snail kite, egret and wood stork

Egret along the Transpantaneira

Kingfisher along the Transpantaneira

Snail kite along the Transpantaneira

Wood stork seen from the Transpantaneira

Monday, June 23, 2014

Colombia v. Ivory Coast in Brasilia

By the time Nancy and I came down for breakfast at about 8:30 AM, the breakfast room at the Plaza Bittar was jammed, mostly with fans attired in the red or blue or especially yellow colors of Colombia.  There were no tables open, but a man waved us over and invited us to share his table.  He explained that he had come to the US from Colombia when he was one, and that he and his father were attending the World Cup together.  Because Colombia had no qualified for the cup since 1998, there was a tremendous hunger for success among his countrymen, and as soon as they had learned seven years ago that Brazil would be hosting the Cup, they had agreed that if Colombia qualified, they would go; so, here they were.

Breakfast was a large spread of pastries, hot plates of scrambled eggs and a tasty sausage (ter second day, this was replaced with hot dogs in a sauce), slices or wedges of papaya, white pineapple and watermelon, two kinds of cereal including a granola that could be mixed with chopped fruit and with a yogurt drink, juices, coffee and a small amount of hot water for tea.  Nancy and I lingered over breakfast and as the 10 AM closing time approached, larger numbers of guests appears, still mostly dressed in yellow or red or blue.  Breakfast supplied started to run out and the wait staff rushed to keep the platters full. 

After a brief and unsuccessful expedition back to Brasilia shopping to try to replace a problematic memory card reader and cable, Joe and I left for the stadium at around 11 am; it took us barely fifteen minutes to reach the stadium area

Our World Cup Adventure Begins in Brasilia

In 2010, our family went to a World Cup abroad for the first time.  We had friends living in Pretoria, so we were able to establish a home base there, and we were lucky to get the “Team Specific Ticket” to follow the United States to all its games; this not only set our itinerary, but as it happen each of the games was within a hundred miles of each other, in Rustenberg, Johannesberg, Pretoria, and Rustenberg again.  And thanks to the Washington Post, which advertised for fans interested in reporting on their experiences in South Africa, I got a taste for travel blogging; this blog was the result.

This World Cup will be very different.  We did not succeed in getting the Team Specific Ticket for the United States in the first round of lottery selection; at that point, I was nervous that reservations at the inexpensive hotels and flights to key cities might be gone by the time I waited for the draw to determine where the US was going to play.  So, consulting guidebooks, I just selected places I thought we might most enjoy visiting, planned an itinerary among those venues, and then awoke promptly at 6 AM on the morning of the initial first-come, first-served ticket purchase period.  As a result, we have game tickets for Brasilia, Cuiabá, Manaus, Salvador and the Salvador again.  We have arranged various tours in conjunction with those games; then, finally, we’ll visit Rio de Janeiro, even though we have no games to see there because, well, how could we go to Brazil and not see Rio?

Sunday, June 1, 2014

First Annual Lower Lanier Alley Party

Neighbors along the lower end of Lanier Place in Adams Morgan gathered for an alley party in the sub-alley between the row houses at 1694 to 1702 Lanier Place and the apartment building at 2714 Quarry Road in the Lanier Heights section of Adams Morgan.

Hopefully, the first of many!