Ever since Brazil was named as host of the 2014 World Cup, I knew that I’d be going. I even went so far as taking a year in which I’d work independently so as to have flexibility to get to Rio de Janeiro when I felt like it. I think going to the World Cup is on every football fan’s bucket list, even if only subconsciously. Having previously been to and enjoyed the country on several occasions, I considered Brazil + football the perfect equation for my happiness.
I had managed to get hold of tickets for three different games. The first one was Colombia vs Greece, Saturday 14th June, 1pm local time in Belo Horizonte, 7 hours from Rio by bus. Now people might question why I had a ticket for this particular game. I’ll explain. This was the ticket I bought as C1 vs C2 before the draw, so all I knew was that I’d get a seeded team and one other. Arguably it could been more exciting, but at the time I was in Colombia, so that part fit OK. Greek anti-football wasn’t what I was hoping for as a complement, especially as England were drawn in position D2 and that would have made for an interesting game on various levels for me.
I had two tickets, Category 2 ones that cost me 120 dollars each, so I had to find somebody to go with. I originally had put the second ticket in the name of Valter, a Brazilian friend who I was going to stay with in Brazil, as a kind of thank-you for letting me stay at his place for free during the tournament. In the end he pulled out, arguing that he couldn’t hack a long bus journey, as they gave him nausea and chronic back pains. That considered, I invited another of my mates from Rio, Leandro, and we booked a slot on the FIFA online platform in which we could pick up the tickets without queuing.
When we got to the ticketing centre in Botafogo, things were a lot easier and smoother than I’d anticipated. There were no queues (probably because this was towards the end of May) and it was just a case of inserting my debit card into the machine to make the tickets fall out. This was that first moment in which I got butterflies and realised that I was really going to see World Cup games. I stuffed them in my bag and held it close to my chest for the bus trip home. Back at Valter’s I took the obligatory boastful photos of my tickets and published them on Facebook, a little egotistical I admit, but something I couldn’t help but share.
We bought our bus tickets a few days later, a good two weeks in advance and so were due to take the bus at 10.15pm. I had arranged to meet Leandro at his house at 8.30, but when I went looking for him, he wasn’t there and nobody could find him. For unforeseeable reasons I had lent my phone to Valter that night, so had no way of contacting him. I told his nephew to tell him when he arrived to meet me at the metro station. But after waiting for about half an hour, I started to get nervous and decided to jump on the metro and effectively abandon him. My fear of somehow missing out on a World Cup game led me take a rash decision, and I felt a combination of stress and anger at Leandro for being late. I didn’t at this moment in time tolerate Brazilian lateness.
There is a stop where you can get off within walking distance of the bus station, but as it was dark and I wasn’t totally sure how to get there, I decided to get off at Central Station, where I supposed it would be easy to catch a bus there. It turned out nobody really knew where the bus I needed passed, so after several circuits of the station, which becomes a little sinister under moonlight, I gave in and decided to take a taxi. Upon taking this decision, my anger towards Leandro had cooled a little and I decided to try and call him. After all, going to a game alone wouldn’t be quite so much fun and I felt bad for abandoning him. Being without my phone, I went to buy a public phone card at a kiosk. They only had ones for 15 Reais, a lot more than I needed, and when dipping my hand into my pocket to pay, it dawned on me.
Amidst all the rush and stressing I hadn’t gone to the bank to withdraw money and had only 15 Reais, which would possibly pay my taxi, and a bunch of coins. So I couldn’t buy the phone card, and would potentially need more cash if the taxi was more than I anticipated. After asking directions to the cash machines and sprinting to the other side of the station, as always happens when one is in a hysterical rush, half the machines don’t work and the ones that do have people at them taking absolutely ages to carry out their transaction. I literally did what actors do in films, crossing my arms, sighing loudly and nervously tapping my foot on the ground such was the stress I was in at that moment. A glance at my watch and it was about 9.45pm and I only had half an hour to get to the main bus station. The women in front of me finally finished whatever they were doing and I thrust my card into the ATM. Obviously, it let me go through the whole process of taking money out until telling me on the final screen that my card didn’t work in that machine. The same thing happened with a couple more machines (how I wished for a Bradesco bank which accepted my card), and I gave in and ran outside in search of a taxi.
After what seemed minutes, one finally pulled over and I gasped “rodoviaria” at him. I had a mini panic that he might ask me whether I had enough money to pay before setting off, especially as I had asked how much it cost to the bus station. He’d said 15 Reais, maybe I was in luck. If it was to be anymore, I’d decide what to do at the bus station. Getting on our way was the most important thing. Thankfully the traffic was clear, but I still agonised as the meter kept creeping up. It passed 13 and I was sure we were just one block away, which wasn’t the case. As it was about to hit 15 I almost told the driver to just leave me right there, but as it happened, we had arrived. I paid him quicker than anyone in the history of taxi-taking had done, and dashed into the terminal, hoping to find Leandro somewhere. It was about 10.05pm now, just 10 minutes till the bus left.
Brazilian bus stations are absolute chaos even when there isn’t a World Cup and of course, there are no electronic screens to guide you to the correct platform. All the information desks and the sales point for the company with which I had booked were rammed with a flood of yellow-shirted Colombians either experiencing the same confusion as me or buying bus tickets at the last minute. My own ticket offered no indication of what platform to go, so I ran to the second floor departures lounge, and as luck would have it, the first boarding area I went to was correct according to the guy who checked my ticket. I’d saved myself, but where was Leandro?
I had five minutes to find him. I wasn’t optimistic. I went to where there was Internet and phones, luckily next to my boarding gate, and desperately tried to get the attendant’s attention. Unfortunately, dozens of Colombians were once again bottle-necking the whole area. I realised I couldn’t make a phone call because I was without my own phone and thus contact list, so I’d have to look up his number on Facebook and then try calling him. But upon counting the last of my coppers I could only afford 5 minutes of horrendously overpriced Internet and no phone call. They gave me a username and password without about a hundred characters in each and I logged into one of the available computers. My hand rattling nervously on the mouse, I went on Facebook and scanned the list of people online, hoping that one of them would be a friend of Leandro and be able to call him for me.
I found one, George, and hurriedly wrote in capital letters GREOGR!!, such was my inability to type coherently. With further spelling mistakes I explained my drama and told him to call Leandro to try and locate or tell him where to go. He didn’t have his number. I had to comb through a conversation from months previous in which he had given me his number, and I eventually found it. I passed it to George and wrote “Call him” about 5 times. He managed to get through and a message simply saying Platform 23 informed me that Leandro must have got to the bus on time.
I left without even logging out and sped through the boarding gate and down to the bus, where my friend was waiting. We just hugged, laughed and jumped on the bus as it was leaving, nobody got angry and we didn’t question the lateness or rashness of the other. The bus was, as expected, full of Colombians. In seven hours during which my neck would ache immensely, as it always does on Latin American buses not designed for tall people, we’d be in Belo Horizonte on World Cup matchday.
I’d come so close to missing it, but I didn’t care.