June 28, 3:05pm, Downtown Recife – normally, chaos and heaving activity reign at this time of the day, but now there is not a single car on the road. Reason? The Seleҫaõ, the Brazilian National Team, is playing against Chile. Just now, 90 minutes are over and without a winner so far the match goes into extra time. I step out of the bar where we are watching the match to pick something from Pele who is parked a few blocks away. Walking through the streets lined by high rises, I feel like walking through a ghost town - there is absolute silence and not a living soul on the streets. On my way back, the seemingly deserted buildings suddenly explode to life – all around me, excited shouting followed by exasperated sighs.
The bar is packed with people, all dressed in the yellow shirts of the National Team and many sporting the Brazilian flag painted on their faces and some even wearing wigs in the Brazilian colors. Every attack of their team is greeted with ecstatic screaming, each Chilean attack comes with terrified shrieks. In the last minute of extra time, a Chilean striker hits the Brazilian crossbar and the wide eyes of the Brazilians around show utter shock and horror. Brazil is walking at the edge of the abyss, close to the end of an entire nation's World Cup dreams. Then the referee blows his whistle – penalty shootout! Several people around us sink into deep prayer, beseeching God to grant their team favor. When 15 minutes and badly tormented Brazilian souls later the fifth Chilean penalty hits the goal post, the bar erupts in boundless joy. Soon after, the roads are filled with cars honking wildly and flying Brazilian flags. People are exhausted and speak rather critically of their national team – still, they seem to have an unwavering belief that during a Football World Cup God must be Brazilian.
God indeed seems to love Brazil – it is a country blessed with natural beauty. Following the German National Team through the Brazilian North East, we enjoy fantastic drives and explore stunningly gorgeous places – crystal clear natural pools teaming with colorful fish in Porto de Galinhas, the breathtaking Dunes of Natal where we experience vertical driving in a beach buggy; colorful houses, cobble stone streets, lively bars and restaurants in the picturesque colonial town of Olinda.
Due to the nature of our journey and the uncertainty of how long it takes to drive from one place to the next, we have decided not to make any advance bookings. When we arrive in Recife after a long drive from Fortaleza, this decision seems to backfire as we are not able to find any accommodation. Germany and the US are playing the next day and the city is swamped with supporters of both teams. Browsing various online hotel booking sites does not yield a single vacancy and calling countless hotels and guest houses proves to be a pointless exercise. It is drizzling outside and yet we are wondering whether we should just sleep on the beach when someone tells us about someone who knows someone who is willing to rent out her apartment. This is how we meet Senorita Lucy, an imposing woman who while taking us through her bleak and dilapidated apartment highlights all the things we are not allowed to do – no hot showers, no cooking in her kitchen to save gas, no noise whatsoever, no visits from any ladies whomsoever … all this for a rental rate which is at least three times what would be reasonable. What can we do – the rain outside is intensifying and we are glad that we have found a barn in Recife!
The next morning, we wake up to a grey sky and pouring rain. The football match starts at 1pm and at 9am we are heading out with Pele to the stadium. A couple of blocks from the apartment, the street turns into a sea – after a night of torrential rain, Recife is flooded! Many cars get stuck in up to half a meter of water and as a result, traffic has broken down completely. And this on a day when 50,000 football fans are all heading in one direction! We realize that there is no point trying to get to the stadium with Pele and leave him parked at the roadside. Someone tells us that we can get to the stadium with the metro but the closest metro station is two kilometers away. We walk through the rain and at times up to our knees in water in the flooded streets – by the time we reach the metro station, we are completely drenched. Here, another surprise is waiting for us: we were not the only ones with the idea of taking the metro to the stadium and literally thousands of soaked people are queuing up at the three counters that sell metro tickets – chaos! It is less than two hours until the start of the match and I am wondering whether some merciful metro manager might decide to allow the football fans to board the trains to the stadium without a ticket - but this is not to be.
After almost an hour of being pushed from all sides, we are the proud owners of a metro ticket that has cost the equivalent of three dollars. One hour to the start of the match! We are rushing to the train and are squeezed like sardines for what seems like an eternity. 30 minutes before the match, the train finally reaches the metro station closest to the stadium. If we thought that we made it, we are in for a rude awakening. The stadium has been built in the middle of nowhere and from the metro station we have to take another bus to get there, so again waiting in a queue and being squashed in an impatient crowd. Ten minutes before 1pm, the bus drops us but from the bus station, it is still almost a kilometer to the stadium and the rain is still pouring relentlessly. When we finally reach the stadium, we are as exhausted as if we had played the match ourselves, but relieved as the national anthems are being played just as we make it onto the stand. Thousands of other football fans have been less lucky as the many empty seats in the stadium manifest - I am happy to be among those who managed to get here in spite of the rain, clogged streets and endless queues and enjoy the match in spite of God today continuing to show his love for Brazil by shedding tears!