Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Brasil-Copa do Mundo 2014

Brasil: Curitiba, Foz do Iguaçu, Rio de Janeiro June 14-24, 2014

As I sat here watching World Cup games I reflected on the experiences I was blessed to have on this trip.  The fact that I have been able to accomplish life long goals in one trip is truly amazing.  The fact that I was able to watch my favorite sport with 73,819 people, in Estádio Mario Filho, Maracanã, who share the same passion for fútbol, who all had love for their own countries and were still united at that one moment.... truly indescribable.  If there was one thing that I can say "made" this trip, its the ambiance, the passion that exuded from every person there.

If you know me, you know the passions I have, the interests I've acquired through the years, the style of which I live my life.  I experienced so much that I feel my life has reached a beautiful path, a path in which I feel is right for me. There comes a time in everyone's life where they begin to feel like they are in the right place.  Not necessarily physically in the right location, but in time and in their life.  Traveling to a different hemisphere/continent/country, where they speak a different language, where I'm surrounded by people from all over the world, where I can marvel at the beauty of people or land, all of God's creations.  I had the opportunity to witness in awe at a couple of the worlds wonders... I realize I'm where my life was meant to be.  Where I was meant to be.  Where my heart felt the most happiness.  I'm traveling and experiencing all that is wonderful and out there to be experienced.

This trip, despite all the craziness of moving from one city to another and the lack of ability to communicate (let me tell you... that was the hardest part), was a dream come true!  We couldn't stop telling each other the entire trip "Hey (insert name you are talking to) guess what.... We are in Brazil!!" And we would all just smile and laugh in sheer disbelief that we made it happen.  Ok I know you want to actually hear about the trip itself.  So here it goes... day one.

The flights were quite long... 6 hours from San Francisco to Miami, 8 hours Miami to Curitiba... which by the way is pronounced Coo-rri-chi-ba and I learned that from a cute little tri-lingual girl on the flight there.  Let me tell you, this little one is going places, speaking English, Spanish, and Portuguese interchangeably without actually mixing them together.  (I probably shoulda dragged that little girl around with me the entire trip!) But let me get to each city and the experiences...

Curitiba is an industrial/urban city.  With about 20 malls.... I'm not exaggerating.  And they call them "shopping"!  Imagine the excitement I felt when I heard that word. Our first morning we woke up to breakfast and a bit of commotion... in a good way.  Of course we decided to be nosey and found out that the Iranian national team was staying in our hotel!! We somehow happened to get into the elevator with one of the coaches and made a friend.  The entire day he would see us he would strike up a conversation.  He let us know what time his team would be leaving for the game (2:10pm...) and we decided we just had to join in on the commotion.  We camped out in the lobby and were approached by so many people asking us if we were Irani... I'm guessing we looked it...and after seeing the Iranians that were there, I could see why they thought so.  They had a range of different features.  We sat and talked to many, the Iranians, a couple of Brazilians, the coach from the team, the Iranian head/representation in FIFA, and we even had a few run-ins with a couple of the players!  Before heading out behind the Iranian team for the stadium I even was gifted an official jersey for the Iranian team!

The first full day I was there I had the best food that I had the entire trip! Now, finding food isn't easy when you can't communicate. My cousin Tania and uncle Ramon were pretty much looked to for communication... and even they weren't 100% sure they knew what was going on.  And it being our first 24 hours in Brazil... and me and Melissa, my cousin, being on our own to explore didn't help much.  However, we walked around the neighborhood of our hotel and looked to see what kind of food we could find.  Image how grateful we were to find a menu posted on the wall with words like "hamburger" that we actually understood!  But don't worry, we didn't settle for a hamburger... we had stakes!  Brazil is known for stakes, meats in general, with churrascarias on every block! I ordered the chorrizo steak topped with chimichurri... and boy was it amazing! And for some reason every meal came with a side of fries... didn't matter what you ordered. We couldn't help ourselves and had to order a Caipirinha... which was pretty much a cup of rum blended with strawberries and kiwi... seriously... it was pure rum! But still so delicious.  Later that night as we watched the USA game at a restaurant, I had banana frita.

We were in Curitiba twice within our trip.  The second time back we were able to explore the tourist side a bit more.  The Botanical Gardens were in a beautiful park that I absolutely loved! The only part that wasn't so great... the winter season had actually hit Curitiba and we were NOT prepared for that... it was cold.  However, we still boarded the tour bus to explore and ride through the whole city and it was nice to see how much of the european influence it had with museums that were dedicated to the Polish, the Germans, and so many more.  We also got to see the not-so-nice side of town as we drove through.  You never hear of the bad on a trip, but in countries like these you know they exist.  Favelas were not to be forgotten.

-Foz do Iguaçu-
Foz do Iguaçu was absolutely beautiful! The World's Wonders are it's wonders for a reason!  This city had truly made dreams come true for me!  We landed with just a half hour to spare before the Mexico vs Brazil game.  Let me tell you I was a nervous wreck with our flight delayed about 5 hours and being in a Brazilian airport with my Mexico jersey on, all my luggage, and not understanding why they would send us from on terminal to another.  All I wanted was to be in our resort watching that game!  As we drive through traffic we realized that everything was closed and everyone was on their way home to watch the game. When Brazil has a game it's a national holiday... everything closes early for the game. When we finished checking in we ran to dump our bags into the room and we ran to make it just in time for the game to start.  Needless to say we were the only Mexicans there and all the Brazilians would say "boa sorte" (good luck).  But after Guillermo "Memo" Ochoa's spectacular performance as goalie that gained him the player of the match trophy... they couldn't say anything other than smile and admit we played a good game.

But onto what really made this city beautiful... the wonderful waterfalls that really make you feel like this world was made with a design in mind.  The falls connect three countries but fall mostly over Brazil and Argentina. I gazed in utter amazement when I first saw these falls.  The closer we hiked to it, the more wonderful it became! (And the more wet our clothes got!) There is a bridge that if you cross it to the end of it, you will be standing right in the middle of the falls and are surrounded by the cascades, looking deep down through one of its breaks (you can see the bridge in the picture).  Needless to say, my cousin and I went in a bit dry and came out soaked because we didn't buy a pancho... the raccoon/armadillo animal didn't let us off the table (yes, we were scared of it).  We even took a safari through the natural habitat of this raccoon/armadillo looking animal (which I believe was actually the 2014 World Cup mascot, Fuleco).  At the end of the safari it was another hike (where we were bit my mosquitos or who knows what) to where we could finally take our boat ride to the falls... like literally to the actual falls where I swear it was like I was taking a shower in it because we came out soaked!  Every time we came close to the fall I swear all the water only came to us and the poor guy who sat in front of us. But it was an experience to take this boat ride through the Argentinean/Brazilian boarder.
Well you know what... let me just show you this Wonder!

After enjoying this marvel and checking that off of my bucket list, I got the chance to mark off yet another from my bucket list.  To be in more than one place at the same time.  We stopped to see Las Tres Fronteras, the spot where the boarders of Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay meet. 

-Rio de Janeiro-
Rio has to be my favorite city of the three.  Not only because it is a beach destination, but because even more dreams came true, experiences of a life time happened, and the world cup atmosphere in this city was beyond explanation. Driving into the city one of the first things we saw was Estádio Mario Filho, Maracanã.  Every soccer player should relate, but my cousin and I could not contain our excitement! We were pretty much jumping out of our seats and craning our necks so we didn't have to stop looking!  And then we finally made it to the beach.  People everywhere!  Beautiful people from everywhere! Languages from everywhere! The world is full of beautiful people!!!!  The sun setting on the beach, the game playing on the big screen, the soft, impeccable, white sand beneath my feet.  Surrounded by soccer everywhere, from people playing on the beach, little kids with the ball just dribbling all around, jerseys from every country being worn, and the game on the screen.  Markets on the streets. Bars on the streets. Restaurants on the streets. Copacabana had it all! I had found what I wanted from this trip in this one city, Rio de Janeiro!
I was even able to meet and take a picture with one of Mexico's National team's very own, the recently retired (I mean like literally the week before this World Cup), Cuahutemoc Blanco #10!!!!

 Estádio Mario Filho, Maracanã, one of the infamous stadiums in Brazil.  The place the World Cup final was played... congrats to Germany!!  All I can say is that being in this stadium, to watch a World Cup match, to have everyone comment on our Mexico jerseys, to speak to people who were born in Belgium and speaking to us in fluent spanish but lived in San Francisco, to hear the chants, see people representing so many countries in this world, to participate in a wave that included 73,819 people and still managed to go around consecutively a few times, to watch the team score and the crowd to go wild, I mean honestly the experience is one that must be lived to understand.

After the game we took detours through town to find Escadaria Selaron.  This staircase is full of tile collected from all over the world by the artist Selaron who took over 10 years to complete his piece.

Fan Fest on Copacabana -- USA vs Portugal game on the big screen, the most Americans I had seen on this entire trip in one place.  And the chants.... "I, I believe, I believe that, I believe that we, I believe that will win, I believe that we will win!!" and the not so iconic one, "We bring the noise, we bring the ruckus, USA ain't nothing to F*ck with!"... well no one said the americans were sober.  One of the coolest experiences... to finally be surrounded by Americans and all of us there cheering on our country, chanting, jumping, and embracing the fact that we all could communicate with one another!

This trip would not have been complete with out visiting el Cristo Redentor, Christ Redeemer.  The whole time I was in Rio I looked everywhere to be able to "see Jesus" and He was not to be seen.  As we drove to the vans that would take us up, the taxi driver (who was the worst driver I've ever encountered) finally pointed the hill out to me!  I had "found Jesus"!  I was extremely ecstatic! But all that aside, I must admit that I needed to see the Christ, I needed to make my pilgrimage, I needed to be able to give thanks for all the beauty I experienced and saw on this trip.  And can't even tell you how wonderful it felt to be there.  Yet again, marking off another of the World Wonders.

This trip presented many emotions, many wonderful experiences, many beautiful sites and memories.  I dared to dream, you journeyed through with me. I came away with a Portuguese vocabulary of maybe less than 20 words... but regardless I know I can always say...

Eu te Amo Brasil!

- Andrea

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