Wednesday, June 25th 2014.
1:00 PM: It's 23 hours before USA v Germany kick off (Note: Manaus is 1 hour difference from Recife). I threw my traveling backpack onto a small seven-person boat to cruise my way out of the Amazon. After a few hours, we got to the Manaus dock, where they sell fresh fish along two small rows leading to the main road. We got into a taxi and headed straight for the airport, except we have to go around the city because Victor "Muma" Bernardez is grabbing all the attention at Arena da Amazônia as he played against Switzerland.
5:00 PM: Once we arrive at the airport, I go straight to the ATM. I tried to withdraw cash a few days before, but was declined multiple times, even with a travel note on my account. After a difficult time of trying to contact my bank back in the US, they told me that Brazil is a "restricted country" and that my withdrawals may not work even after they make note of my situation. Thankfully, it worked.
I immediately joined the rest of my friends in Manaus, at the "Fun Zone" - there's one set up in each airport - friends with whom I had traveled out and the new ones I had just met in the Amazon. We watched the remainder of the exciting Ecuador v France (0-0) match on their HDTV. The Fun Zone also had two EA FIFA World Cup games set up, two foosball tables, as well as a new game we learned that translates as ‘table soccer'. Afterwards, we compare our Amazonian insect bites, some are worse than others.
11:00 PM: All my friends had earlier flights, so it was just the waiting game for me, along with many other World Cup fans headed all over Brazil to their next destination, including some Honduras Muma fans and fellow USA fans trying to rest a bit before the big match day.
Thursday June 26th 2014. Game Day.
3:00AM: Time to check in. I was defaulted to a middle seat, 9B. I looked for a window seat, but it looks like the guys I had met waiting for the same flight had already taken all of them. I found an aisle seat, 22C. I figured, they have to get the bags off the plane, which will take about the same amount of time to de-board.
As I left the check in desk, I couldn't help but notice two Americans traveling together, who got into a shouting match. Thankfully, no security got involved, but I thought to myself, thank goodness we aren't in USA right now or these guys would be missing our biggest group stage match in ten hours time.
5:00 AM: I boarded the plane. Now it was time to sleep for as much of the 3.5 hour flight as I could. Fortunately, I was successful for three of those hours - that plus the one hour of sleep I got in the Fun Zone...I'll take it.
9:30 AM:, Three and a half hours before kickoff, we land. YEA! GAME TIME! But wait, it's pouring rain and there is a plane parked at our gate. So, we have to de-board section by section and load onto a bus, who will then take us to baggage claim. I knew giving up that 9B seat would haunt me.
10:00 AM: Three hours before kickoff. I picked up my luggage from baggage claim, then headed back to the free drink station I passed, which was right next to our baggage carousel. I take my drink to go and immediately start looking for a taxi. The line for a taxi in arrivals is super long, so I went upstairs to check out the Metro situation and I just happened to find a taxi in the departure area. I showed him my destination, and he declines stating that the roads are flooded. He didn't speak English and I don't speak Portuguese, but I understood exactly what he was saying. So, I looked across the road and saw the Metro line was about thirty minutes long.
10:30 AM: Two and a half hours before kickoff. In a last minute ‘Game Day' decision, I changed to into my USA gear, dropped my bag at the airport and headed straight for the game. It appeared I wasn't the only one who knew this was our only option. The line to drop off our bags took about twenty minutes. Luckily, by the time I got through that, the line for the Metro had dropped to only five or ten minutes.
11:00 AM: Two hours before kickoff. I buy my wrist band to Arena Pernambuco for R$8.00 (about US$4.00), which I heard is an hour away. I boarded the first Metro, which initially closed the doors when I got up the stairs, but reopened, because I'm sure someone got hit by the doors on the fully packed transit. I got really lucky and was able to jump into a small space before the doors closed again. From that moment on, I was a cow, being herded from the first metro on the blue line, to the second metro on the orange line, to the bus station, on to the bus, which finally dropped us off about half a mile from the Arena. Report has it that they did not let any taxis or cars get close, so everyone in the city had to take this same method of transit.
12:45 PM: Fifteen minutes before kickoff. I rushed down the hill to the Arena to try and make it inside before kickoff. I was greeted by rain - lots and lots of rain - as well as many Americans looking for tickets and beer vendors lining our pathway to the entrance. I would have taken pictures, but by then there was no time. I got through security with six minutes to spare.
12:55 PM: Five minutes before kickoff: Once I got inside the stadium, I found my Locals (Hawaiian sandals) were slipping all over the place due to the type of paint they used on the cement. I took them off real quick, just so I could run the last part of my journey to my seat.
1:00 PM: Kick Off! I got to the top of my section just as the opening whistle blew. It was pouring rain, the ball was kicked and immediately it was all worth it. These are the types of situations and games us true soccer fans live for. After all I had been through to get there, it was the most beautiful sight and feeling.
Just when I thought it couldn't get any better, I walked down to my seat to find fellow Bay Area friend, Andrew Laing and his group just one row behind me. It's a small (soccer) world after all. We cheered on the boys the entire first half together.
Then, my magic moment came in the second half. Wondo [Chris Wondolowski] started to warm up right in front of us, about seven rows down. It was the only moment, for a group of San Jose fans, to chant the Wondo song and he could actually hear it. So, no time to waste, we immediately broke out in chorus. He remained focused with his warm ups, but still gave us a clap of thanks and gratitude. We were also able to communicate the latest scores from the Portugal v Ghana game to him a little during the match. We couldn't be happier for such a great guy!
This 26-hour story is a true soccer fan's dream come true! I couldn't ask for a better World Cup experience, except that we lost the match 0-1, and yet we were still able to celebrate afterwards because we advanced as the 2nd place team in our group!