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Brazil's best surprise

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The day after the game began with a bump being that we were supposed to wake up at 6:30am to go on a jungle and waterfall hike. That didn’t happen.

We slept right through the alarm before Dustin woke us up at 9am. We were so dejected from the night before that we couldn’t even stay out to party with all our American friends. But, after so much beer, so much cheering, so much Celebration, our bodies and minds just couldn’t take any more.

After we woke up, we decided to head into the city center to try and book a half-day tour. Being that Brazil was playing that afternoon, though, no one was giving us the time of day on that. We did find one tour company that would book Dustin and John for the next day, but I couldn’t go because my flight left Manaus for Recife at 3:00pm. They both booked their tour, then asked the kind, circa late-60s tour owner about a good local spot for lunch. He responded by telling us that if we waited a couple of minutes for him to finish one more booking, he would take us to a local spot himself. Of course we were going to take him up on it, so we waited outside for all of 60 seconds before he comes flying out of the shop at a competitive speed walkers’ pace toward his car. We followed him around the block and all got in. We drove for 10 minutes or so to a local buffet where you pay by the kilo; you get as much food as you’d like and pay for it by weight instead of by item. It was exactly what we needed because we were hung over from the night before and had yet to eat that day on account of our apartment being way the hell out in the boonies without a working kitchen for us to use.

We sat and visited with Nunez for quite a while about his time in the tourism business, what ails the Brazilian government, the battle of the sexes, American soccer (of which he was surprisingly knowledgeable), you name it. He was like Brazil’s version of the most interesting man in the world, limited to conversation only (as opposed to daring feats of adventure, etc.).

After lunch, he took us to a giant, beautiful mall to get a coffee, as is his afternoon tradition. We insisted on paying for the coffee in repayment of showing us such a great lunch spot and driving us around town for the day. We hung out and talked for a twenty or thirty more minutes, but then we needed to get moving because Brazil was about to play Cameroon to clinch its spot in the knockout stage. Nunez drove us almost the entire 25 minutes to Manaus’ FIFA Fan Fest, but dropped us off a bit short of the venue for fear of traffic (which was well warranted).

We grabbed a cab the rest of the way to the Fan Fest and walked inside. The only problem with this particular venue is that the shade is almost non-existent and you’re in the middle of the freaking jungle. It was so hot I had people around me fanning me for fear I was going to faint (I was never in danger of that, but I don’t know if Brazilians are used to seeing anyone sweat that much). Even though I was wearing swimming trunks and no shirt, I was covered in sweat from head to toe. It was easily 95 degrees, 100 percent humidity and we were directly in the sun at 3:00pm. Rarely have I been in heat that oppressive for as long as I was — and it’s supposed to be winter here!

Brazil ended up beating the crap out of Cameroon, and everyone left in a great mood. We decided to head back toward the city center and the main square to see what was on the docket for the night. We ended up stumbling into a pretty good local restaurant that looked like it had been outright looted. Of everything on the menu (easily 40+ items), he could only make five of them because the restaurant had been cleaned out because of the Brazil game that afternoon. The food was pretty good and it made for another nice local meal in such a remote location.

After dinner, we went and hung out on the square for the rest of the night, just socializing with locals and buying beers from vendors selling them on the street. It was an awesome night, and we met a lot of interesting people. A flamboyantly gay Brazilian man hit on both Dustin and me, which was a new experience on this trip. And, the gringo factor was in full effect; let me explain…

In a place like Rio, the gringo factor is pretty weak because there are so many tourists that visit the city every day; in an isolated city like Manaus, that’s simply not the case. Most of the locals rarely, if ever, see Americans in their fine city. And, for whatever reason, they love us. Girls would walk up to the three of us and ask us to take pictures with them out of the blue. Women would give Dustin their number even if they didn’t speak a word of English. At one point in the night, we were talking to three different groups of friends simultaneously and none of them left the conversation because of the sheer novelty of hanging out with gringos. The gringo factor was in effect in Recife some, but it was in full force in Manaus. When walking down the street, guys and girls alike would stare at you until you left their field of vision. It was never in a threatening way, but rather from a sense of utter fascination. You could wave at girls on the street and they would blush and giggle profusely to their friends. I imagine this is a small sense of what professional athletes and musicians feel in their everyday lives. And while we never acted on any of it, it was still a pretty sweet boost to the ego (as if I really needed that, but oh well).

The next morning, John and Dustin went on their tour around 8am while I didn’t fly out until 3pm that afternoon. I went to go talk to our host to get a ride to the airport, only to find that he and all the other patrons of our little complex were gone. And the outer door to the area was locked. I was trying to arrange a ride to the airport with some friends I had met the night before and all the while, I’m thinking about ways to break out of the complex in order to make it to the airport on time. Luckily, about 5 minutes before I literally started scaling the 12’ wall surrounding the place with all my gear in tow, the host came back from running errands and was more than happy to give me a ride to the airport. It all ended up working out, but I was prepared to do some serious ninja work in the meantime if necessary…

All in all, Manaus was the best surprise of the trip. I was expecting some village in the Amazon, and it turned out to be one of the coolest cities I have ever been to. We met amazing people, held a sloth, fished for river monsters, saw the meeting of the waters, had an unforgettable time and almost (should have) beat Portugal in the process. I would definitely recommend a visit to anyone considering Brazil as a travel spot. Yes, the heat and humidity is oppressive on an epic scale, but it was totally worth it for us. And, despite a 60 percent chance of rain every day, we didn’t see a drop the entire time we were there.

That all changed in Recife…

BrazilAndrew Stern