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Copa do Mundo...

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The air is thick. I can feel the moisture hanging in the air with every breath I take. Although I cannot see the sun, it is bright where I stand. A huge figure looms ominously above me, hidden by the clouds in which it currently stands. It towers over me even if I cannot make it out. Seconds stretch into minutes. Minutes become an hour.

Jesus... why have you forsaken me?

On Wednesday I went up to Corcovado to see Christ the Redeemer. It was partly cloudy, but looked like a beautiful day down in the city. As I ascended the mountain, it changed from clear to hazy to downright dark. The clouds roll in from the land and drift toward the sea. Part of what makes Rio so great also makes seeing the Redeemer in a perfect viewing moment difficult — the mountain is tall enough to affect cloud movement. The clouds hit the mountain range from behind and block out the statue as it did on Wednesday. But, every 30 minutes or so, the clouds would break for 15 or 20 seconds and you could see the statue.

I have to say, the statue itself is somewhat underwhelming. You have this idea in your head that it’s monstrous, but when you get there it turns out to just be huge. It’s impressive for sure, but it looks so big from the ground due to it adorning the top of a mountain. The actual statue isn’t as large when looking at it from the base because you don’t’ have the same perspective as you do from the city. I didn’t really care to see the statue other than to say I have, and now I can say it.

After getting back to the hostel, David and I decided to head out to Lapa with our German friends also staying at Villa Leonor. We ran into some more Germans — Axel and Roland — and ended up partying with them in Lapa all night long. Because it was the night before the World Cup started, everyone was out in their country’s kit and shouts rang from every corner of the neighborhood as different fan bases sang their songs at maximum volume. Wednesdays are not usually a big night in Lapa, but there were enough foreigners to make it an unforgettable night.

After staying out until 4:30am, we woke up around 11am the next morning. David and I went to meet the Germans at Copacabana Beach for lunch at 1pm. We went back to the apartment they’re renting for some drinks, then headed to the FIFA fan fest for the opening game.

Decked in my official Brazilian number 10 jersey, I made my way down the beach with my friends to the huge viewing party. There was an official fan fest area that was free to get into, but it was absolutely packed and beer was super pricey. So, we went to the right of the festival between the screen and the ocean. We could still see the screen perfectly but without all the restrictions of FIFA.

We rented chairs for $5 reals and there was a beer vendor three feet away from me. I did not even have to get up in order to get refills — it was amazing.

Off to the right, the waves were breaking onto the shore and the moon rose out of the ocean. I never really think about where the moon is in the sky; I generally just see it appear.

Not yesterday.

Yesterday the moon rose directly out of the ocean, progressing higher into the sky as the night wore on. Sitting in the sand, drinking a beer, listening to the waves crash into the shore, watching Brazil open the World Cup as the moon seemingly rose right out of the water? That’s one of those experiences words can’t really do justice. It was honest-to-God unique, and I know I will never forget the feeling I had on that beach.

To make matters even better, about 30 minutes before the game, my good buddy from Dallas — Greg Miller — joined our ranks. He’s in Rio for a few days before heading to Salvador to watch some games in person. It was so much fun hanging out with him after not having seen him in almost a year. He was a welcome addition to the party, and the rest of the group was happy to have him.

The highlight of the evening was probably when Neymar Jr. scored the equalizing goal on a spectacular bit of skill and the 100,000+-person crowd went ape-shit. It was such a fun experience being a part of the game in this way. Everyone was in such a good mood when Brazil went ahead, and the atmosphere was downright euphoric when they put the game away with their third goal.

Me, Greg, David and the Germans decided to grab some dinner, go back to their apartment so the guys could shower, then we headed out to Lapa. Again.

Last night, it was crazy in the party district of Rio. With the home-team victory, everyone was in a great mood. Our group grew as the night progressed as we had set up shop in front of a bar near a big intersection in Lapa. There were easily 20 people hanging out at our table. I ran into a bunch of guys wearing USA jerseys and they all sat down with us for a while. Unlike the night before, we were only able to make it until 3am, at which point I took a cab home because I was way too tired to walk up the hill.

Yesterday was exactly what the world cup is all about — surreal scenery, good beer and better friends watching the beautiful game together. Life doesn’t get much better.

BrazilAndrew Stern