It was like some image out of The Walking Dead. We hauled our suitcases to the curb outside Rio’s Galaeo International Airport and joined the fray of equally lost tourists desperately seeking a way into town. The tourist to taxi ratio that awaited us was appx 200:0. [lead image via pixels]
The reason for the quiet was obvious – it was 3:45pm and the Brazil v Mexico game was starting in 15 minutes. Every self respecting Brazilian was hunkered down in front of a TV eagerly awaiting the start of the match. Taxi fares come and go, but a World Cup victory is priceless.
After a half hour of waiting, we were among the lucky few to shove our way onto a bus destined for our Airbnb in Copacabana. The scene as we drove into Rio only got increasingly stunning. A city of millions was seemingly abandoned in the middle of the day.
We made it to Copacabana at the start of the second half and were able to secure a coveted viewing spot by squeezing into the back corner of a smoothie shop. Any establishment with a TV can guarantee its business will triple during an important match.
The game itself was unremarkable scoring-wise (final score of 0-0), but was noteworthy for a couple of truly excellent saves from the Mexican Goalie, Guillermo Ochoa.
I’d heard countless times how important soccer is in South America, and Brazil in particular. That it’s not merely a sporting event but a way of life. This was made 100% clear after witnessing the city come to a standstill for the game. All other responsibilities come in at a distant second to supporting their national team in the World Cup. While it made for a somewhat spooky welcome to the city, it ultimately showed how incredibly meaningful this tournament is to the host country and its citizens.
As the whistle signaled the end of the game, thousands of Brazilian fans poured into the streets decked out in yellow and green. The vibrancy of Rio was restored until the next Brazil match, and I learned an important lesson: never schedule a flight during game time.