Day 231 - Ouro Preto to Rio de Janeiro
Trip Start Sep 02, 2007
243Trip End May 01, 2008
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We arrived a little after 5am, when it was pitch black outside so we didn't rush to get in a taxi.
We tried (unsuccessfully) to find an internet terminal in the bus station to check the address of our hostel in Ipanema.
Katie then thoroughly bamboozled (successfully) the poor woman on an information desk to try and find out the address of our hotel (which turned out to be in Katie's bag all along).
Finally we tried (also unsuccessfully) to haggle with the taxi operators to try and reduce our fare into town. It was a bit of a price-fixing rip-off, but we had no other options.
In the end we drove down to find the best deal that we could and 20 minutes later were outside our new home in the leafy beach district of Ipanema.
We enjoyed a really cool ride through Rio with the sun coming up, but unfortunately there was some low cloud cover around so we couldn't see the 'big dude on the hill who looks like a chick'.
That big cloud is pretty much exactly covering Christ the Redeemer, how selfish.
Our hotel is in a good location and the guy at the front desk was friendly, so we're now utilising their free internet (good work) to kill some time before our room becomes available in SIX HOURS TIME! (groan...)
I'm not quite sure how that will work but we'll probably dump the bags and wander up the beach later in the morning; at the moment all I really want to do is sleep because neither of us slept very well on the night bus.
Ok, after typing the last message we wandered out onto Ipanema beach for the first time, which is absolutely lovely.
The sun was just starting to poke through the clouds, but Ray Fey over here hadn't expected that so had taken no shades or cap to deal with this sudden world of sun.
Ipanema beach is split into different zones, according to demographics.
One part is gay, one part is for young people, another is for more mature members of society and finally a bay at the end is for, erm... dogs.
We flirted with the idea of rounding the corner to walk to Copacabana beach, but we were both feeling like zombies so we headed back to the hostel via the local "hippy market", which is only open on Sundays and full of the usual tourist tat.
When we got back to the hostel I noticed a sign advertising a footie game today at the world famous Maracana stadium, otherwise known as the largest capacity football stadium anywhere in the world!
We'd worked this end of our trip around catching a game at the Maracana stadium and we'd intended to see local favourites Flamengo play there on Wednesday night in the Copa Liberadores tournament, the South American equivalent of the Champions League.
However, when I saw that today's game was a cup final between Fluminese v Botafogo, my interest was piqued significantly because I knew that both teams were from Rio, so it was sure to be an amazing atmosphere in a full stadium. Remember that the Maracana holds over 100,000 people!
So after some hasty renegotiating with my delectable wife we decided to join the group to see the game today, for 80 R$s each, about 25 quid. It included tickets & transport, so didn't seem too bad... it was definitely better priced than the Boca game we saw in Argentina anyway.
After being a bit disappointed with the Boca game (I think my expectations were just too high, it was still a great experience) I tried not to get too carried away with any thoughts of what to expect from this one.
The collection time was 1:30pm, but it was now 11am and we still weren't even in our room yet, so we collapsed into a couple of hammocks outside and waited for the dude to vacate our room (who was late) and for the maid to clean it ready for us (ditto!).
Finally we got into our room and had 20 minutes to turn around and meet the rest of the group in the reception area.
The shower was FANTASTIC, the bed actually has sheets which cover the matress (unlike 99% of places in Brazil where we've stayed), the pillows are not like car seats and most of the fabrics used seem to be cotton rather than the usual polyester... things are looking up!
It turned out that 12 people from our hostel went on the tour and they all seemed nice enough, even when we spent 40 minutes waiting outside another local hostel for the losers inside to get ready! Highly frustrating.
With a full mini bus we eventually headed down the narrow streets of Ipanema, past the Lago (lake) over which Christ the Redeemer watches and then into the middle of the city and to the stadium.
The closer we got to the stadium, the more people were on the streets and in the roads selling huge flags for either team and the more cars we saw with shirts, flags, towels etc flying out of the windows!
Everyone on our bus started to get pretty excited, the atmosphere was building and we were still miles away!
Even Katie started to really look forward to it, it was a really contagious feeling.
We stopped the bus around the corner from the Maracana stadium, where we watched a hilarious encounter with a Fluminese fan and a group of 40 Botafogo fans after his car broke down opposite them, he got absolutely SLATED!
We bought some beers from one of the many street vendors and walked up their equivalent of Wembley Way towards the famous stadium.
Here's Katie looking very glamorous while drinking a can of Skol!
When we got there the place was buzzing, depite us being there two full hours before kick-off (4pm).
There was a statue of some bloke just before we entered the stadium proper which all the fans were touching, so I had a quick go for good luck, despite feeling a bit of a fraud!
We walked into and up through the stadium, found some good seats in the Botafogo end (the black & whites), bought some more beers and waited patiently for the stadium to fill up.
Despite there being probably only a few thousand fans there when we arrived from each team, they were making a RIGHT racket!
It was great to watch the stadium filling up and we knew then that we were in for something special.
It was already much noisier than the game we saw in Buenos Aires and there was hardly anyone here yet!
I've been to Anfield many times and have always been impressed at the large flags that are sometimes passed around the Kop, but I don't think I've ever seen flags quite this big!
The Fluminese fans also passed around the biggest football shirt that I've ever seen in my life!
There were loads of guys walking around with really heavy boxes selling everything from beer to ice creams to fake football jerseys and bandanas.
Most of us invested in a fake Botafogo top for 30 R$ (8 quid) while some people (like Katie) went for the Botafogo bandana, which was very stylish!
With every minute we got closer to kick-off the atmosphere increased...
...be it large white balloons, huge flags being waved...
...or hundreds of flares going off!
As I said, the Botafogo colours are black & white stripes, just like Newcastle United, so half the stadium was in monochrome while the Fluminese colours are green, red and white, again vertical stripes.
The Fluminese end was a riot of colour and they the game hadn't even started yet!
This was definitely the loudest game of football I'd ever been to, or seen on tv.
An hour and a half later, with about 20 minutes until kick-off, the atmosphere was electric, with all the gaps in the seating nearly full and both sets of fans in fine voice.
Huge flags were being wielded with passion, as their owners either fought with them on the spot, or ran around the stands with them billowing behind them.
What a fantastic atmosphere.
Occasionally those larger flags would be unfolded and passed down over our heads, sometimes covering the ENTIRE SECTION!
Again this reminded me of standing on the Anfield Kop, only this time I had absolutely no idea what they were singing about!
When the players came out onto the field the noise jumped up another 20% on the decibel scale, it was thunderous.
Being cross-city rivals the fans obviously hate each other and that just added to the vociferous atmosphere.
Both teams went off like a bullet, it was a great first 10 minutes with chances at both ends and plenty of excitement.
The fans were going NUTS and even if we couldn't understand the words to the 'Fogo' songs we could at least keep up the tune...
The standard of football was pretty good, not as fast as the Premiership but definitely as skillful, if not more.
After half an hour it was all Fluminese and their #10 playmaker Thiago Neves was dominating the game.
He was wearing a neon coloured cast on his wrist, so wasn't hard to miss, especially for a trained commentator like myself!
Neves had an cultured left food and I was loving watching him carve the Fogo defence to pieces, even if I was supposed to be hating his guts!
The Fluminese fans set off an impressive co-ordinated flare display, but I had no idea if it was supposed to symbolise anything.
A few minutes after this Fluminese won a clear penalty and the 90,000 crowd collectively held their breath as the #9 striker ran up to take it.... and hit the right post!
Of course the Fogo went absolutely BANANAS, you'd think that we'd just scored rather than merely staying level, I've never seen a missed pen celebrated like that, it was insane.
You can see it very clearly on this video clip from my digital camera!
With 5 minutes left until half time, the Fogo right back carved through 2 weak tackles, side-stepped a 3rd and let fly from 25 yards.
It flew towards the top left corner like a bullet before striking the inside of the post, richocheing behind the keeper and out past the goal-line from where it was cleared. Wonderful bit of skill.
It was 0-0 at half time and we were all wondering if the game might go to Extra Time or even Penalties.
We'd seen the semi-final settled on penalties while we were on Morro de Sao Paulo and that was also nuts, so we knew that either way it was going to be very entertaining.
It was all Fogo in the 2nd half, without them creating any clear-cut chances, just loads of pressure and possession.
With 15 minutes left one of the Fogo defenders collected a stupid second yellow card and was sent off.
Our end of the stadium exploded and so did Fluminese's, for different reasons.
Fluminese stole the initiative and suddenly their #10 was able to get on the ball and make things happen.
It didn't look good for Fogo, even if they didn't concede in the 90 minutes then they were likely to lose in extra time, it's so rare for a team with less players to go on and win in extra time.
However, with only 2 minutes left on the clock, Fogo broke down the right channel where the ball was whipped in, cleared, crossed again and then flicked in at the near post!
Armageddon would have been less noisy, our end went absolutely BESERK, including all of the backpackers from our hostel who were jumping up and down hugging each other, dishing out Borat style "high fives" to everyone around us!
Who would have thought that something as simple as this...
...could cause a reaction like this!
The pandemonium continued even when Fogo had a SECOND player sent off for two yellow cards, so they finished the game with only 9 men!
The celebrations that followed the final whistle made me feel hoarse just watching!
Crazy stuff, but SO much fun to be in the middle of.
Here you can see the amount of flare smoke in the stadium, it looked like it was on fire...
The big screen soon confirmed what we knew already, that Botafogo were this year's "Taca Rio" champions!
I've been to some incredible European nights at Anfield, I've gone to games to see us play Man United, Chelsea & Arsenal, I've seen derby games against Everton and even Cup Finals, but the atmosphere of today's game matched or maybe even exceded any of those games.
Katie LOVED it too, it was just a very special day for anyone in the Black & White part of the ground/city.
After we watched the team lift the cup, do their lap of honour, climb onto the nearest goalpost to hold the cup aloft (?!), it was time to go, so with big smiles we followed the singing hoardes back to our van and then wove back through the jubilant streets to our hostel.
The players got a deafening outpouring of love from their fans...
...and here's that strange celebration on top of the crossbar, you can just make out the cup!
By the time we got back to the hostel we were starving hungry, so we freshened up before heading out to a restaurant in the next beach along (Leblon - the most expensive area of the city) which is considered the best pay-per-kg restaurant in the entire city.
We could immediately see why!
We just couldn't BELIEVE the choice of food on offer, it was like a gourmet restaurant, but buffet style.
I think I could have had about four plates without repeating any of the dishes it was amazing.
I had a really full plate and was so stuffed that I couldn't even make it up for seconds.
Like that huge place in Mendoza, there were parts of the food offer that I didn't even SEE, let alone sample!
We've been to quite a few of these restaurants now, but this was the best, hands down.
I was determined to leave a bit of room for desert and rather than the rank sugary nonsense of Ouro Preto, these were luxury deserts and loads of them!
I filled my plate to the point where Katie was actually embarrassed to be sitting with me and she was even more shocked to watch me finish everything!
It was absolutely delicious, one of the best places we've eaten on our entire world trip, let alone Brazil or even South America.
It certainly wasn't cheap, but for once we got what we paid for.
We felt bad about eating so much, so we decided to walk the twenty-odd blocks home to try and burn off some of the calories!
It was actually a lovely walk through Leblon and into Ipanema, which are two of the nicer districts of Rio, both full of restaurants, cafes, bars, bistros, great shops and loads of nightlife.
We were too tired to keep going tonight, which was a shame because the Fogo fans were out in force!
Today had definitely been a very expensive day, so we hope to have a quiet few days here without spending too much cash before heading back to the beaches south-west of Rio for a few days, and then flying home from Rio on the last day of the month.
That's the plan (Stan) anyway.
After a very dodgy start to the day I think we had a fantastic afternoon and evening; we both love Rio already and can't wait to explore more areas over the next few days!
Lots of love,
Al & Katie xx