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Dispatch from Brazil: Road to Natal

15 June 10:09 am

Dispatch from Brazil: Road to Natal

By Jane Sexton

Andy's first post since arriving in Natal, Brazil with the American Outlaws ahead of tomorrow's U.S. v. Ghana match - kick at 4 p.m. MT on ESPN

Road to Natal

After a 32 hour journey, I’m safely in Brazil. The last two days have been spectacular and tiring, an exciting taste of what’s to come.

My first 2014 World Cup experience actually happened in Salt Lake City, at Rodizio Grill in Trolley Square. There, my friends and I attended a party thrown by the restaurant to watch Brazil’s opening match against Croatia. As I entered, a few Brazilians danced the Samba, waiting for the big event to begin, but it quickly got too crowded for that. It seemed as if the entire Brazilian population of Salt Lake City suddenly appeared, and it was significantly more than Rodizios expected. We all stood shoulder to shoulder. As the game began, the whole place shook as all Brazilians, and especially the young ones who attended, practically yelled the Brazilian anthem in unison. Then, when Neymar scored the equalizing goal, all stood up and cheered as one, with air horns and vuvuzelas and screaming and dancing and all. More celebrations came on Fred’s penalty, though perhaps more reservedly as the room sensed that it was an unfair decision. It was a veritable sea of yellow, though just a hint of what I would experience as I arrived in Brazil.

The next morning, I took a Delta flight to Houston, the meeting spot of the American Outlaws before taking a charter to Brazil. I found some fellow AO members at baggage claim and we desperately wanted to watch the rematch of last year’s final: Spain-Netherlands. However, there was just one establishment in the entire Houston airport complex featuring a TV that was outside of security, a literal hole-in-the-wall named the “Stadium Bar and Grille.” For those of you who will ever go to Houston, a tip: avoid the Stadium Bar. It has remarkably terrible food, exactly the kind you’d expect from a school cafeteria. Its only redeeming element was a single TV, which about 15 of us crowded around to watch the game. Two fans, especially, were notable: one was a Dutch man, who seemed almost too shocked at the proceedings to celebrate. Only the smile on his face and occasional hand gestures told the story of his inner emotions as he watched quietly. The other was actually my roommate, randomly assigned to me during the trip. He’s from Nebraska, and unfortunately lost his luggage when the airline sent the luggage to IAD (Washington DC) rather than IAH (Houston). He’s scheduled to receive it tomorrow, but we may have to share some supplies in the meantime.

As the day went on, and more and more U.S. fans arrived in Houston, I heard a wider variety of stories. The American Outlaws have grown greatly in the last four years, and I’ve met people from a wide variety of locales: some from large chapters (like Los Angeles, Washington DC, and San Francisco), and some from places as small as Carney, Nebraska, home of the smallest AO chapter with a population of just 35,000. We all waited to check in for our chartered flight at 8:30 to Natal, and as we waited to board, I looked up from my writing and decided to join a circle juggling a soccer ball. While the information phone may have been in danger from our touches, we didn’t particularly care.

The flight, a nine hour journey from Houston to Natal, Brazil, was an interesting experience in itself. We were served “dinner” at 2:30 AM due to delays, and as some tried to sleep, others tried to revel in the excitement of the times. Everyone, though, celebrated at the end of the flight, getting together for a rousing “We Are Landing in Brazil!” chant.

After getting through customs and grabbing our luggage, we were taken by bus to our hotel in Natal, a 35 minute ride from the airport. As visible on TV during the Mexico-Cameroon match, Natal has experienced heavy rain in the last two days. It’s clear that this is a rarity for the Natalians; indeed, I’m told Natal only receives rain 16 out of the 365 days per year. As we drove by, I saw kids making “mud angels” in the puddles, their parents waving to the bus filled with Americans.

The U.S.-Ghana game isn’t until Monday, meaning we have a day to get settled and learn about our surroundings here in Natal. Another dispatch from Brazil soon!

Andy