Monday, July 07, 2014

Chasing More Turtles - Fernando de Noronha Day 4

Tuesday morning was our last bit of time with Benji and Nate before they split off to head to Peru.  It was so fun traveling with them.  Things are decidedly... quieter now.

I had a chill morning sorting a few things out for our departure to Foz do Iguaçu tomorrow.  I had been pretty freaked out because of the flood "of biblical proportions" according to the news that happened there in mid-June.  I was thinking we might either have to cut our trip short or we should change destinations to Rio or Manaus and head into the Amazon instead.  Thankfully, it looks like things have calmed down enough and trails have mostly re-opened so we should be okay.

The boys went out to explore a fort and came back.  Karina came back from her morning discovery dive, and then we headed out to Baia Sueste and said goodbye to our countrymen who will have just enough time to get to Recife, find a bar, and watch the US game.   Not wanting to spend more money renting a buggy and wanting to experience a bit more of the island culture here, Karina and I decided to hitchhike out to the beach where you are guaranteed to spot turtles.  We caught a ride to the airport and walked the rest of the 15 minutes to the beach.

The visibility in the water at Sueste is not great, we were told, because of the kelp and currents.  We got to the beach, and rented fins and lifejackets (which are required so that you don't touch the bottom and mess up the ecosystem).  We swam out pretty far trying to see what we could see. We had about 7 ft visibility at best and most of the time it was 3-4 feet and we were in water that wasn't much deeper than that.  The further out we got, the more clear the water got. But keep that visibility in mind as I reveal that I saw 6 sea turtles and 2 sting rays.  Basically I would be swimming along, trying my best to look around, and then a turtle would pop up directly below me and scare me half to death.  They are big! But the reason they like that bay so much is exactly because of the kelp that reduces the visibility.  They would swim around me, look at me, eat some kelp, and then swim on.  Meanwhile I was trying to swim around them and squealing into the Atlantic ocean.  The stingray spottings were scarier because they were in about 4 feet of water and they were so close to me when I could finally see them.  I could have stepped on them.  But I was floating on the surface, and they let me hang out and watch them glide along to sand.  Karina has the underwater camera and got some great shots of the turtles but I was off on my own when I spotted the rays so no photos there.

They told me that sometimes you would see sharks in the bay and I thought, man, if I see a shark it will be way too close for comfort. So I'm sort of thankful I did not, though they were probably around.

After getting home and cleaning up after another long afternoon of brining myself, we got dressed in all our Red White and Blue gear and headed down to the awesome beach bar at Praia do Meio to watch USAvBEL.  There was a large American contingent there and we had a lot of fun watching the game.  What a heartbreaker though! I've been enjoying seeing all the Tim Howard memes these last two days.  I will say that watching such a tough loss was softened by being on a beautiful beach, on a tropical island, and eating the best ceviche of my life directly afterwards.  The seafood on this island is just another reason to love it.  Fresh, delicious, and beautifully prepared, no matter where you go.  I could eat it forever.  Although the shrimp have been somewhat disappointing.  Nothing like Bill's Seafood shack in Sunset Beach, NC.

We went home, packed and then went to sleep.  The next morning I got up really early to try and see the dolphins at Baia do Golfinhos but missed them.  I had a really nice walk out there though.  Then I went back to the Pousada to get Karina and go to Baia dos Porcos.

So we hitchhiked out to the beach with some island friends we had made, and walked part of the way through mud that was so thick Karina lost her shoe in it.  But when we got there....

Cacimba do Pedra

So worth it! And that's not even what we were aiming for. This is Baia dos Porcos:

You guys, I was raving about Baia do Sancho.  Baia dos Porcos is actually the most beautiful beach I have ever been to.  I never wanted to leave. And these pictures, yeah, not professional.  It's just THAT BEAUTIFUL.  The water was so clear and warm it was like swimming in a salty pool.  The volcanic rock formations underneath the water were captivating and attracted lots of marine life.  AND WE SAW ANOTHER TURTLE.  Need I go on?

I was so very loathe to leave Fernando de Noronha but my worldwide quest to see awesome waterfalls called.  Three flights and close to 14 hours later, we finally arrived in Foz do Iguaçu, Parana, Brazil around 2am.  

The stars were bright, Fernando (de Noronha)

I think on Sunday when I woke up I actually had a hangover from so much fun.  I only had one caipirinha at the bar during the game and had felt a cold coming on for the entirety of Saturday but just pushed on through because of all the amazing things that were happening.

Saturday night it all caught up with me once I finally shut down and tried to give my body some rest.  I barely slept a wink and I dreamt in Cubism (can't really explain this further but I vividly remember that everything I dreamed looked like a Picasso painting) and felt a constant sense of struggle on Saturday night and Sunday morning I awoke bleary and feeling pretty terrible.  I took some medicine and powered up because I went through a lot of trouble to be able to go diving in Fernando de Noronha and I was NOT going to miss it.  

Benji is also a certified diver and so we went together.  As we piled onto our boat we met another American and other people from around the world.  Our guide/instructor spoke English and she did a great job telling us about the sites and preparing us for what we'd see and do.  On the way out to the dive site, we met some new friends:

Spinner Dolphins
I was so glad to see them since I didn't get to see them at Baia do Golphinos.  They are small little guys, only about 4 feet long, but a dolphin sighting is a dolphin sighting!

The first place we dove was a cave.  The only thing I told my mom that I would not be doing in Brazil other than attending parties with strange men was going cave diving. Sorry Mom!  We basically swam for 20 minutes to the mouth of a huge underwater cave, went inside to look for rays, and came back out and swam back to the boat.  We did see a ray.  But mostly what was stunning was the crystal clear water.  You could see forever in this place.  Tropical fish were everywhere. The colors were stunning and my crappy digital underwater camera could not do them justice.  The water was warm but I still wore a wetsuit because 75ft down it's still pretty chilly.  Scuba diving is very relaxing.  You can't hear anything except the water, and you have to concentrate on your breathing.   And if you get your weight belt and BC balanced just right, you can get the feeling like you are weightless.

Our dive group headed into the cave.  

The ray on the cave floor.

The coral wall we dove near.

Me exploring some coral formations. 

Just being able to spend a lot of time in that water and explore the beauty of the undersea garden that exists around this island was incredible.  Our second dive took place not too far away in a place with large pillars of coral that we could swim through. It's like a labyrinth.  Our guide, Ottavio this time, took us through them and showed us where to look for Moray eels, lobsters, and more rays.  We did see a reef shark.  Benji loves sharks so that was a great spot for him.

Small reef shark swimming with our dive group

The dives were about as good as diving could get but they were the last bit of energy I had.  Once we got on the bus to go back to the pousada I hit the wall.  Hard.  At 11:30am I got back to my room, and wanted to take a shower.  There was no hot water so I asked someone to check it.  Someone did and said wait ten minutes then try.  I was sitting on my bed ready to shower after the ten minutes was up and next thing I know it's an hour and a half later and Nate is knocking and asking if I knew where Benji was.  Salt-encrusted though I was, I had passed out without knowing it.  I sent him off to where I thought Benji was, and then I mustered all the strength I had to shower and crawl back in to bed.  I didn't wake up again until it was dark out.  At that point it was 7pm and my friends came back from some fun at the beach.  The sleep was really what I had needed. I hadn't gotten a good rest since I had left the US so it was very good to have found some even if I did have to give up an afternoon at one of these gorgeous beaches.  

Feeling better, we all went out to dinner at a place our hostess had recommended and we ended up seeing a few people from the staff of Ze Maria (where we had eaten the night before with the karaoke) there.  They recognized us and immediately they said "HEYYYYY America!" and shook all of our hands.  So awesome.  We had a great dinner and then walked back to the pousada where I again immediately went to sleep and woke up on Monday morning feeling much, much better.  

Monday, my goal was to go on a hike to a bay that you can only access at low tide. We were able to find an English speaking guide and go on the hike which was fortunate because only 100 people are allowed in the bay per day.  You can't wear sunscreen and you can't touch anything in the bay because they are serious about the preservation of the ecosystem.  And rightly so.  It was AMAZING in there.  I found an octopus, a baby moray eel, and two reef sharks.  And we were only in there for 30 minutes in an area less than 200 feet long, and less than three feet deep in most places.

Octopus at Atalaia Bay

Baby Moray Eel

Reef shark

We then hiked along the northeastern corner of the island to another natural swimming pool where we again saw a moray eel, bigger this time, and lots of fish.  Hiking along the coast line was gorgeous and the views were magnificent.  In these cases, pictures are much better than words.

Rain rolling in over the north east coast of Fernando de Noronha

When we got to the second natural tidal pool, sheltered by a reef wall, it started to rain.  I've spent so much time saturated in salt water it felt pretty nice to have some fresh water fall on me.  It's rainy season here but the storm didn't last long and the rain was light.  We then trekked up the rocky shoreline to the final tidepool.  I was pretty tired at this point and kind of done snorkeling because we had seen so much in the first pool.  And the hike up the coast on the rocky shore was treacherous since the rain made all the smooth rocks very slippery. It was slow going and we had to concentrate on our footing so didn't get to enjoy the scenery all that much.  We made it to the third tidepool but since the tide was coming in fast, the current was rough, the kelp significantly reduced visibility and the water was pretty cold.  We finished our hike and went to the shark museum where our guide picked us up and brought us back to the pousada.  We hung out, watched the very exciting Germany v Algeria match, got dinner, and then hung out on the terrace of our place looking up at the stars.  A great close to a great day.  All my wildlife hopes and dreams for this trip have been fulfilled, and then some.

As a sidenote, I have not been able to get this song out of my head since I touched down on this island. In some circles, this might be considered torture. "There was something in the air that night, the stars were bright, Fernando. They were shining there for you and me, for liberty, Fernando." plays on repeat at random times throughout my days here.  Also, I had never seen the music video for this song until I just searched for it so I could link it here just now.  Those crazy Swedes...I would like to join your campfire sing-alongs.  Please invite me to your next one, pretty please?  But seriously, singing this song is like my love letter to you, Fernando de Noronha. I have no idea what it's even about, though it seems to be about someone going to war and fighting for freedom, possibly the Mexican-American war since it mentions the Rio Grande? The more I think about this song, the more hilarious it gets. ABBA: the gift that keeps on giving.  

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Fernando de Noronha - The Best Day of My Life?

Our first full day in Fernando de Noronha was, quite simply, perfect from start to finish.  So much happened and all of it was so amazing I have started calling it the best day of my life. 

We had hoped to take a boat tour in the morning to see the dolphins and do some snorkling and to get a better idea of the terrain of the island.  The tours were full so instead of taking a boat to to the bay, we rented a dune buggy, and hiked our way in.  There is a 2 mile trail from one of the entrances to the national park here and we hiked down it, through the tropical forest, and to the overlook down to the Baia do Golfinhos (Bay of Dolphins).  
Baia do Golfinhos
 Each morning a pod of spinner dolphins visits this bay.  The biologists who are stationed at the overlook to observe the dolphins on a daily basis said that it had been a light morning, and only 450 had come.  But the pod has about 1000 members.  The overlook was peaceful and beautiful.  The ocean breeze blew onto the water and you could see the patterns of the wind and the current mix together.  The 150ft cliffs there are home to a colony of various sea birds.  We took in the scenery and then continue to hike along the edge of the cliffs, rewarded with gorgeous views and crystalline waters at every vantage point.  After a short while we got to Baia do Sancho, the beach we were going to swim and snorkle in.  But we were on top of a cliff... how would we get down to the soft powdery sand and inviting water? Answer: A series of ladders and steep stairways carved into the rock leading straight down to the beach.  No wonder it was mostly deserted and people prefer to take the boat tour there.
Ladders to get down the cliff to the beach, carved into rock.  
Baia do Sancho
We got down the side of the cliff and to one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever been to in my life.  And I have been to some beaches, let me tell you.  I basically threw my stuff to the ground and flat out ran to the water. I dove in and reveled in the perfect temperature and my incredibly buoyancy thanks to the high salt content.  I went back to my stuff, got my mask and snorkle and spent the next hour diving into rock formations and paddling around the bay, marveling at the colorful tropical fish that would swim right up to me, totally nonplussed.  I could have stayed there forever.  

I did get out of the water to hand off the mask and snorkle to Benji, but shortly after I did, he yelled, "KARLA, TURTLE!" and I sprinted down the beach towards the water once again.  I had made it very clear that one of my wildlife goals for this trip was to see a turtle.  The turtle was just minding his business, swimming around the bay.  I must have chased him around for at least 20 minutes.
Me with my new turtle friend!  
It was so fun swimming next to him and following him, watching him surface and dive, and how he could ride the current with his fins.  It was incredible.  He came right up to us.  The turtle, being amphibious, has me beat on swimming endurance so I had to stop chasing him after a while and just enjoy the ocean again.  The visibility in the water was incredible.  You could see forever.  And we took a lot of silly underwater pictures.

Baia dos Porcos 
Not wanting to miss the Brazil match (especially while in Brazil!) we made our way back from Baia do Sancho.  The trail we were hiking did take us to another overlook of Baia do Porcos which was absolutely gorgeous. There were natural tidepools and beautiful black volcanic rock everywhere.  I was on such a beach high.  I had never seen water this clear naturally or had such a good turtle sighting.  I did get very close to giant sea turtles in Barbados but this one seemed better because we got to swim together and he wasn't lured there as a tourist attraction.  Our crossing paths was much more organic.  

So my friends dropped me off at our pousada so I could try and find my dive card and logbook for the dives the next morning.  I had a crew of people looking for them for me at my apartment in VA and they were going to scan and send them if they ever found them.  They didn't but I called another dive shop I had been on a dive with and had them fax the dive shop here that I had been on a dive and done a course with them.  I left the apartment to get down to the game in time for the second half and just prayed that it would work out.  

Bar do Meio
I walk down the hill towards the shore and finally arrive at this awesome beach shack where no one even noticed that I walked in because they were all glued to the TV.  As I walked down there was no one on the streets, no one on the road, all I could hear in every house I passed was the game being broadcast and the cries of joy or pain in unison all through the 1.5 mile walk to the beach from my pousada.  Nate did look up just long enough see me coming down the hill to the bar, waved me over and told me what the situation was.  In the time since I left the pousada and the TV in my room, the second half had ended and it went into overtime.  Many of the fans at the bar were Brasilieros and so came with all the passion they could muster.

I can't adequately convey what it was like to watch the Brazil match, that came down to PKs, with Brazilians, in Brazil, on a gorgeous beach as the sun set.  After Brazil took home the W, the bar went berserk.  I must have high-fived every person in there.  And within about 5 minutes of the win, the DJ had set up his turntables and speakers and started spinning Samba and other dance hits.  Everyone started dancing.  

I truly understood dancing for the first time there on that beach.  Everyone was joyful, a win for the country, united in celebratory purpose, there were no divisions between us. It didn't matter that I wasn't Brasiliera by birth, I was for that evening.  As the beautiful rhythms of samba and calypso mixed with top-40 hits from the US, I couldn't stop myself from moving.  I felt so much a part of what was going on and so much in community with those around me.  I discovered something surprising: Shakira was right! My hips don't lie!  Dancing was born out of this kind of joy.  Someone somewhere, in an ancient time and place, felt so peaceful and joyful and safe and exuberant that they just had to move.  They celebrated with their bodies and it was a natural response to joy.  Friends, it was absolute magic.

Sunset at Baia do Meio - the view behind me when I turned around from watching the Brazil game

Post-win celebratory dancing at Bar do Meio
After dancing until it was dark out, I walked up to the dive shop to find out if my sort-of verification from a dive shop in Key West would allow me to dive in Brazil the next morning.  Turns out, it WOULD! Praise the Lord.  My friends picked me up in the buggy on the way back up to the Pousada and we all got ready for dinner that night.  Now, if my day had ended here, it probably would have been up there among the best days of my life I can remember.  

But it didn't.  

So we all got cleaned up and ready for dinner at Ze Maria where I had heard we would have live music and the best food the island has to offer. We get there and it's a lovely place, also a Pousada but definitely on the high-end side with little bungalows and a private pool and beach.  The restaurant was gorgeous.  The spread was unparalleled.  I ate some of the best tuna sashimi I ever had, save for the ahi tuna poke Brian and Gill Burgess made for me when I visited them in Hawaii.  Clearly the tuna had been caught and cut up that day and it was delicious and flavorful and everything else on the table was great as well.  It was a feast for the ages. To be able to share it with such good friends and to have so much fun doing it was truly special.  Benji, Nate and RJ would probably say that the part they didn't like about the meal was that there was a very lengthy explanation in portuguese about each dish at the beginning and there was an MC of the evening who sort of introduced everyone involved in the meal and himself and his family's restaurant.  Even though I couldn't understand very much, I thought it was a nice chance for the chefs to be able to explain their hard work and be publicly lauded for it. And then something amazing happened.  

Our waiter, who spoke English, came back to our table and asked us if anyone wanted to sing karaoke. And if they did, we had a chance to win a free night in the hotel.  Since I was having the best day of my life, I immediately volunteered because I knew it would only get better if I sang poorly in front of strangers.  After I put my name in for karaoke, I was called up almost immediately afterwards and the MC couldn't pronounce my name.  After going back and forth with the guy who was playing the guitar and singing along with everyone a few times, we finally found one we both knew, The Beatles (of course) "I Wanna Hold Your Hand".  I curtsied to begin my ballad and then let fly with every hambone performing move I could think of.  Thank goodness the mic was cordless.  I walked through the entire restaurant holding it out to different people, pointing at them, putting my arm around them, getting people to finish the lines for me.  They didn't know what hit them.  Oh, you don't believe me?  Good thing Nate had his phone:

After that, I tried to sit down, and was refused.  The guy on the guitar asked if I knew any Red Hot Chili Peppers, I asked if he knew Bon Jovi, he asked if I knew Bruce Springsteen, YES. But that's not what we landed on.  Benji, masterful as he is with winning a crowd, came up with "You've Lost that Lovin' Feeling" by the Righteous Brothers.  If there was anyone in that room who didn't love us before, we got them with that.  Benji and RJ sang back up and the low"do, do-doo, do-doo, do-doo-doo" part and everyone in the place went nuts.  We were cheered as we closed our (terrible) rendition and enjoyed the rest of our meal being minor celebrities in a restaurant on a tiny island off the coast of Brazil.  World Cup travel find finds fame for me.  I was interviewed on South African radio in Kruger National Park 4 years ago. 

After Karaoke was over, it went to all Brazil pop classics in Portuguese, I think.  But that didn't stop them from inviting us to come and dance with them.  It also didn't stop them from coming and strapping a huge drum on Benji without asking him if he wanted it, or giving me a marimba to play.  We closed the bar and were the last people to leave.  As we did leave, all the waiters in the restaurant were talking to Benji in broken English "Hey nice-a drum!" "Hey, face, ZZ TOP!" "Hey, sing no good, fun!" 
Benji killin' it on the drum at Ze Maria. 
Yes, fun.  That is what we had.  That is what we were.  I couldn't bear for the best day of my life to be over yet so we sat on the terrace of the restaurant where they had hammocks and a swing for a while and I stared up at the bajillions of stars you can see in a place so remote as this.  

All I could think was: God, you are so so good. I know you love me even more than this but you chose to bless me with today in all these and other ways that I don't even know about, because you are who you say you are.  Thank you for my life. Thank you thank you thank you.

Baia do Sancho from the trail

World Cup Brazil 2014 - Recife

Even though I'm only on the third day of this trip, it feels like I've been here forever.  That's how it always feels when so much life and energy and fun are happening in one place.

The Brazilian World Cup 2014 adventure is underway and I'm currently in our second locale of the trip, having just completed the Recife leg.  The buzzing atmosphere and the fascination of being in the host country for the World Cup while it is going on is no less consuming than it was four years ago.  I can think of no other situation where such harmony and unity of purpose exist across so many nations and its truly humbling to be a part of.

Old Town Recife near Fan Fest

There is a particular kind of joy being able to support one's own team in a foreign place where people will come up to you and greet you warmly and introduce themselves simply because you're from the same country.  People come up and shake your hand, hug you, ask you where you're from and bond with you because of that unity of purpose and deep spirit of camaraderie.

It started at the airport when I saw lots of other people at DCA getting on my plane in US team jerseys and decked out in head to toe red white and blue.  These people (about 25) followed us all the way from DCA to Recife and we kept seeing them in bars, at Fan Fest where people gather to watch the games together, and at the match itself.  And normally, if I recurringly see people in the US for sort of the same reasons (we shop at TJ's at the same time each week, we pass each others cars on the road a lot, we park next to one another but work in different buildings) I don't introduce myself because simply being in the same place at the same time a few times doesn't create a sound enough reason for conversation. But here, you already know why everyone is here and so no one thinks anything of talking to other people.  It's easy to make friends and start conversations.

View of Recife from the plane. 
Recife is a large city but we still had to transfer twice to get there.  It was a long time to travel.  We were thankful to have finally arrived and head to the apartment where our other friends were staying. (We being Karina and I, meeting up with Benji and Nate who had already been in Brazil for over a week and to three other matches.)  It was sunny when we landed and the turquoise waters off the coast looked very inviting.  Sadly, Recife is the shark attack capital of the world so not many people brave the waters.  There are warning signs about every 100 yards on the beach.

Once we had gotten settled and cleaned up a bit we went out to Fan Fest to watch the evening match.  It felt just as exciting to fall in with loads of my countrymen and people from all over the world and watch together as it did in South Africa.  It felt familiar and new all at once. After we watched Ecuador tie France we headed to dinner at a Brazilian steakhouse my friend Nate recommended.  We got there at about the same time every single other person in Recife did and the hostess looked like she was going to have a meltdown.  We were told a one-hour wait at first.  I hadn't had a real meal in about 24 hours so I was pretty hungry at this point.  But the spread looked so good and it was such a huge restaurant I figured it wouldn't be that long.  Then we checked and they said 1.5 hours, then a few minutes later, they said "2 hours, but we have another location EXACTLY like this one, it's five minutes away and we'll even bus you there for free.  They can seat you immediately."

That's really all I needed to hear.  I was so hungry, we all were, that we agreed and all just piled on the bus without asking a lot of questions.  20 minutes later and in a part of town we were wholly unfamiliar with, we were dropped off at a restaurant that, yes, had the same name, but didn't have much else to do with the place we had just left.  Yes, it was still a steakhouse and people were still walking around with long skewers piled with meat and sharp knives at the ready, but the similarities ended there.

The dinner was disappointing to say the least and we found out at the very end of the meal that they had charged us a cover charge secretly for the crappy in-house band on stage that began a few minutes after we got there.  When Karina and I were taking a cab home, we're pretty sure the cabby got lost on purpose and took forever getting us home to run up the meter.  So we fell into a lot of tourist traps on the first night.  I was upset by this because it's no fun to be taken advantage of, but the fact that I had eaten real food made everything else sort of fade into the background.  I also went out to meet up with some other friends in town for the match that night and had a great time and no problems or secret charges so my night felt salvaged, even if I was going on 4 hours of sleep.  It was worth it.

We closed the bar on Wednesday night, I got home and crashed in hopes that my energy would somehow be restored by 8am the next morning when I had to get up and get ready to go out to Itaipava Arena Pernambuco.  Waking up on Thursday morning my stomach was fluttering with anticipation for the US v Germany match already.  And there was a monsoon.  We all put on all our ridiculous clothing and brought our face paint, banners, pom poms, beach balls and anything else the dollar store offers in the way of patriotic trinkets, and walked outside our building.

Monsoon and flooding on match day. 

We were greeted with knee-deep water and looked around to find all the streets in our area flooded.  We had planned on walking to the metro station but we couldn't see the sidewalks in many places so we started looking to hail a cab.  We waded to the main street only to find it barren and I guess the locals weren't interesting in picking up 3 soaking wet Americans.  So we walked 2 miles to the metro station in the monsoon.  I hope no one ever questions my love for my country's soccer team.

We left very early (9am) for a 1pm match and it took us every bit of two hours to get to the stadium which is well outside the city limits.  The metro was of course full of fans from Brazil, many from the US and many from Germany.   In our train car, there was a group of twenty-something guys who had clearly been drinking for some time already and started singing oldies on the way out there. It was annoying at first, but their relentless pursuit and terrible pitch won me over in the end.  I led the people in a stirring rendition of Survivor's classic "Eye of the Tiger" supported by Benji beatboxing and another guy doing the guitar part (DUN.... DUN DUN DUN.... DUN DUN DUNNNNNNN).  We were applauded by everyone on the train.

When we finally arrived at the station it had taken so long that we had somewhat dried off.  The half-mile walk to the stadium from the shuttle buses quickly took care of that.   We milled around the stadium, getting some food and water and then finding our seats.  FIFA seemed to be playing a little joke on us because we were absolutely surrounded by Germany fans.  We commenced face painting and putting on all our silly things with about 40 minutes to go before kick off.

The German fans around us were absolutely lovely people.  They were engaging, wanting pictures with us and striking up conversations.  Many had been to the World Cup in South Africa too.  They were concerned for our team, they sort of wanted us to go through to the round of 16, but they obviously wanted to win too.  During the game they were congratulating us on our good plays, and when they scored, we reciprocated.  But it was pretty sweet to hear over half a stadium (filled with 41, 267 people that day) chanting "USA! USA! USA!" in unison.  It felt important to do that and like it really did matter to the US to hear us and be supported by us.  I felt like I had a job to do and that we, the fans, were doing it pretty well.

It's been a rollercoaster ride for the USMNT fan this World Cup.  Obviously it was great to beat Ghana, but our tie against Portugal felt like a loss since it was such a tragic ending, and our loss to Germany felt like a win since we didn't lose by too much and we still advanced.  Down is up and up is down. We thanked the Germans repeatedly for beating the crap out of Portugal earlier in the tournament and for the goal differential that created.  But overall, I've been impressed with our level of play and I can't remember ever seeing us play so well.  Germany was clearly the better team on the field but we held our own and Tim Howard is just a friggin' brick wall.  I can't remember how many times I screamed this sequence of exclamations:

Oh no.
Oh no oh no oh no.

Anyway, I didn't mind losing to them and because we still advanced it was kind of nice because the German fans were great, saying they were glad its us.  Maybe its because they feel confident they can beat us if it comes down to it again, but I also feel like they were kind of pulling for us a little.

After we lost 1-0 we found out almost immediately that Portugal had beaten Ghana 2-1 and that we were to advance with Germany to the Round of 16. The stadium erupted in cheers and more USA! chants, and our boys stayed out and waved and applauded to their fans from the field.  I loved that.  Mission complete.  Whenever you advance to the round of 16, it's almost as if whatever happened in group play doesn't really matter.  It's a clean slate.

We started on the metro home amidst the crush of people all going to the same place.  It had stopped raining by now which was fantastic.  Although we were all still damp since it was humid and cloudy.  No one really dried.  But the transport system worked pretty well and we didn't have any problems either way.  Looking out at the parts of the urban sprawl that we passed we saw swollen rivers and  lots more flooding so it felt like we had pulled off something incredible by getting to the match on time and in one piece.  We only had problems with drunk people but there's nothing you can do about that. Karina was wearing her backpack on her stomach underneath a big rain jacket and a Brazilian woman offered to give up her seat on the metro because she thought Karina was pregnant!  Hilarious, and touching.

We got back to our part of town and then immediately went to go find food.  Again, just the way these days go I'm finding I don't really have time to eat until the evening and the need is dire.  We went to another sort of steakhouse thing but this time ordered differently and the food was delicious.  The owner brought us out some coffee and whiskey because Benji and Nate had made friends with him on previous visits and while I wanted neither of those things, I felt accepted by a local, which means a lot to a foreigner in a strange town.

After dinner we went back to the apartment we had rented, washed the residual filth of the morning's floodwaters off our feet and the paint off our faces, and felt much restored.  Benji, Karina and I decided to go get caipirinha's and meet up with two of Karina's friends at a place about a 10 minute walk away.  We had a very drunk friend in tow whom we couldn't stop from leaving the apartment.  So we got to the bar and within seconds of meeting Karina's friend he snatched the bottle of water right out of this guy's hand without asking or acknowledging anything.  We knew he had to be corralled and was not safe to keep in a public situation.  I had been jonesing for a walk on the beach anyway, so to the beach we went.  Recife is stretched along the northeast coast of Brazil and has a nice wide sidewalk right along the water.  We went there and our very drunk friend immediately spotted and joined a pick up soccer game with some kids on the beach.  We were glad to see him sweating out some of the presumably astronomical amount of beer he had put away that day.

We met some other USA fans walking along the beach.  Karina and I wrote USA in gigantic letters in the sand, Adam kept playing soccer.  Benji Karina and I decided it was time to go home and Adam wanted to keep playing so we left and went home to crash.

The next morning we packed up our stuff and got ready to head to Fernando de Noronha for the next 6 days.  It's a tiny archipelago about 500 km off the northeast coast of Brazil and has some of the clearest water and the best scuba diving there is.  I went running on the beach the next morning and it was VERY hot.  The sun had come out and it's much more intense this close to the equator.  I was pouring sweat and covered with gnats when I got back. So while it was lovely it wasn't a particularly comfortable run.  I'm glad I got to see some of what Recife looks like on a normal day.

Touching down at Fernando de Noronha's tiny airport reminded me of all the little one-room deals I was processed through in the Caribbean.  It was sunny and warm but not hot.  We got our bags and headed to our Pousada where we were greeted by a friendly face named Luciana and settled into the next part of the adventure.

The north coast of Fernando de Noronha. 

Sunset at Praia de Cachorro

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