Thursday, August 27, 2015

Football Match at Maracanã in Rio de Janeiro*

Travel has changed so much with the internet permeating most every aspect of our lives. Gone are the days of lugging around an outdated travel book. Now we can find current and detailed information about most everything with just a couple of mouse clicks. And I'll be honest, I do look up a lot at the moment. With two kids in tow who are only 7 and 10, I like to know what we're getting ourselves into. It's one thing for Kerry and I to get caught out without food or water, or in the middle of  something, or to get separated, but quite another for the kids.

So far with everything we've wanted to do, we've found good and detailed information, and some honest reviews. Whether it's our AirBNB places, what we're going to do, how we're going to get there, etc, I have a pretty good idea of what to expect. I know there will be surprises along the way, but when they are minimized, one appearing makes it an adventure. Too many surprises make it a disaster.

Hence I was quite surprised when we thought about going to a soccer match at Maracanã stadium, but couldn't find any of the information I wanted to find out -- basics, like is it safe to take kids. Or maybe even more basic, is it safe?

We'd heard a tour from neighbouring hotels would be overpriced and only get you to the stadium and home. Oodles more money than just taking the Metro, or even a taxi. We'd also heard it was safe and that you could buy tickets at the stadium before the match.

I persisted in my googling. Very little came up. But even after reading about the minor league ref that was beheaded by a team's fans somewhere in Brazil a few years ago (but to be fair the ref did stab and kill a player who objected to a yellow card), we decided to head out to a game, more specifically, a Sunday afternoon game. Our rule: the moment we felt unsafe we would bail.

The Metro - easy. It's safe and clean and simple. Our only screw up was that we didn't know on the weekends we needed to transfer to the other line at a different and specific station than the rest of the week. But, as tends to happen with me every time I travel, my travel guardian angel appeared (this time as an American man who's lived here for three years). He told us the station to transfer at, but when I told him our issue when we tried to transfer, he asked someone on the train and voila, we found our answer.

We arrived at the stadium. Outside we found an information lady who spoke fabulous English. She told us where to sit and showed us on the stadium map. She said the sidelines would be best, and pointed us to ticket booth 3. 

Ticket booth 3 turned out to be 14 or so long and very narrow windows surrounded by a whole lot of waist high metal gates. The crowd control is so regimented that you line up to wait for your turn to enter into the ticket booth line ups.

We eventually made it to a wicket. The long and narrow opening to talk to the ticket seller was only as wide as my glasses, plus about 1/2 inch. So I could stick my face in a bit before hitting plexiglass, but then my ears were outside the wicket being inundated by the voices of many loud Portuguese men trying to get their own tickets. If I tried to turn my head so that I could hear the woman, my glasses got in the way. Below you can just see the tops of these windows. They are as narrow as they look.

To compound the problem, the woman was quite far from me. Her computer was between us. I know my arms aren't long, but if we both stuck out our arms, they wouldn't have touched. She needed to lean in to take my money and hand over tickets.

I shouted out in my very weak Portuguese what I wanted. She said a whole lot of words back to me. I look confused. She repeated. At this point I recalled reading something about showing ID. So I dug out the copies of our passports and handed them to her. She looked at me like I was crazy and clearly had no clue what I'd handed her. But after a few comments, and a comment or two to her neighbouring ticket seller, she started entering information into her computer. She wrote down the price. We paid. She handed me the tickets!! 

Turns out, to get the half-price tickets, she needed ID from the kids. Their first and middle names are printed on the tickets.

Then we headed into the stadium. Our tickets told us we used entrance A - right in front of us. The other entrances are scattered around the stadium so you enter the stadium close to your seats - none of this use one door and walk around inside until you find your seats. 

Entrance A was divided even further between Oeste Inferior (our sideline tickets) and Norte (the end zone for big fans who don't care if they sit during the game). The sub entrances are completely separate with barriers in between. 

Entrance A, but only for the Norte zone. We had to go to the left and around the corner
for our gated walk into Entrance A

We were searched, and patted down. A female guard was there for the females. The kids were barely looked at.

The search at the gate.

Inside the stadium, we remained completely separate from any other area of the stadium. We were further divided into sections, and still kept completely separate from any fans in any other area. Basically, we could mingle in the foyer with just a couple of the sections of the stadium. As a result, there was actually room to mill about when not in your seats rather than getting jostled about by roaming crowds.

Once in our seats, we noticed the long fence between us and the Norte Zona (end zone). This is where the big fans hang out and chant and cheer and make noise. You can see the fence behind us in the photo below. As an aside, and much to my relief, the nearly naked Brazilian wearing little more than a hat moved before the game started.

I also noticed the military dogs in the end zone, and not just a couple, more like half a dozen. And the security guards (in the neon yellowy-green shirts) that were everywhere face the crowd the entire game. Not once did I notice even one peeking to check out the game - even for a goal.

The concession was just a woman with a big cooler and some drinks (pop, water, and non-alcoholic beer). There were maybe three of these women and their coolers in our area. The main big concession was closed. I did see a little sandwich concession open, but didn't go check it out.

In the seats, roving vendors brought a variety of items. They don't hang out in the aisle though. The come right down your row whether people are sitting there or not. Then from the middle of the section they sell to everyone within a long stretchy arm's reach. And no one complains about this! Most surprising though was the popcorn. We bought some and then he handed me three salt packets, each the size of a packet of sugar. The popcorn comes plain, plain, plain. Two packets of salt worked for us.

As an aside, you may have noted that we don't match the crowd. That's on purpose. We did read that neutral fans should avoid team colours. Easy in this case since both teams' colours were black and red.

The game itself was exciting. Most of the fans were for Flamengo (a local team), but São Paulo fans had the corner of the other end zone filled. I don't think the end zone fans ever sat down. Fortunately for us, our section did sit for most of the game, jumping up only for  the exciting moments. And we weren't the only ones in awe of the end zone  Many Brazilian fans by us were also taking photos and video of the end zone fans. 

In this photo you can't see or hear the Flamengo drums. Or hear the chanting. Or feel the general buzz coming from the end zone. But you can sure see a lot of red.

Here's a video (if it works) that Kerry took after a Flamengo goal. If it doesn't work, click here to watch a few seconds of excitement. It doesn't look like much, but over 3/4 of the stadium was doing the exact same thing.

A video posted by Kerry Boyd (@cairobody) on

As the end of the game neared, there was an announcement in Portuguese that they repeated more than once. I'm certain it said that the São Paulo fans get to leave first, and the Flamengo fans were to wait. Sounds crazy I know, but the football here is crazy, so it might just be right. If we'd paid for the expensive ride to the stadium I could've asked, but I'd rather have the extra money and live with this little mystery.

We left a few minutes early to avoid the end of game rush, but still with a whole lot of other people with kids. We felt so safe leaving, we even stopped to take a photo.

*My apologies to those who've already read Kerry's blog on this same subject.

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