Twenty years ago, I sat in the heart of South America, in the middle of the Pantanal, the world’s largest wetland area, in the Brazilian state Mato Grosso. And what was I doing? I was watching the 1994 World Cup…WHAT ELSE?
I had just finished 6 months of a study/work program in Sao Paulo and planned to travel around the country for a month before heading back to New York. I also kept a journal of my time in Brazil and completely forgot all about it. This morning, while looking for a Red Bulls football shirt for C2, I came across an old box with pictures and this journal.
Ordinarily you might not care, but as most of the world is gripped with World Cup fever, y’might as well join me down my own little memory lane!
So, before heading to the Pantanal, I watched Brazil beat Cameroon 3-1 on June 24th, at a little Bar e Lanches on Avenida Paulista. I had finished my last exam, I started a treatment of malaria pills, (since I would be eventually heading into the Amazon), and the streets of Sao Paulo were bathed in green and yellow.
I was probably feeling rotten from the mefloquine effects but I’m also sure that I would have stayed out to help celebrate Romario and the rest of the team’s win.
A few days later, I headed to the Pantanal, to drive across the Transpantaneira, with 4 other international students; a Puerto Rican, a French Canadian and his fiance, a Dutchman and me. We were hours from Cuiaba, capital of Mato Grosso, and the current Arena Pantanal was not even a twinkle in FIFA or the 2014 Host City’s eyes.
Cowboy country. Pantaneiros. Meet Luiz.
Driving along the Transpantaneira was not exactly straightforward. There were at least 89 rickety bridges, that ‘you would NEVER ordinarily go over’.
I wasn’t sure why so many of the planks seemed to be re arranged… but unfortunately found out when our very own Dutch dyke boy was quickly proclaimed plank patrolman and joined a local propping a plank under our tire.
OOOPS! At least it wasn’t MY turn at the wheel.
Remarkably back on track and moving onward with our exploring, I described the area as follows…
‘This place is so unbelievably beautiful. I had no idea that this wetland even existed. Described as African plains, first an ocean than a lake – now swampy fields with such beautiful birds and wildlife everywhere. I didn’t think I would be so thrilled to view so many beautiful birds. Caiman (alligators) are everywhere…
capivara roam and moan…
swamp dear, tataupa, jabiru flying low over the ‘highway’…
We passed a 10 foot snake in the middle of the ‘highway’, iguanas, kingfishers perched along the ‘bridges’. Beautiful blue macaws soaring above the coconut trees, no toucans…yet.’
It was a remarkable few days. After our daily trails and drives, we returned to what was basically Luiz’ house with a cabin of bunks set up for tourists such as ourselves. We had heard at the time that Club Med had purchased a huge piece of property, but that was 20 years ago and I haven’t looked into what, if any, further developments have occurred. I can’t imagine the area becoming a luxury attraction but WOW! was it some place special.
Then it was time for the game. There I was in Brazil while the Brazilian national football team played the United States Soccer team on July 4th during the 1994 World Cup, hosted by the U.S. It was impossible NOT to become a football fan but I was a little bit nervous about which team I would be supporting.
Luiz must have sensed my hesitation and as he sat next to me quietly, reverentially sharpening his knife, I was obviously intimidated to begin chanting U…S…A…
(actually I don’t even chant that…EVER! Can’t we come up with something a bit more catchy and a bit less thuggish? but I digress.)
Back to Luiz…LOOK AT HIM! Love this photo.
You can’t really see the knife but the blade tip goes to his right armpit. It was THAT big…and he is peeling an apple with the knife. GEESH!
I don’t recall the particulars of the game and I wasn’t that fanatical to write them down. However, I do recall having quite a few ‘Choppe’ Brahma beers, as I had been warned that one of the animals we had so enjoyed seeing during the day was probably on the menu for dinner. I’m pretty sure it was a caiman, which tasted a bit like chicken. Sorry.
When the game finished, there were cheers all around and then the Pantaneiros settled back down to the tv.
I wondered if there was post game commentary?
Or another game?
Or an old John Wayne film?
Anything for these hard living, rugged men to rest a bit and put their minds at ease?
What did they put on? A Viagem…a Brazilian telenovela (soap opera). Seriously!
Twenty years later, I sit in the comfort of my own home watching the 2014 World Cup. Last night C1 and C2 stayed up until half time watching the U.S.A play Belgium. I then stayed up to continue watching one of the most exciting games in extra time with a captivating performance by US goalkeeper Tim Howard.
I had nothing to do with the games 20 years ago, and nothing to do with it now but I am so proud of the American team and I think the U.S. is starting to love the game as much as the rest of the world now.
I wonder if Luiz would agree.
Except I think he is probably watching revivals of Dallas that are now broadcast in Brazil. I’m sure he is still sharpening that knife. So don’t tell him who shot J.R.
Cowboy Cocktail (even though it doesn’t look rough or tough enough)
1 oz cream
mix over ice, add some mint and lime wedge
if in Brazil, add a shot of cachaca
stay away from cowboys sharpening their knives
drink while watching World Cup games…GOL!!!!!!!