'This is Brazil' shrug locals as football fans endure epic journey through floods

Frogs, rafts made of mattresses and the kindness of strangers; this is the World Cup as much as goals and games, writes Mikey Stafford.

Image: Mikey Stafford

Mikey Stafford reports from Recife

THE LARGE FROG was still alive as it floated past me but it looked lifeless as it was carried helplessly by on the torrent of water.

It was only spotted because some kids shouted at me, warning me about the lump of amphibian heading my way.

I was looking straight ahead, trying to negotiate the waist high river that Avenida Recife had become after more than three inches of rain fell in the 24 hours preceding the match between the United States and Germany.

The frog appeared about three hours into my journey home from the game. It would be another hour before I arrived at my apartment.

Our bus had negotiated the flooded Avenida Recife that morning, it had taken two hours but we still arrived with an hour to spare. There would be no return journey. We had covered approximately half of the 24 kilometres from the Arena Pernambuco back to the city in two hours and the bus was no longer moving.

Having turned off Avenida Getulio Vargas onto the flooded Avenida Recife we were stuck. With abandoned vehicles in front of us and traffic building behind, we were effectively stranded on an island.

The media shuttle was in revolt and eventually the driver agreed to release those who wished to  walk and 10 of us set off in the direction of Boa Viagem, the seafront area where most of us were staying.

One Brazilian intern living in Recife for four years said he had never seen rain like what had fallen and when you saw how inadequate the city’s infrastructure was in the face of such weather you believed him.

After 10 minutes of walking past deserted cars, trucks and city buses we reached the cause of the traffic jam, a 300-metre stretch of water that reached the knee at its deepest point.

photo 1 Source: Mikey Stafford

Two young men on horses were offering to ferry us across for R$5 each (€1.60) but my companions had already decided to wait for the water to subside in a nearby pizzeria, which could never have seen a Thursday night like it as commuters and World Cup fans sought shelter with a slice.

Having already eaten I decided to roll up my trouser legs and, eschewing the offers of the Brazilian Tito and Ossie, I set off alone.

About halfway across I heard someone whistle and looking behind I saw a man with a plastic shopping bag in one hand and his flip-flops in the other, warning me that a pick-up truck was heading straight for me. I leapt on to the median and stood on my tippy-toes to prevent the waves from the truck getting me any wetter than I already was.

Thanking the man with the plastic bag, we fell into step together. Like Steinbeck’s Lennie and George, Cicero and I made our way up the road, my complete lack of Portuguese making me the simple-minded Lennie in this equation.

And so Cicero told me to be wary of some locals as we approached the second, larger, flood. No horses this time, instead they wanted to offer me dry passage on an inflatable mattress. My new minder waved them off and we once more waded into the water, a circus to our right and on our left a car garage, where two mechanics were trying desperately to jack a beautifully restored VW Beetle out of the thigh-high water.

Further up the road a shop owner was placing scrap timber in front of his premises in a futile attempt to keep out the water, above him first-floor dwellers looked down with a mixture of relief and concern.

photo 2 (1) Source: Mikey Stafford

Gallows humour was winning out among our fellow commuters however. People raised their eyebrows to heaven, shrugged their shoulders and said, “E Brazil” (It’s Brazil). They are used to things breaking down in spectacular fashion and now the whole world could see how the country’s infrastructure was always one unfortunate event away from collapse.

We met the frog where the flow of water was strongest and one motorcyclist made a courageous but ill-conceived attempt to gun across the fast-flowing water. As his bike roared, smoked and spluttered to a stop there was much laughter, before two or three young men ran to his aid.

Sodden, Cicero and I ploughed on, shooting the shit in sorry sentences. “Irlandais, selecao nao bom,” “Fortaleza. Praia do Futuro, bom”, “Neymar, bom”.

To cross the third and final flood we had to hitch our T-shirts up to our chests and I hoisted higher on my shoulders the backpack containing my iPad, phone, World Cup accreditation and everything else useful and valuable I owned.

Once across Cicero, again serious, pointed at a favela by the airport, miming that there lay the greatest threat to my possessions, but, crossing the now dry road, we passed without incident and after our five-kilometre adventure Cicero and I went our separate ways. I got in a taxi and he continued home to contemplate the walk back to his stranded car this morning.

During the course of my two-hour journey to the stadium that morning I was mulling over a piece about the halfway point of the World Cup and I realised that that bus journey, looking out the window at stricken commuters — whose footsteps I would retrace that evening — was my World Cup.

You think you’re missing something important but this is the World Cup, whatever you are experiencing is your World Cup — Robin Van Persie’s diving header in Salvador, the Brazilian national anthem being sung a capella in Fortaleza and that two-hour bus journey in the rain.

photo 4 Mikey finally arrives back at the flat. Source: Adelle Hughes

Upon reaching the stadium we learned Luis Suarez was out of the tournament and had been banned from football for four months.

That story was someone else’s World Cup, as was Algeria’s historic qualification for the last 16. While the North Africans were celebrating I was journeying home through floods, frogs and favelas.

It was fun, but I don’t have to live here.

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Mikey Stafford

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