Recife – Greece vs Costa Rica

Whilst I enjoy one last night out in Rio before our 10am flight to Recife, Jack decides to take the night off as he plans to see Cristo Redentor – known to us as the Christ the Redeemer statue – in the morning, a fair old task given the distances and timings involved. So I wait patiently at the hostel reception for Jack’s return. Time goes by, but his eventual arrival leaves us requiring a considerable sprint across the city in a taxi to make the flight.

On arrival, we see the general chaos of a Brazilian airport and realise we have no chance. Check-in is long closed and our flight has gone – no need to stress, let’s just book a later one. In a comical twist, as Jack tries to pay the difference, he finds out that he didn’t even have a ticket in the first place. His initial purchase was understandably considered suspicious by his bank and the payment never went through.

Later than planned we arrive in Recife for a rather interesting night in a local town. Brazil had narrowly beaten Chile on penalties that day, so the remnants of a party were still rumbling on. Whilst drinking in the streets, we were approached by some girls no older than 13 or 14. One spoke good English so she asked a few questions and we chatted in what was a rather surreal environment, as her friends just stood silently at the side. After a few minutes of chatting she just pointed at one of the girls and said: ‘Would you like to kiss her?’.

‘What the fuck.’

This was of course very strange, but more so very sad, that they even asked the question. This was our time to say goodbye but it was a worrying reflection of Brazil and some of the issues they have.

After some Vodkas in the street, we sheltered from the tropical storm snuggled up with a street vendor. Suitably drunk to enjoy some dancing in a Brazilian bar, we went in search of a lively spot. Whilst at the bar, Jack got chatting with a local lad. Jack must have been looking particularly dashing this evening as again he heard the words:

‘Would you like to kiss me?’ (Or something along those lines)

‘Ah no sorry mate, I’m not gay.’

‘It doesn’t matter.’

‘Erm, yes. It’s fairly crucial.’

‘Ah, go on.’

‘MARTIIIN, this bloke wants to speak to you!’

And off Jack went, leaving me to fend off exactly the same approaches. The rest was history and another fun-filled night came to a close.

Recife and the state of Pernambuco are renowned for having some of the nicest beaches in the world, so although not really my thing, it’d be rude not to check one out. Arranged by the hotel reception, we jumped on a minibus to Paiva Beach. On arrival it was raining, so we found a spot under some umbrellas and set up camp for the day. Still overcast, we had a bit of a kick around on the beach, and before long we were joined by a few kids no older than 12 or so. As expected, one was really good and moved across the sand ever so slightly faster than this out of shape Mancunian. Several times this young lad pulled the same trick on me, to which Jack said: ‘Why don’t you just stop him?’ My slightly depressing response: ‘I can’t, he’s just better than me.’

After a walk out to sea as the tide dropped, the time was almost upon us to leave. Only when coming back in and getting ready to leave, I looked at Jack: ‘Ooh you’ve burnt badly mate!’ To which he replied: ‘Have you seen the mirror pal?’ Despite the clouds we had managed to get severe sunburn, much to the amusement of the Brazilians on our minibus back to the city – typical Gringos. I learnt a lesson that day and won’t be making the same mistake again. No matter what the weather, in places like Recife with insanely high UV levels, it’s always good to wear protection.

Match day just isn’t the same when you have no vested interest. I donned the colours of ‘Los Ticos’ and tried my best to feel like I cared if they won. A classic linguistic mix-up in the taxi was a less than ideal start to the day.

‘Hmm nice, 20 sounds cheap, let’s do it.’

40 minutes later: ‘200?? Ahh, I thought it was 20.’ With a bit of quick thinking I shoved some of the little money I had in my sock and then emptied my pockets in front of him: ‘Desculpa pal, we’ve only got 100.’ With little choice he accepted, but this left us next to no beer money, which was going to be required to get through this game. A World Cup second round game where the two teams’ stars were a man who was just about to transfer from Celtic to an unsuccessful spell at West Brom, and Joel Campbell of Costa Rica – the Arsenal youngster who was perennially shipped out on loan.

The highlight of the game was the single Greece fan in our section clad in full kit, including shin pads. He sang the anthem with passion, cheered throughout and represented his country in style. Apart from that there were maybe another 100 at the far end. That with a smattering of Costa Ricans made it a mainly Brazilian affair in the crowd, somewhat dampening the passions of the atmosphere.

In a game dominated by the Greeks, Costa Rica went ahead with their only strike on target and the star of the show was Keylor Navas, who with this and a string of other fine performances would earn himself a lucrative transfer to Real Madrid. Navas held off the Greek assault until the 91st minute, when they finally broke the deadlock to equalise and extend Jack’s World Cup by another 30 minutes. And educe tears of joy from the lone Greek fan behind us. In fact, there was a little more fun to be had, as both teams settled for a penalty shoot-out. Being behind the net we joined the shouts of ‘AQUI, AQUI, AQUI’, but it wasn’t my lucky tournament so the penalties were at the other end. More Navas heroics broke Greek hearts and educed less joyful tears from the fan behind us.

It was time for Jack to return to England and work. It was a truly unforgettable trip with him which we will reminisce over every time we meet until we are old men. This is the true joy of travelling with a great friend. For me, the journey continued to one of Brazil’s most famous cities; Salvador.

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