I'm a bit worried. I'm traveling on my UK passport. Americans need visas to enter Brazil (some tit for tat bureaucratic bullshit after 9-11). Expecting a bunch of whereabouts do you live questions but instead I waltz through. Customs are wary that I have no luggage. "Only here for a day." I tell them.
First stop. Car rental, but I see no signs. Tourist info shrugs when I mention the American car rental agency I booked with. I trudge off to the local places and see a tiny National logo next to the huge Unidas branding.
The next 5 minutes are spent translating Portuguese into hand gestures. She wants me to go to the shuttle bus. There I wrote it in 5 seconds.
At the rental cabin I am fingerprinted and photographed before I can even look at the 2009 basic Ford Focus I am being charged $250 to rent for 10 hours. The car has a fire extinguisher bolted to the floor of the passenger side. Inflamável!
I begin my drive to the stadium. Handily, armed (guns not just limbs) military police are stationed every few miles. A human GPS!
I still take a wrong turn and manage to drive through a favela. Run down, but people getting on with their day, which seems to include 3 people on a moped and queuing for buses.
I spot the stadium and turn onto the connecting road - but are heading the wrong way! I have an open road, but the road to the stadium is a jam. With buses running down the median it is miles before I can turn around. Stuck in traffic I get my first taste of Belo Horizonte. I get a free carton milk and an invite to a night club. Meanwhile Argentinians heading to the game honk their horns as people in Brazil tops walk by.
As I approach the stadium it dawns on me that this city is like all cities with an old stadium. There is no parking. I start to search for a free spot, and finally see a normal* Brazilian lady holding up a sign with a price on it. Hoping it's for parking and not sex I wave at her and she shepherds me into the what you would struggle even euphemistically to call a parking lot.
*normal. If you live in East Cambridge as I do you will realize normal means wearing clothing 2 sizes too small.
I head on down to a bunch of Argentina fans milling around a hotel. I see the stadium in the distance. It's going to be a walk!
The walk to the stadium is great. Argentine fans chanting their songs. Brazilian fans chanting, "Messi is a Catalan", and the Argentine fans replying with "So is Neymar". I spot a few Iranians. It's one big carnival of the World. I am easily the palest person on display.
I've downloaded a "Learn Portuguese" app. Every time I try to speak Portuguese it seems I am talking to a Spanish speaking Argentinian. When I slip into Spanish, I get a Portuguese speaking Brazilian. Ho hum.
É seguro nadar aqui? Is it safe to swim in here ... my go to phrase in any language.