I know some people have asked me for a recap of my trip and want to see some photos, so here my attempt at that. I am sure this will come off as rambling at some point and it is rather long, but check out after the jump as I attempt to remember one hell of a trip. If you are on the fence about going to Russia in 2018, start saving now and go. This was a once in a lifetime trip.
The trip begins in Houston. The Stadium City Bar and Grill outside Terminal D at the George Bush Intercontinental Airport to be exact. I was one of 500+ people on the official American Outlaws trip. The first 250-ish people left on Friday, June 13 while the second half were taking off on Saturday (more on this later). I flew in early on Friday in the event I had issues coming out of LA, but I didn’t so I had plenty of time to kill and a lot of the AO people decided to meet up at the Stadium City Bar and Grill.
The Stadium City Bar and Grill was your typical crappy airport bar, but it had a TV and beer, so it became the meeting spot while we watched the Netherlands surprisingly destroy Spain. I met many new people, a few that I became good friends with and spent most of my time in Natal with during the duration of the trip.
Finally around 8 PM, we made our way to the gate to check in. We were supposed to leave around 11 PM, but we never took off until 2 AM, something we would come to learn was normal for this trip. Luckily for us, the bar at the terminal stayed open an extra two hours as we finished off a couple different kegs.
A nine hour flight later and we landed in Natal on Saturday morning. While I was expecting it to be hot, it was raining and actually not that humid. We would come to learn that it doesn’t normally rain that much this time of year, but we were in the middle of this crazy unexpected rain where it rained for 50 straight hours between Thursday to Saturday. Also, when it rains in Natal, it doesn’t sprinkle, it monsoons.
Most of Saturday was spent hanging out around the outdoor but covered restaurant/bar area as everyone continued to meet others, drank beers (Brahma, Skol or Antarctica) and watched the various games on the TV.
Saturday was also the day when Plane 2 was supposed to take off from Houston with the other half of the American Outlaw members, only they ran into some problems. Here is a great recap of their crazy trip down to Natal, including the group which became known as the AO14. As I later learned, it was a blessing that I was on Plane 1 and not Plane 2 for the rest of the trip (more on this later). I also spoke to Free Beer Movement/Dan later on the trip as he was one of the AO14 and he was surprisingly in good spirits after the hell he went through, so kudos to him.
Sunday saw more beer drinking and watching of games as Plane 2 finally showed up at the hotel until everyone took off for the US Soccer Night Before Party. Everyone watched the end of the Argentina-Bosnia game before a DJ and a band took over the stage as many more beers were consumed and dancing took place. A great time was had by all.
Monday brought us gameday. After some friendly banter with some Ghana fans in the lobby, the AO contingent made our way to a pizza/sushi (yes, both) restaurant near the stadium which had a great outdoor patio. My new group of friends and I posted up outside along the rail next to a bus stop. The next couple hours brought us chanting, high-fiving every American fan who walked by and waving/yelling/having a good time with every bus that stopped next to us. Many different Brazilians broke out their camera phones and took photos of the crazy Americans.
Roughly two hours before the game started, it was time to march to the stadium. After John Brooks’ goal, this was probably the next best highlight of the trip. With a police escort, tons and tons of American fans took over the streets of Natal as we headed towards the stadium. It was a pretty special moment. Here is a great video from above of what it looked like from one of the apartment complexes nearby.
I won’t rehash too much of the game, but the national anthem was awesome, Clint Dempsey’s goal came out of nowhere and John Brooks’ goal was euphoria. I basically fell down a couple rows only to get up without caring and began hugging/high-fiving random people. Most of the Brazilian fans around me were pro-USA as they enjoyed the spirit of the fans and I even was able to get some girls sitting next to me to get into the “I Believe” chant. The only ones who didn’t care for us were the ones sitting a couple sections over who tried to start the wave only for it to die every time it hit the US section as we were already standing and not participating, so they booed us. One thing I learned from my two weeks and five games was that Brazilians love doing the wave. A lot.
The game ended and we made our way back to the hotel where more beers were consumed down by the restaurant/bar until 3-4 AM. Everyone told stories of the game from where they were sitting and we only got quiet when one of the TVs showed highlights of the game only for us to cheer again and again after Brooks’ goal. Somehow the Ghana Vice President was staying at our hotel, which caused us to have a large military presence the days he was there, but I doubt he was a fan of the partying into the late night.
I somehow was able to get up the next day at 7 AM for a snorkeling trip about an hour north of Natal in Maracajau. I also had one of the best meals of the trip up there with some fresh seafood.
The next few days consisted of waking up and getting breakfast followed by beach soccer and/or hanging out around the beach or one of the many pools at the hotel. I got to play beach soccer with some guys from Ghana one day in something that will probably never happen again in my life. Then you either hung around the restaurant/bar area at the hotel to watch the first game of the day or you headed to Ponta Negra (a downtown type area) to watch the games at a restaurant or bar. After the game ended, you walked around and shopped until the next game started and you found a new restaurant or bar to sit and watch the game. Or you went to the FIFA Fan Fest and enjoyed a game on the beach with a big screen TV.
There was also the Greece-Japan game in Natal that many people, including myself, went to, but that might have been one of the most boring games ever and I blame Greece. What a horrible team to watch play. But we got to meet Diego, a teenager who was a beer vendor at the stadium, who helped a few of us get a taxi after the game. Diego was a super nice guy and we traded stories and the differences between the US and Brazil. Through him, I was able to learn that most people in Brazil follow the big teams in Rio and São Paulo (and ABC was his local team in Natal), but the people of Brazil don’t really follow the European leagues like we do in the US. He claimed that they were too far away and that they took Brazil’s best players. He, much like most of the people I met in Natal, were super friendly and hoping everything went well as they want people to come back to Natal some day.
Then came the Manaus trip. That became an adventure.
The plan was leave in the morning, fly to Manaus, head to the pre-party, go to the game, head back to the airport and fly back to Natal. Roughly a 24-hour trip. It was not.
After getting basically a two hour nap, we sat outside our hotel at 2 AM waiting for the buses to come and pick us up for the airport. They didn’t show until 3:30 AM. After a long time to check everyone in, Plane 1 finally took off around 7 AM. Plane 2 was supposed to take off at 9 AM. When we (Plane 1) landed, we were supposed to wait for Plane 2 to land before heading to the pre-party. One problem, Plane 2 had not even taken off by the time we landed in Manaus. Plans were changed and they put us Plane 1 people on buses and gave us a little tour of the city before taking us to the US Soccer party.
The US Soccer party was in a pretty small room, half of which was reserved for families/friends of the US players. It was beyond hot and the speakers were blaring the music of some Brazilian cover band who liked playing 90s alternative songs. A few hours of that fun and we were back on buses to take us to the stadium. After finally getting through some horrible traffic, we made it to the parking lot where the Plane 2 people were finally arriving.
We marched to the stadium and the energy level seemed low between the interesting travel plans and the sauna which was Manaus. The inside of the stadium was a furnace. There was no air flow whatsoever and I downed two glasses of water before even getting to my seat. My jersey was soaking wet from sweat before the game even began. But as the game started up, the US began its strong play and the US crowd started to get into it. Every time Portugal fans tried to start a chant, they were drowned out by US fans starting their own chant. We were good to go.
Jermaine Jones’ goal was a thing of beauty and everyone lost it when Dempsey scored the go-ahead goal, but that last goal by Portugal was a total gut punch. We were 20 seconds away from clinching a spot in the Round of 16.
We made our way back to the buses which took us to the airport only for us to find out that our 11 PM flight got bumped back to 5 AM. Ouch. The next few hours were spent laying on the marble floor of the airport. It looked like a refugee camp with 500 Americans laying anywhere and everywhere.
Plane 1 finally took off around 6 AM and we got back to the hotel around noon. Minus some horrible sleep here or there for 10 minutes on the plane ride back, I had been awake for roughly 34 straight hours in disgusting and sweaty clothes. Once back, I took a shower and immediately slept for the next six to seven hours. My roommate was on Plane 2 and he didn’t arrive back to the hotel until 7 PM. Plane 2 had even more issues. You can read another good recap of the fun that they went through right here. Once again, I am very happy that I ended up on Plane 1. Our biggest “issue” once we got on our actual plane was that they kept showing the same movies over and over again. I saw the “wonderful” The Big Year three times over the course of the trip. And that is three times too many.
After waking up, everyone was tired but in somewhat good spirits as Plane 2 people re-told their story of the last 48 hours and Plane 1 people shared stories of “Hot Mess”. This is also the point where others, myself included, started coming down with a cold/Brazilian black lung. The next few days were low key and about trying to maintain the body so I could get through the trip (while also having a beer or two).
A few of us also went to Italy-Uruguay game. While it will go down as the game where Luis Suarez bit someone for the third time in his career, most of us had no clue what had happened. They didn’t show replays in the stadium unless it was a goal and all I saw was Giorgio Chiellini running after the ref with his jersey below his shoulder, so I thought Suarez had ripped his jersey. It wasn’t until a couple of us were grabbing a drink after the game at a Pittsburg (this place was odd) when someone pulled up the photo of the bite on their phone did we know what exactly happened. I will also remember this game as I got to see Andrea Pirlo’s majestic beard in person.
Finally, we have the Germany game in Recife. We had to wake up at 1 AM this time as we needed to be on buses (12 of them for the whole group) and headed south as soon as possible as our pre-game party was near the stadium and they were apparently closing streets around the stadium early between traffic concerns and the rain.
The 4-5 hour trip ended up being about six or so hours between the monsoon/flooding in Recife and the traffic once we approached the city. We finally made it to Bar do Bode and more drinking took place as it poured outside. People slowly made the walk through the rain (luckily a lot of locals were selling ponchos) to the stadium. This was the first game where the opposing fans probably matched the US fans in size and voice. The German fans were also the most cocky of the three when there was friendly banter and they smoked cigarettes. A lot of them.
There wasn’t much to this game as the US sat back and just played to get through to the Round of 16, but this was my best ticket out of the three US games, although I was surrounded by German fans. I ended up switching seats in the second half as I met up with some friends who were not on the AO trip who made it to that game.
After the game ended, we made the slow walk back to the buses where we had to wait two hours for everyone to show back up and be accounted for. We then made the long bus ride back to Natal. A few more beers were consumed and goodbyes were said as we had to leave in the morning to head back to the US. Of course there were delays getting out of Natal (Plane 1 was supposed to leave at 2 PM, but we didn’t until 5 PM).
We finally landed back in Houston around midnight and didn’t get back to the hotel until 2 AM after getting our bags and going through customs. Some people went to get food while I decided to sleep on a nice bed and didn’t leave my hotel room until a minute before check out. The next day was spent at IAH waiting for my plane back to LA, but I got to enjoy the Brazil-Chile game (and PKs) at a random TV in the airport as anyone walking by stopped to watch the end.
That was the trip. It was one of the best two weeks of my life. I met many new friends who hailed from Seattle, San Diego, St. Louis, Omaha, Kearney, Akron, Salt Lake City and other places throughout the US. I know not everyone is a “rah rah” type but I have nothing but good things to say about the American Outlaws. Everyone I met on the trip was beyond nice. If you have a chance to do something with AO in the future, I highly recommend it.
One of my new friends, Scott, made a great compilation video of all the random phone videos he took of the trip.
And here are some other random photos from the trip.