Gringo attends football game at the Maracana Stadium

I was on a business trip in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Meetings were due to last two days, but being my first trip to this World renowned city, it would have been stupid not to spend a couple of extra days exploring and taking walks along Copacabana and Ipanema Beaches.

Rio is one of the most beautiful looking cities in the World, with spectacular scenery. The famous statue of Christ the Redeemer sits on top of Corcovado Mountain, at 2,300 feet above sea level overlooking the daily goings-on. It’s a spectacular view from up there.

The Head of Operations of the Company I was meeting with, cautioned me about going out in the evening. “You’re a Gringo”, he said, “a potential target for robbery or kidnapping”.

I was very surprised at the comment, but I was aware of the shanty towns located at the southern tip of Rio and the high crime rates in the city. As in many cities around the World, a common sense approach is needed, such as, stay out of known bad areas, and stay close to where people congregate that is well lit.

The term Gringo is derived from when the USA invaded Mexico. The soldiers wore green uniforms, so the term “Green Go Home” came about, which later was shortened to “Gringo”.

One of the representatives, Guilherme form the company I was meeting with, asked me if I was interested in going to the Fluminense and Flamengo football game on Saturday. These two teams are massive rivals in Rio, and comparable to the likes of Manchester United and Liverpool in England and Barcelona and Real Madrid in Spain. I of course wanted to go.

Gui (Guilherme) and I met at a café before taking a taxi to the Maracana Stadium. It holds about 80,000 people and was going to be a sellout. Gui and a few of his friends usually met at a particular location in the stadium where the view was pretty good. Standing room only of course.

Within a mile or so of the stadium, buses with rival supporters hurled abuse at each other. Note that Fluminense and Flamengo supporters did not share the same buses, otherwise there would have been death on the streets that afternoon. Since I do not speak Portuguese, I asked Gui to translate the shouting for me. “They are basically threatening to kill each other” he said.

These supporters were real hot heads, and I am a Gringo going to the biggest game of the season in Rio. I was thinking about survival tactics at this point. I would never had gone by myself, as that would have been completely reckless of me, maybe a mild suicide attempt.

The taxi pulled up outside the stadium and we headed for the entrance. Gui told me to remove all jewelry and my watch. This was right before the fans squeezed into the entrance to reach the turnstiles. Being tightly packed at that moment is an ideal opportunity for pick pockets.

The noise in the stadium before kick-off and throughout the game was deafening. I was told to support Flamengo and don’t say anything or shout if Fluminense score.  I understood that advice that after previously attending a game in Buenos Aires between rivals River Plate and Boca Juniors.

The crowd around me went berserk when Flamengo scored, but was deathly quiet when Fluminense equalized. The Brazilians fans are just as cynical as the British ones, when it comes to criticism of their team’s players. Gui did the translation for me, when one of his friends shouted something funny or insulting.

It was an entertaining afternoon on two fronts. The game itself was intense, but the fans provided many laughs.

Ten minutes, before the end, Gui said, “Let’s go”. That was a good move, as he wanted to grab a taxi before the masses exited the stadium at the final whistle. Part of me thinks he was trying to protect the Gringo. It was two goals each when we left, and that ended up being the final score. From the fans standpoint, I suppose a draw is better than a loss. Probably the police would agree. Some people are just going to get very angry if their team loses, especially if there are any bad calls from the referee.

It was an exciting afternoon, even though there was this sense of trouble in the air. I survived, knowing that I went to the stadium where the final of World Cup 2014 was played.

As for walking on Rio’s famed beaches, well that didn’t happen. The rains came and the beaches stayed empty. The closest I came was walking along the road adjacent to the beach getting soaked. I can’t complain too much. I went to Rio after all.

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