Our World Cup dream

After a traumatic travel experience just getting to Brazil thanks to Copa Airlines overbooking flights that left us stranded in Panama City, I was on the biggest natural high to be at our first game Italy v England in Manaus.

Relief, excitement, disbelief (that we made it), exhaustion, anticipation, and delight utterly and completely overwhelmed me. Once we entered the stadium and we knew we were about to watch our first FIFA World Cup game, I burst into tears. Not just a happy tear trickling down my cheek, but full on hyperventilation between sobbing. I felt almost hysterical and I had no control – the emotion just poured out. It didn’t help that it took us 36 hours to get there with very little sleep and very high stress levels.

That moment of pinching myself to check it was real happened about 15 times during the game.

Zorba and I outside the stadium in Manaus

Zorba and I outside the stadium in Manaus

The Dream

I’d been dreaming of going to a FIFA Wold Cup since I was a teenager. Four years ago, Hubba and I were planning to go to the last World Cup in South Africa, but I didn’t get tickets in the ballot. The prices of tours with tickets was so expensive that we decided that our money would last five times longer in South America. So that’s where we went in 2010. Four years before that the 2006 World Cup was in Germany and again, I didn’t get tickets in the ballot.

However, my ballot application was successful this time around and we had T5 Category 3 tickets to follow Italy. That’s five games guaranteed, no matter how Italy finishes in their group, up until and including the Quarter Final. Andrew’s application for tickets to follow Australia was declined.


The Games and the Stadiums

Manaus: Italy v England, Group D

In Manaus Arena da Amazonia holds just under 40,000 people. We caught an old rickety bus from the Cultural Centre directly to the Stadium. The road was as rickety as the bus and we went over a pothole so big at such speed that every passenger became airborne. Zorba was actually thrown from his seat. After forty minutes, we arrived at the Arena periphery an hour before kick off.

A new friend we made on the bus (Craig – Mr 36A) bought us a beer each from a local selling them from an eski on the side of the road. In the steamy humidity of Manaus, it was one of the best beers I’ve ever had.

Our Category 3 seats were high up, behind the goal to the side. The view was spectacular. There were thousands of fans there in Italia shirts and England shirts, and even more in yellow Brazilian shirts. We were sitting behind a group of English fans that were ever vocal leading the chants, Eng-er-lund, and my favourite, Come On England, Come On England.

The Italia chant sounds like this: It-tarl-ya, It-tarl-ya, and quite convincingly drowned out the chants of the English fans. There were a few Olè chants too by the locals that just added to the atmosphere.

Zorba and I had four pints of Brahma beer (R$10 or A$5) each at the ground. Sod’s Law, I was off buying beer and missed the first Italy goal and England goal, but managed to catch the replay on the big screen. I didn’t care. The atmosphere of being there was enough. I did see the second Italy goal and was part of the immediate eruption at the stadium. What a great feeling! Italy won 2-1. Whoo hoo!

The stadium in Manaus

The stadium in Manaus

After the game, we had no idea how to get back to our hotel. When we asked the hotel receptionist the best way to get to the stadium before we left to collect our tickets, she suggested a taxi. We started looking for a taxi after the game. I tried to flag down three or four taxis, but they were all in service. There were loads of other fans walking too, but they seemed quite content to keep walking. We were knackered and the endorphins of excitement were disappearing and extreme tiredness was setting in. A policeman who had been watching us stepped in to help and flagged down a taxi for us. How nice! Obrigada!

Back at our hotel, we were happy, dead tired, sweaty and hungry. We ate a chicken salad in the hotel restaurant, went to our room, showered and fell into bed. I think I was asleep before my head even hit the pillow.


Recife: Italy v Costa Rica, Group D

The 40,600-capacity Arena Pernambuco is the new stadium built not in Recife, but in the next town Saõ Lorenzo. It is miles away from Recife. We asked four or five different people, including the receptionist at our pousada (little hotel / guest house) the best way get there. We were given different advice, but a couple of people said a direct shuttle bus was leaving from the Recife Shopping centre and cost R$5 return (A$2.50).

The day before the game, two Italian journalists staying at our pousada talked about us sharing a taxi the to stadium. On game-day morning, the journalists were leaving for the stadium at 9.30am. Kick off was at 1pm. When I asked how much he thought the taxi would cost, he said R$200-300, maybe more. That’s A$100-150. And it would probably mean arriving at the stadium with hours to kill. There’s nothing around the stadium, just fields of dirt. We politely declined and said we would take the bus later on.

At breakfast, we got chatting to another young couple wearing Italia shirts. They were actually Brazilians and said that they had a car and were driving to the stadium, picking up friends along the way. But they were picking up their friends from where the shuttle buses were leaving from and offered to drop us off at the bus stop. Perfect! It was so kind of them.

At the bus stop, there was a pop up ticket desk where we purchased our R$5 bus wristband and joined the queue for the bus. One bus came, filled up and left, and we found ourselves at the start of the line for the next bus. And that meant we could get a seat. We expected the bus trip to take an hour but we reached the stadium in forty minutes. The bus had a dedicated lane and police managed the traffic to the stadium. Easy.


Zorba and I outside the stadium in Recife

Zorba and I outside the stadium in Recife

The stadium itself rose out of the ground with nothing but vast dirt around it. We were excited to be there, but I didn’t cry this time.   Our Category 3 seats were in a similar spot, high up behind the goal, slightly to the side.


We sat in front of an Italian (living in France) who held a banner that said (in Italian):

“Hi mamma, I’m here, but don’t worry, I’ll be home for our Sunday pasta dinner.”

Brahma souvenir cup Italy v Costa Rica

Brahma souvenir cup Italy v Costa Rica

The game against Costa Rica was completely different to the game against England. Firstly, Italia were getting beaten, which was completely unexpected. Secondly, there were hardly any Italian fans at the game. Felt like there were 200 Italians and 40,400 Costa Ricans who all chanted Tico, Tico at deafening decibels.

Thirdly, the Costa Ricans booed all through the game. To me, it felt like they were being bad sports. I didn’t like the booing, particularly when they did it for no apparent reason. Fair enough if the ref gives a rough decision, but they just booed at the start of the game, when Italian players played back to the goalie and other random times during the game.

To make matters worse, there were a few gobby Costa Rican supporters who waved their flags in our faces when Costa Rica scored. Grr. I felt like telling them where to go and how to get there. Cheer for your country, sure. Rub our faces in it, no. I can now understand why fans are separated at club games. FIFA didn’t separate fans in any of the matches we went to.


Italia lost to Costa Rica 1-0.


We learned the next morning that the Italian journalist was stuck in traffic in a taxi for over three hours, and in the end had to get out of the taxi and run to the stadium. Loads of people arrived to the game late. They obviously didn’t take the bus.

We also bumped into the young Australian / Italian guy Chris at the ground – he was stranded with us in Panama.

After the game we got back on the bus, this time the journey took closer to an hour, and got a taxi back to our pousada in Olinda – a pretty UNESCO heritage colonial town next to Recife.


Natal: Italia v Uruguay, Group D

The Arena das Dunas, capacity of 39,400, was just 7.2km from our hotel at Ponte Negra beach. Great, that means we could walk if need be.

There was a lot of pressure on this game. Italia had to win or draw to guarantee them a place in the Round of 16. If Italia won and if England beat Costa Rica, then England could go through too.

If Italia came second in the group by beating Uruguay, it would mean we would have to go to Rio to watch the next match, then onto Fortaleza for the Quarter Final. If Italia got knocked out, then we would have to go back to Recife, then onto Salvador for the Quarter Final. I wanted to go back to Rio and desperately wanted to see Italia win and go through to at least the Quarter Final stage.

The day before the game, we bumped into Ricardo and his wife (Italian and Ecuadorian living in New Jersey) whom we’d met in Olinda (Recife). He asked us how we were getting to the stadium. We shrugged and said either a local bus or taxi probably. We weren’t sure. Our hotel had put on specific shuttle buses that were leaving at 9am (1pm kick off) and the cost was R$60 per person. Zorba and I thought that was a bit rich given the short distance to the stadium, and a bit early. We made a plan with Ricardo to share a taxi.

On game day, Ricardo picked us up from the meeting point in a taxi and within 20 minutes, we were at the stadium, for a fare of R$30. Easy.


Uruguay fans in Natal (v Italy)

Uruguay fans in Natal (v Italy)

The grounds of the stadium were buzzing with only a few Italians, but thousands of Uruguayans. The funny thing is that loads of them wanted photos with us – we were all wearing Italian shirts. We enjoyed a couple of beers outside the stadium, bopping away to the music pumping out of the Budweiser two-story stand (complete with promo chicas wearing tight lycra, dancing and blowing kisses to the boys below).   The pre game atmosphere was the best we’d experienced. It was so much fun!


Italian fans in Natal (v Uruguay)

Italian fans in Natal (v Uruguay)

Our seats were again up high behind the goal, to the side. This time though, the Italian living in France with the ‘Mamma I’m here’ banner was sitting next to us. It was so funny listening to him swear in French, Italian and Spanish during the game.

Italy v Uruguay

Italy v Uruguay

The game itself – well – it has already received it has fair share of media attention thanks to Suarez and that bite. Again, Italian fans were completely outnumbered and our chants were barely audible over those from Uruguay. Early in the second half and Italian player was sent off after getting a red card for no reason (‘merda di Mexicano’ was what the guy next me to me was saying about the ref), and it was only a matter of time before Uruguay scored.

Italia tried hard to come back and had a few chances striking at goal but just couldn’t covert their attempts.


Italia lost to Uruguay 1-0, and were out of the World Cup.


I cried when the game was over. The second time I cried at a match. I couldn’t believe it. Italia were out, beaten, by two small nations that really shouldn’t have been able to beat them. Italia were the 2006 champions. Italia was a football nation that consistently produced star players.

Italy out of the World Cup

Italy out of the World Cup


Uruguay played a dirty game, but at least their fans were not the harsh, booing, rub it in your face kind. They actually showed some humility by either giving us sympathetic looks or avoiding eye contact altogether.

Costa Rica drew with England 0-0. That meant Costa Rica finished at the top of the group and that’s the team our tickets would be following from here on. Ugh. Costa Rica and their booing fans.

The silver lining?

The next game was Costa Rica v Greece.

Yes, Greece had made it through the next stage.

At least Zorba could see his country play.



Recife: Costa Rica v Greece, Round of 16

Once we knew Italia’s World Cup fate, we called Pousada do Amparo in Olinda where we previously stayed and booked three nights accommodation. As we’d been to Recife before, we knew how to get to the stadium.

Zorba refused to wear his Italia shirt to the Greece game, which I suppose is fair enough.

Zorba and I outside the stadium in Recife, Greece v Costa Rica

Zorba and I outside the stadium in Recife, Greece v Costa Rica

As the Greek team entered the pitch, the Costa Rican fans started booing. Ugh, not this again. There were hardly any Greek supporters at the game and tens of thousands supporting Costa Rica. The local Brazilians at the ground seemed to be supporting Costa Rica.

Greece drew with Costa Rica and the game went into extra time. After 30 minutes, the score was level 1-1 and went to a penalty shoot out, that unfortunately Costa Rica won. Sigh. I was getting a little tired of watching Costa Rica win.

The view of our seats at the R16 game in Recife

The view of our seats at the R16 game in Recife

Salvador: Netherlands v Costa Rica, Quarter Final

Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador has a capacity of 49,280. It’s situated right in the heart of the old town of the city, Pelourinho.

From the Mar Brasil Hotel at Itapau Beach, we caught a local bus to Pelourinho. We were on that rickety old bus for 1.5 hours. We met an English guy Peter who lives in Brisbane and chatted to him most of the way. Usefully, he’d been to a game in Salvador before and gave us tips on how to get back afterwards.


The main square of Pelourinho was a sea of orange. The Netherlands fans were out in force. Their double decker bus was there and there was a stage and DJ pumping out music. It was the best atmosphere we’d experienced besides being around Brazilian fans.


First things first, we had to find a bar to watch the day’s earlier Quarter Final game, Argentina v Belgium that was kicking off in 30 minutes. All the bars around the main square were full, and many bars in the old town were either full or closed. I noticed a restaurant upstairs above a shop and went up to check it out. We grabbed a table, ordered some food and settled in ready to watch the game. Argentina won and the game was, yawn, really quite boring.

We walked to the stadium after the game, following the crowd up and down hilly cobbled streets.

I was cheering for Netherlands. I wanted to see Costa Rica out and wave bye-bye to their booing fans.


Our seats for this game were up in the Gods, just three rows from the very top back row. Zorba, who isn’t a fan of heights, wasn’t thrilled with our nosebleed seats. Neither was I, despite the decent view of the pitch.

Before half time, we went to the bar to replenish our beer cups and on the way back, Zorba suggested we sit in some vacant seats about 12 rows further down – perfect! We sat next to some Aussies (they were following Australia, who were knocked out of the Netherlands group, and thus were now following Netherlands).

It was fantastic to have the Costa Rican fans outnumbered by Dutch fans. Again, there was lots of booing from the Ticos.

The scores were level 0-0 after 90 minutes and the game went into extra time. Still at level scores 0-0, the game went to a penalty shoot out. Netherlands won and were through to the semi finals! Brilliant!

Elvis x5 in Rio

Elvis x5 in Rio



Netherlands lost the semi final against Argentina in a penalty shoot out. We watched that game in Argentina, in a bar in Palermo Soho in Buenos Aires. Brazil were humiliated by Germany who smashed them 7-1 in the other semi final. The final will be Argentina v Germany tomorrow.

As I finish this post, I’m sitting in a lovely hotel in Buenos Aires, where it’s raining and freezing cold outside, watching Brazil v Netherlands play off for third place. Brazil have lost, 3-0.

If Germany play like they did against Brazil, it would be hard for anyone to beat them. Argentina has immense passion though, so you just never know.

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12 surprises of our FIFA World Cup Brazil experience

The FIFA World Cup served us a few surprises, and I’m not talking about the results of the games. Here’s some snippets of our experience in Brazil.

12 surprises of our World Cup experience


  1. Fans who wanted to take photos with fans of opposing teams – we’ve never experienced anything like this before. The fans from Uruguay were the most enthusiastic of all the games we went to.


The Dutch fans were so much fun! Salvador QF Netherlands v Costa Rica

The Dutch fans were so much fun! Salvador QF Netherlands v Costa Rica

  1. The quality of the stadiums and the awesome viewing from our Category 3 seats.


  1. How the FIFA World Cup has captured Zorba and how much he has got into it. Coming on this trip was my idea – and he just went along with it, initially. Now he loves it and is completely hooked.

    The FIFA ticket collection machine

    The FIFA ticket collection machine


  1. The incredible atmosphere at each game – it exceeded my expectations.


  1. Collecting tickets from the FIFA Ticket Collection Centres was a breeze. Took just a couple of minutes at the automatic machines if you had the Visa card your tickets were purchased with. Insert Visa card into machine, enter your date of birth, select which tickets you wanted to collect, stand still in front of the built-in camera while your photo is taken, and voilà, tickets are printed.


  1. The number of people who go to games wearing the shirts of their country / team, even if they aren’t playing.


Mexican fan at the Uruguay v Italy game

Mexican fan at the Uruguay v Italy game

  1. The number of people wearing Brazilian shirts that weren’t from Brasil, and the number of people wearing shirts from countries they are not from. We met an Australian from Sydney who had five shirts with him: Italia, Holland, Australia, Brasil, and Argentina.


  1. Full strength beer is sold at the stadiums for A$5 a pint that came in a Brahma plastic cup with the game printed on the side – a collectors’ item.

    Brahma souvenir cup Italy v Costa Rica

    Brahma souvenir cup Italy v Costa Rica

  2. AC/DC Thunderstruck was played before the teams came onto the pitch at every game. Awesome to hear Australian music featured. The same sound track was played at every game.
  3. The same sponsor stands / stalls / experiences were set up around each of the four different stadiums we went to, making them a bit boring. In Salvador we did notice that traditionally dressed women were selling aracajé (basically a deep fried bread like ball that’s made with beans).
  4. The Fan Fests in host cities had (almost) the exact same set up in every city. They were crowded and offered little or no shade. Fan Fests were not good places to go if you really wanted to watch the game – and were rife with pickpockets (Rio in particular).

    FIFA Fan Fest, Copacabana Beach, Rio

    FIFA Fan Fest, Copacabana Beach, Rio

  5. Not once did we feel threatened, frightened or in danger. Brazil rolled out the army and the police and their presence was felt in each city we visited. We were also careful and I haven’t carried a handbag with me for four weeks now (getting used to it actually).


The best football chant award has to go to the Chileans: Chi-Chi-Chi, le-le-le, Chile, Chile. Olé!


Other observations in Brazil


  1. Brazil is a complete football mad country. Watching Brazil play in bars around the country, often the women were the ones getting vocal and hysterical at the television, a lot more so than the men.

    Happy Brazilians in Olinda (Recife)

    Happy Brazilians in Olinda (Recife)

  2. Casual attire in Brazil is the norm. Due to everything I had with me being washed, I spent a day in my gym gear – leggings, tank top, and thongs, and did not feel out of place.

    Zorba and I with our capirinhas watching Brazil qualify for the R16 game

    Zorba and I with our capirinhas watching Brazil qualify for the R16 game

  3. The food was better than I expected, and cheaper than I expected. Some of the best things we at were from the street. Anything with prawns or shrimp was about double the price of the same dish with chicken. My favourite things included fresh mango juice, pastels (deep fried pastry stuffed with chicken, meat, cheese, and / or puree of manioc), barbecued meat, bean soups, bean stew, any kind of black-eyed bean dish actually. Serving sizes in restaurants are usually enormous.
  4. Besides beans and manioc (like a white sweet potato), Brazilians don’t seem to eat a lot of vegetables, and the vegetables sold at supermarkets probably explains why.
  5. Brazilians love to drink and have a massive drinking culture. Capirinhas are delicious – just vodka, mint, sugar and ice. Beer is cheap too, a long neck (600ml) cost between A$2.50 – $5 in bars, and about A$1 in supermarkets.
  6. Transport to the stadiums was on the whole fairly easy and taxis were cheap.
  7. Local buses are cheap, old, rickety and travel at warp-nine speeds.
  8. Besides the stadiums and tourist areas, Brazil really does feel like a third world country and the economic difficulties of the mass population are evident.
  9. Seeing the street dogs in Brazil broke my heart, time and time again.
  10. No one is in a hurry in Brazil, ever.

    Coconuts A$2.50

    Coconuts A$2.50

  11. Everywhere we went there was a street peddler selling something – Brazilian shirts, flags, sarrongs, hats, bags, hammocks, swimwear, jewellery, food, drinks, trinkets, belts, toys, coconuts – you name it.  The good thing is that they weren’t in your face like they are in Bali. For example, on the beach they’ll look your way, offer you a sarong and unless you call them over, they’ll keep on walking.
  12. Australia’s beaches are as beautiful if not more beautiful in some places than Brazil’s.

    The beach at Stella Maris, Salvador

    The beach at Stella Maris, Salvador

  13. Havianas cost just A$10 in Brazil.
  14. No matter what your shape, size or age, in Brazil it is completely acceptable to wear a g-string on the beach. Lumps and all.
  15. Never ever take anything to the beach but your towel – we knew of several people that had bags / things stolen at the beach.

The best thing about Brazil is the Brazilian people. We were always welcomed warmly and every Brazilian we met was friendly and helpful. They seemed genuinely happy to have so many visitors in their country. The people made visiting Brazil for the World Cup extra special.

Have you been to Brazil? Were you there for the FiFA World Cup? What surprised you about Brazil? I’d love to hear your comments.

Copacabana Beach

Copacabana Beach

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World Cup dream shattered

After three awesome nights in NYC, we were to fly to Manaus to arrive the night before the huge Italy v England game. When in transit in Panama City, Copa Airlines informed us that the flight from Panama City onto Manaus was full and we could not get on the plane. WTF? No, W-T-F? We have a ticket. We have a boarding pass – crap, there’s no seat number on it.

Me – ‘What do you mean we can’t get on the plane? We have to be in Manaus for the game tomorrow. We booked this flight in January!’

Some other person at the airport – ‘Hey, we’ve been here for two days trying to get on a flight to Manaus.’

Me – ‘What the F—? How can you over book flights when the WORLD CUP is on? It’s not okay for us to arrive in Manaus tomorrow at 8pm – we’ll miss the game. Our whole point for going to Manaus is THIS game. Our whole life savings have gone into this trip, to go to the World Cup. This is unacceptable, completely unfair, and downright outrageous. Find a solution Copa Airlines, and find it now.’

Meanwhile, several Italians were having absolute hissy fits about not getting on the plane. Arms waving, voices loud, swearing, stomping feet, thumping desks, you name it. Other travellers were crying. Zorba and I were in disbelief. Utter disbelieve. I was shaking. I mean, how can we miss THE game of the tournament?  The game we’ve been dreaming about for eight months, since we found out we had FIFA tickets?

Anger started to set in. How is it that we can miss the game through no fault of our own? Just because an airline is so greedy that it overbooks its flights? It’s just not right.

In shock, we watched the plane depart for Manaus, without us on it.

Statue disappointed

I rang our travel insurance. We had $2,000 available each in case of having to get to a special event through circumstances beyond our control, but had to travel in the same class (e.g. Business Class would not be covered). Good to know. I checked the time: In Australia it would have been 4am. I had wifi for an hour – so I sent an email to my travel agent, Richie at Motive Travel, asking, begging for urgent help.

I googled and googled. No other flights to Manaus from Panama City that would get us there on time. There was a private charter company based in Panama. I called them. Hiring a private 7-seater plan was possible, and the plane was likely to be available. Cost, US$3,500 per hour plus tax. Flight time, likely to be 7+ hours. Probably more. I gathered the other stranded passengers. As much as we all wanted, needed, to get to Manaus, hiring a charter flight seemed out of reach. Nonetheless I sent the charter company an email as requested.

We waited for Copa Airlines to come up with a solution. Another hour passed.  Nothing offered except to go to Manaus the following day, which would mean missing the game. Not the right solution. Try again, Copa. People were firing questions, demands, at Joel, the Copa staffer I felt a bit sorry for. Another hour passed. Fuck, can we sit down somewhere please? Get a drink, something to eat while you figure this out? We just flew for six hours from NYC, and we’re knackered. No. Nothing. There was a lounge Zorba and I could have paid to get into, but I wasn’t leave Copa’s sight until we had a confirmed ticket to Manaus.

My internet expired. More time passed. Starting to resign ourselves to the fact that we weren’t going to get to Manaus. Zorba had given up. I was never giving up. We were going to be at that game, no matter what.


There was a hand over from the Copa staff – a stressed out Joel was replaced by Eduardo Serrano. Someone who said all the right things — and that’s where it ends.

One by one, the stranded passengers who were causing the biggest scenes were being flown to other destinations with a promise of a connection to Manaus. The Italian was first, off to Sao Paolo on the last seat of that flight. Next was a young Aussie / Italian couple from Melbourne – flown on a later flight to Sao Paolo. Of course they had the last two seats so the rest of us couldn’t go.

It felt a bit like Copa Airlines were just getting rid of the problem passengers. I feared causing a scene – I mean, I didn’t want to end up in jail in Panama. Keeping calm was impossibly difficult.

There were seven of us left stranded in Panama – two Americans, four Australians, and a Puerto Rican.

No other solutions offered – but they did agree to put Zorba and I up for two nights in Panama City and re-route our flight to Rio de Janeiro, our next destination. We could watch the game at least in a bar or at the hotel in Panama. Far from satisfactory, but better than flying to Manaus, missing the game (because we would be on the flight) and arriving in Manaus for one night for no reason.

More time passed as Eduardo prepared paperwork for our flights to be re-routed, visa paperwork, etc. By this stage we had been waiting for four hours. No drinks, no food, no where to sit down.

I checked the time, 7.30am in Perth. I rang Richie, my travel agent. I was desperate and starting to worry that if we didn’t get out of Panama City, we would have no options for connecting flights to Manaus. Richie, thankfully, had received my email and was already checking options for me. I had to give him 15 mins and call him back.

Richie advised that there were no flights out of Panama into Brazil. However, we could fly to Miami and there was a flight from Miami to Manaus with TAM airlines, another carrier, that would get us there in time. The catch, there was just two business class seats available at A$2,750 each, which he had held in our names, in case we wanted that option. Yikes, almost A$6,000. Zorba and I talked it over. We considered just paying for it – but it wasn’t right that we should. Copa should cover that cost.

Right. There’s our solution. As Eduardo was trying to gather us up to get on a shuttle to the hotel, I stopped him. We have a solution, fly us to Miami and pay for us to be on that TAM Airlines flight to Manaus, in business class. Right.Now. Eduardo, again, picked up the phone, tapped into his computer, and after another 15 minutes gave us some excuse as to why that can’t happen.

Then I lost it.

I started to shake. I was pointing my finger at him. My voice was deep, measured, absolute, unwavering, and forceful.

“I am not taking ‘No’ for an answer. Make it happen, and make it happen NOW!!!” I demanded through gritted teeth.

We had 1.5 hours before the Miami flight was taking off. We needed a boarding pass or we would miss our only opportunity to make it to Manaus and to the Italy v England game.

The other passengers also wanted to go to Miami. After almost six hours in that God forsaken airport in Panama City and getting nowhere, at least in Miami the staff were likely to be more reasonable, helpful, and have English as a first language. There were heaps of seats available on the Miami flight.

I was trying to organise Eduardo to call Richie so they could speak and simultaneously re-book the business class seats so Copa Airlines could cover that cost. For 45 mins I was promised that someone in Miami was calling Richie to make that booking. They never called him. To make matters worse, Richie couldn’t get through to me by mobile or sms. I had to call him each time.

And another lie from Eduardo: an American Airlines flight has opened up from Miami to Manaus. There are heaps of seats available.

Joy! Jubilation! Eduardo quickly issued all six stranded passengers (the Puerto Rican opted to stay in Panama) boarding passes to Miami, and an printed letter asking to confirm the seats he had held for each of us from Miami to Manaus.

Hoo-fucking-ray. Let’s go!  Seven hours standing, arguing, stressing, at Panama airport and finally we were on our way. I called Richie to let him know – and we both agreed that we should keep hold of the last two seats in business class, just in case Eduardo was getting rid of us and lying. I was suspicious and Richie confirmed that the American Airlines flight was a code-share with TAM, so not a new flight as such. We knew that the TAM flight was full because we had the last two seats held in our names.

Before going, Zorba insisted on bag tags for our baggage to follow us. Where were our bags anyway? I had no faith whatsoever that we’d see our luggage again.

Boarding passes to Miami issued, baggage tags attached, and a sprint to the gate. On a plane and out of Panama. Thank fuck. I sighed and felt some relief, but it was hardly over. We had a long way to go yet to get to that game.

No sleep for 24 hours. Thankfully, I slept for two hours on the plane, missed the in-flight meal, but sleep was more important. After a 3.5 hour flight to Miami, we landed at 1.45am.  The Copa Airlines desk opened at 3.30am. No staff at the TAM airlines desk. More waiting. Nothing open at Miami airport – no shops, no cafes. When the Copa Airlines desk opened, six tired, weary, and stressed out travellers pounced. The manager was called, Juan. He genuinely felt sorry for us and could not believe how we had been treated. He said he would help us.

Waited another hour for the TAM airlines desk to open. Juan spoke to their manager and confirmed out worst nightmare – we were not booked on the flight to Manaus, and the flight was full. The only names that showed up were Zorba’s and mine in Business Class. Thank God for Richie. But – there’s always a but – Copa Airlines said they couldn’t put us on TAM airlines in Business Class. I can’t even remember why – my body almost shut down and my brain went into shock when he said those words. I began to cry. Exhausted, drained and completely and utterly over it. But not ready to give up. We were going to be at that game.

I was texting Richie – instructing him to keep hold of the flights until we knew more.

Juan put us all on stand by. At 6.00am, passengers started checking into the Manaus flight. We all prayed that something would happen so seats for us would be available.

With 30 minutes left to go before the Manaus flight closed and we could have seats confirmed, Juan informed us there were still 29 places available, so things were looking good.

The Zorba grabbed me and said, “Follow me.”

He charged off, a man on a mission. Away from the other stranded passengers, Zorba asked Juan how much would it cost us to pay the fare difference from economy to business to guarantee the business class seats? Good question Zorbs! US$425 each.  Stuff it, let’s just pay and guarantee our place on the flight. But – another frigging but – because the TAM flight was also overbooked by six passengers (not including us, so 12 people on standby), we had to wait for the flight to close before we could take up that option.

More waiting, stressing, waiting. Counting passengers checking in. Harassing check-in staff by asking them every 10 minutes how many seats were left.

Hope. 15 minutes until the flight was to close and just six seats available.  Another flight was delayed (connection), so our chances were tight, but still alive.

Flight closed. Juan announced – the flight was full, just two business class seats were available, who wanted them? I was in his face first and said they were ours. Which they were. It was like an episode of The Amazing Race.

Bags checked in (yes, they arrived from Panama City) and then we had to sprint downstairs, across the other side of the terminal to the TAM ticket office, to pay the fare difference. With little food and water, two hours sleep in 30+ hours, that sprint almost killed me. Almost.

At the TAM ticket desk and one attendant was dealing with a question-asking German. The other attendant was tapping into his computer and not serving customers. Hurry the fuck up!!! Someone else bolted into the ticket office, a sweaty guy in an Italian shirt with an American accent.

Sweaty pushy guy – ‘Please help me, I have to get on the Manaus flight, my flight was delayed.’

Me – ‘Mate, we’ve been at the airport all night trying to get on that flight because our other flight was overbooked. This flight is full, you have no hope buddy. None.’ In other words, fuck off.

Sweaty guy goes to attendant tapping into computer – ‘Please help me, Sir. Please, my flight was delayed.’

Sir behind the counter – ‘I’m busy doing something, please wait in line.You have to be here three hours before an international flight, not (pauses to check his watch) twenty minutes.’

Sweaty guy starts crying. I don’t care. After ten excruciating minutes, the question-asking German finally leaves and we jump to the counter. Phone rings. Our lady serving us speaks in Spanish. What now? WHAT?

Lady in TAM office – ‘I’m sorry, there are no business class seats, you are in economy.’

Me – ‘Okay, so can you print our boarding passes?’

TAM Lady – ‘No, you have to go back to the check in desk.’

You’re kidding. Another sprint, another near heart attack. Juan was there with the other four stranded passengers. I tell him there’s no business seats and that we were in economy – which he already knew. He handed us our boarding passes and we sprinted with every last ounce of energy in our bodies to security, and then onto our gate.

We made it on the plane. Phew. Zorba was in seat 15L. I was in 36A. Never mind, we were on the plane. As I walked to my seat, one of the last people on the plane, I got to seat 36A and someone else was sitting in it. Oh my God, Oh my God. Oh my God. I thought about hiding in the toilet until after take off. But a steward saw me chatting to Mr 36A and asked what the problem was.

I was told to wait in the crew area in the back of the plane while it was sorted out. After six or seven minutes and a lot so nerves, I was told to go back to seat 36A. The other guy got bumped up to Business Class. At that moment, I really didn’t care. I had a seat. We were on our way to Manaus.

Thank God.  And thank Richie. And thank Zorba. Seat belt on, plane takes off – we are on our WAY!!!

Two sleeping tablets and a three hour sleep later, we land in Manaus.

We had four hours before kick off – we had to get to the hotel, have a shower (for the benefit of everyone around us), pick up our tickets from across the other side of Manaus from the FIFA ticket collection office, and get to the Arena. We had no time to waste.

And that’s exactly what we did. One minute showers, Italian shirts on, a taxi, and a complete rush. Rapido, rapido! Thankfully, there were no queues at the ticket collection office and a very helpful volunteer walked us through every step of the automatic ticket machine. Tickets in hand. One more step – get to the stadium.

There were dedicated shuttle buses to the stadium that cost just A$5 each. Which was awesome because I paid the other taxi driver in US dollars instead of Brazilian Real, effectively doubling his earnings. Oh well. A small mistake.

On the shuttle bus, sitting next to some very loud talking Americans in the back seat, they ask us questions because they heard us speak English, but we were wearing Italian shirts.

Then one says – ‘We just landed from Miami too. Hey, I think I was in your seat.’

Me – ‘Oh my God. 36A!?’

Him – ‘Yes! Thanks so much, I was moved up to first class!’ He, Craig, bought us a beer when we got off the bus.

What a spin out!! What are the chances of that happening?

We were at the Arena, entered the ground, and another spin out, we bumped into the young Australian / Italian couple also stranded in Panama City that were put on a flight to Sao Paolo. They didn’t have a connection to Manaus either and their luggage was lost. But they too made it, were at the game and their smiles were as wide as ours.

We found our stadium seats. I looked around, breathed, and broke out in tears. Crying in disbelief, joy, exhaustion.  Our World Cup dream was almost shattered – it took everything we had to make it happen – not that it was our fault – but we had made it. We were there. I was elated and overwhelmed. And I cried about six times during the game. It was every bit as awesome as I’d expected. And Italia won, 2-1.

WorldCup Manaus_2

 Lesson learned: Never EVER fly Copa Airlines again – or go to Panama City.




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Calling for travel tips: first leg, France and Italy

Hello readers!

We are madly racing around to get ourselves, our work, and our little fur baby, our Westie pup Bella, organised before we fly out. And I need your help.  We are looking for travel tips, insider knowledge, restaurant recommendations or little unknown places for great experiences and of course unforgettable meals, in:

  • Nice and South of France (we are going to the Monaco F1 Grand Prix on Sunday)
  • Northern Italy – I’m thinking we might head to Lake Como, still deciding
  • Islands near Italy / France – we have about a week to go where we please
  • Milano

After about three weeks in Europe, our next stop is NYC. I have loads of tips on where to eat in New York – but what about where to shop? Bargains of quality gear is what we’re after. And jeans.

Then we fly to Brazil for the FIFA World Cup. It’s super exciting and a massive bucket list item for me – one I’ve been dreaming about for..for..now I think about it I’m too embarrassed to say it’s been so long – so let’s just say, forever!

Have you been to Brazil and do you have any travel tips in these places?

  • Manuas in Brazil (Italy v England is our first World Cup game! Epic!)
  • Rio de Janeiro
  • Recife (Italy v Costa Rica)
  • Natal (Italy v Uruguay)
  • (we have another 8-9 days in Brazil following the Italia team – not sure where their next two games will be played)

After the madness of the World Cup, we head to Buenos Aires for six days. We’re staying in Palermo Soho. I’m so looking forward being back in Argentina.  I feel at home there, which isn’t surprising given forty per cent of the population has Italian heritage. Forty per cent!  It has many similarities to Italy, without the European price tags. Such great leather shopping. I’ll be buying another suitcase there for sure.

  • Buenos Aires

Then we make our way home. We’re breaking up the long haul flight back to Perth by spending a few nights in Dubai. I like stopping in Dubai – it’s clean, safe, lovely hotels, and good shopping.

  • Dubai

I love getting travel tips – equally as much as I love giving them.  Right now, it’s all about the South of France and where to go next. Can you help?

Italian fans standing for the national anthem at the start of the Euro 2012 final, Monterosso, Italia

Italian fans standing for the national anthem at the start of the Euro 2012 final, Monterosso, Italia

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What does adventure mean to me?

What does adventure mean to me? It means discovering something new, challenging myself out of my comfort zone, taking calculated risks, trying new foods, and learning about a new place and its culture.

What does adventure mean to me?

In Bolivia, I rode a mountain bike down the world’s most dangerous road, known as Death Road, connecting La Paz to Coroico. Take a look at us jumping with joy to still be alive during the 64km downhill ride. The sheer drop from the single lane pot-holed gravel road was hundreds of metres, straight down, with no barrier protection. One unlucky skid and it could have been all over. Frightening? Absolutely terrifying. Exhilarating? You bet. To ride through the scenery that started at 4700 metres above sea level surrounded by glaciers and ice-whipping wind and finished 1200 metres above sea level amid humid lush tropical rain forests was simply spectacular.

Adventure also means getting away from it all, as the red-earthed dirt road in the Gascoyne, central Western Australia, depicts. Or taking a boat trip in Vietnam to visit a remote outdoor coconut candy factory to sample their wares.

Food is also an adventure – wherever and whenever possible, I eat like the locals. I have found myself buying tomatoes, cheese and bread to make myself a panini from a market in Palermo, enjoying a bowl of steaming Pho Bo from a street food stall in Hanoi, and sitting in a cosy pub in Edinburgh tucking into a hearty meal.

What does adventure mean to you?


Southern Cross Travel Insurance is running a competition for bloggers to win $2000 towards their next adventure and other great prizes. Competition closes 30 November.  More details can be found here

The Challenge

As the entry conditions clearly state, I challenge two other bloggers to share with us what adventure means to them:

The Skinny Perth & Eat Meets West. I know these two bloggers have plenty of adventure stories they could share – and they both have great blogs if you want to check them out 😉


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