Traveling to and from Manaus is, even in the best of times, a challenge. Manaus’ raison d'être is its usefulness as a port city in the middle of the Amazon jungle; it boomed in the early 20th century as a distribution point for a growing rubber industry and now has a population around two million. It’s very literally only accessible by plane or boat, there are no roads and the stadium was constructed at huge cost using only materials that could be delivered in either of the two aforementioned ways.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t the best of times. This was the World Cup, and so the travel was a nightmare. I’ll spare you the gory details, as I suspect travel horror stories are just as boring for the listener as fantasy sports stories and fishing tales. The basics, though: answering a 1:30 AM wakeup call for a 9 AM Natal-to-Manaus flight, getting to the airport at 9 PM for a 5 AM Manaus-to Natal departure. We were the lucky ones; the trip has been split into two planes, creatively named Plane 1 and Plane 2. I’m on Plane 1, the Plane 2 prisoners left at 12 PM and 2 PM respectively for the above planes. This means they spent roughly 24 hours waiting in airports. Cue the sad trombone.
Once arriving, we were taken on a Manaus city tour by bus. Our tour guide, Marlon, largely passed the time by sharing local Manausian jokes. The best one: “When you do wrong on Earth, where do you go? You go to hell. When you do wrong in hell, where do you go? You go to Manaus.”
Manaus splits time between the seasons of “undesirably hot” and “egg-cooking-on-concrete hot”. Luckily we were still in the former stage, yet it was still over 100 degrees and over 80 percent humidity during the pre-match party. The game, mercifully, was at night, because the temperature was raised by the more than 40,000 spectators at the match.
It’s really difficult to objectively describe a USMNT match as when attended with the American Outlaws. The problem is that every minute contains an emotion raised to the millionth power. Faith: The “I Believe That We Will Win” chant, one so powerful and catchy Brazilians have asked me multiple times to teach them the words. Competitiveness: Every time the Portugal fans tried to get a chant going, AO made their best effort to drown it out with one of their own (I’m not sure how effective it was on TV, but it was extremely powerful from within that end of the stadium). Elation: Both U.S. goals, one to get the draw for the US and one to get the win. Despair: Allowing the Portuguese to score the latest goal in regulation in World Cup history.
After that, we were bussed to the airport. At about 1 AM, I wandered around and found several hundred USMNT fans passed out, sleeping on the tile floors. The Amazon had exhausted us all.
Sports are great because they’re proxies of the human condition, compressed into two to three hour blocks. Yesterday’s match against Portugal was one of the greatest examples of that in US history, and the American Outlaws experience just magnified it even more. I’m so lucky to be here.