BY DREW HICKS
Twenty-six hours of travel and we are down one bag, one person and one taxi.
Upon our flight’s arrival in Natal around 2 a.m., we watch the luggage carousel spin and spin, never producing my checked bag.
One bag down.
As the baggage claim clears, a handful of Americans are without their luggage. While completing paperwork to track our luggage, we meet an American traveler from Florida (of Ghanian descent!) that was separated from his Aunt and does not have their accommodation info. He tentatively clutches a packed tent he brought with him and we joke about him sleeping outside, as a torrential downpour saturates everything not under cover. There are two of us from Seattle and our travel companion from Montana was rerouted through Boston, missing his international flight.
One man down.
We offer the Floridian the bed of our friend who was delayed and we share a cab toward Ponta Negra, the neighborhood of our hotel. The road from the airport is peppered with large puddles from overflowing sewers and the buckets upon buckets of tropical rain.
About 30 minutes from the airport, along what we later learned was the main drag along the beach, we plow into a deep puddle. We have already gone through about 20 of these, so it seems normal. About 30 yards into this one, it feels different. Walls of water along both sides spray high above the cab, the puddle deepens, and ultimately our cab dies. Evaporating sewer water wafts from under the hood. The driver looks nonplussed and the language barrier is not helping. I open the door for a second to survey the situation, rain soaks me immediately.
Thankfully, the three new friends have some travel experience, are not distressed, and laugh at knowing that we are stuck. At this point, we do the only thing we can: take off our socks and shoes, roll up our pant legs, hop out and get pushing. We push the cab through rain and shin high water for about 50 yards to get out of the massive puddle, jump back in and pray it will start again. No luck.
One cab down.
We eventually move to a cab on the other side of the median, where there is surprisingly no puddle, and drive several miles down the road going the wrong way on a one way, flashing our brights at the many cars flying toward at us. (On a later cab ride, one of the drivers tells us that all Brazilians know the traffic laws, but none of them pay attention to them.). We make it to our hotel and check in just before the dawn.
The next evening, we plan to meet up at the U.S. Soccer Fan HQ for a preplanned U.S. fan party. Our Montanan travel companion, who has endured 40 hours of travel, finally arrives and we meet at the event. We celebrate until dawn.
The following day, all is restored; our delayed companion and misplaced bag have been delivered to our hotel. The Floridian finds his Aunt. We will see him tomorrow at the match. We wonder how the cab found a tow truck at 4 a.m. in a tropical storm, and if the driver lost his job…