Yes, solo. It wasn’t meant to be this way.
Though I travelled alone to South Africa for World Cup 2010 I was met at the airport by a cousin with whom I stayed and I went to games with friends or extended family. I found myself solo there once and that was with that spineless chap.
I had no intentions of manoeuvring Brazil on my own. However reality turned out to be different.
Back in September 2013, I contacted a guy, a Ghanaian, who had been to a few World Cup events before and who I was certain was going again. Let’s call him “Guy”. I knew him from my social circle and knew him a little bit more from South Africa. I asked him then if he was going to Brazil 2014 and if I could be part of his group. He told me then that the group was guys, but OK, I am welcomed.
Over the course of the next several months, he sent me updates as to what tickets to which games we were getting and in January sent a proposed travel itinerary. I booked my round-trip flight and then later in the month coordinated with him to book the several internal flights. One trip from Natal to Fortaleza was going to be by road. Nothing for me to do there.
All going great right? Next, was setting up accommodation. The grand idea was to find rental houses we all could stay in in each location. This time the interaction was mostly me asking for updates over the course of the next several months. “We haven’t found anything yet”. “I think the group is too large”. (How many I asked? – “12 to 14”). “We may need to split into smaller groups”.
In early-mid May 2014, still not having accommodations set, I requested a phone call. “Oh sorry, I totally dropped the ball. I’ve been so busy. I’m going to pass on duties of arranging accommodation to “Pete”” (all names fabricated to protect the callous). I stated then that “you know all I want is to not have to be alone in Brazil. “Oh don’t worry about that”, he replied. As for that we’ll be fine.” I asked about the road trip from Natal to Fortaleza. “Still working on it” was his response.
I was reassured. Apparently, given that we had waited so long to book accommodations, hotel rooms had opened up and prices had dropped. So, “Pete” was going to find hotels in each location and send out a list so we each could book our rooms.
Far different cry from (and far more expensive than) a shared house, but fine. “You should get the email by tomorrow night. Seems like you are a planner, maybe we should have put you in charge of this”, “Guy” said as we closed the conversation.
The email never came. So now I was emailing both “Guy” and “Pete” who actually was already my Facebook “friend” in the wake of South Africa 2010.
This is where it began to go sour. What all along was what I figured to be poor and lazy planning soon became cold, callous, and rude behaviour. “Pete” did eventually send me the list and all but the first location were rental houses. I was so confused.
It took him another week to reply that “no, you are not accounted for in these houses; I thought you just wanted to know where we were staying, so you can find a place nearby”.
Angry. Obviously there had been a miscommunication. I replied, “No, I’m staying with you. Since September 2013, the plan has been I’m travelling with the group.” No response. “Guy”, at this point had directed all questions to “Pete”, and “Pete” on his part was hard to reach on the phone.
Finally, my friends, on June 7th I received a phone call from “Pete”. Mind you I was on call In no uncertain terms he told me this was a guy’s trip. “I have no clue about any discussion you may have had with “Guy”, but this is a guy’s trip. You are not traveling with us, you are not staying with us. You are free to use the emails as a guide to sort yourself out”. I couldn’t believe my ears.
“So you mean I should find my own accommodation and find my way to meet up with you guys so we travel to games/airports together?”, I asked not fully comprehending the gravity of his words. “No, I mean yes, find your own place and do your own thing. We have made no arrangements to travel with you to/from airports and to/from games. We are doing our own thing. You can do whatever you want”, was his cold but crystal clear response.
“So you mean to tell me I’m travelling to Brazil solo, alone?!”, I replied still in a state of shock. “Yes! Maybe, we’ll run into each other here and there. Have a good time.” He wasn’t wavering.
Oh, I was so beyond pissed. First of all I didn’t have time to argue on the phone being that I was on call and all. Second, I truly believed that there had been a miscommunication, for no-one can be that cruel and rude to drop another from a travel group for the offence of being a woman (my assumption).
I finished the busy call weekend and on Monday morning sent a disapproving email to “Guy” who promptly responded with his apologies and offered to talk it over. But at this point, I had thought it over. Why would I want to be with boys, yes BOYS, who didn’t want me around? Where is the camaraderie, nationhood, safety and fun in that? No, I had nothing to talk about with him.
I had accommodations to find, flights to re-work to be better suited for solo woman travel, forums to read to figure out the cheapest and safest ways to get from points A to B then C, all in the following five days. Oh, and that pesky matter of figuring out how I was going to get from Natal to Fortaleza, a 6 hour road trip.
I think I lost about 7 lbs in that week alone. (So of course I’m looking good on this trip). Sleepless nights. Luckily, it was not too busy at work so I had time to call and be disconnected from TAM airlines over and over and over again, before actually making contact with their representatives.
On Friday after work, as I drove the two hours to the airport “we” were departing from, with the rain and traffic threatening to make me late, I couldn’t help but think ill of THE BOYS. If I knew I was traveling solo, there would have been no need for this, I could have just left from my local airport. I thought of all the different scenarios of our meeting up. We were after all on the same flight and in the same hotel in the first city (Natal). What would I say to them? Would I give them dagger-eyes? Will they be apologetic?
Well, I saw them at the airport true enough. I’m not sure if they saw me. I was tired. Flight had been delayed. They wore Ghana flags draped around their hips prompting the elderly English lady besides me waiting for the delayed plane to Heathrow airport to ask her equally elderly husband, “now what country flag is that with the striped red, yellow, green and the black star, is that Ghana?” I looked at them and nodded my head, and looked down to avoid any recognition.
When we arrived at São Paulo the following morning, three of them were gathered at the end of the crosswalk waiting. I had no choice but to walk right into them. I could see “Guy” mouth my name causing the two others to turn to face me. “Pete”, and “Rickey”. Rickey was also a Facebook friend that I had not seen since 2008 probably. He lives in Ghana these days and I had no idea if he knew whether or not I was supposed to be traveling with them. He looked surprised to see me anyhow, like we had just met on Neptune. We shared a warm embrace, smiles all around. Seeing how I’m a proper lady, I turned around and shared equally warm embraces rather than the dagger-eyes, cold shoulder, proper Ghanaian insults due to “Guy” and “Pete” before excusing myself to carry on with my journey.
I still had parts of my trip to plan out. I had wanted to go to the FIFA ticket collection kiosk at the São Paulo airport to pick up tickets that were not mailed to me, but the airport was massive. I did find it eventually but by that time I only had 30 minutes to take off so I didn’t bother waiting in line. By the looks of it, boarding would have been almost over for my connecting flight. Harried, I rushed off to find my gate, got on a shuttle to the correct gate, only to wait over an hour for eventual take off. The saving grace was airport WIFI, so I texted family alerting them of safe arrival.
By the time we arrived at the new airport in Natal over 3 hours later it was beginning to get dark. There was no FIFA ticket pickup location here. I decided to collect money from the ATM assuming the airport was too brand new for scammers to have already installed skimmers on the machines. I then waited what felt like a century at the TAM airlines ticket sales kiosk to make my final ticket adjustments and throw down serious money for that yet unplanned Natal to Fortaleza trip.
At the information desk, I was advised against taking a taxi to my hotel but rather guided towards a free shuttle to Porto Negra from where I could get a taxi for the much cheaper shorter trip to my own hotel. It was pouring rain. It was dark. The roads were flooded.
I was dropped off at a hotel in Porto Negra and the concierge there hailed a taxi for me. As I got into that taxi, I was uneasy but what else were my options? Tired. Wet. Dark. No English. No WIFI. No phone service. Flooded roads. Last part of my trip into Brazil, please Lord, just get me to my hotel.