Sunday, June 27, 2015
Pucon - Concepcion, Chile
The sweet Michigan girl wakes me as promised at 7.30 (my phone and alarm clock are both done for) for the best breakfast I've been given on the whole tour. Volcan Villarrica towers above Pucon in all its magnificent glory, its peak turning red in the early morning light, not a cloud in sight.
It is a two-hour bus back to Temuco where I nip into a local working man's cafe for breakfast before my next bus leaves. This could be Rotherham. The food is pure British cafe and the downtrodden streets outside look every bit run down British working class town. The caf is called La Churisco VIP and the ladies doing the early morning rounds of tea and Nescafe are super friendly. Like I said before, Temuco seems like an unusually friendly town and there are a lot of pretty girls here too, some Mapuche.
An eternity later, the bus reaches Concepcion, a city that sits on one of the most dangerous earthquake fault lines in the world. The 1960 earthquake that centred near here measured a world record 9.5 magnitude. Most of us will remember the 8.8 that hit near here in 2010. You might argue that when it comes to earthquakes, this is one of the most dangerous cities on Earth. There is some damn beautiful forest scenery on the road in, as well as a couple of snow-capped volcanoes. And, once again, by the time I've reached my destination there is barely time to do anything except go straight to the stadium. Tonight it is the last of the four quarter finals with Brasil playing Paraguay. There is not enough time to travel into the centre and check into my hotel so I end up having to go to the stadium with my backpack.
In the terminal, right on the edge of the city, next to the motorway, I just have time to book my long-distance bus tickets for the following day.
'Where are you from?' a rather bimboish Brasilian girl in a tight top that shows of some rather obvious assets asks me.
'Oh my God, England, I love England. I am not really Brasilian, I'm German.'
Before i know it, she is showing me mobile phone photos of her pouting with David Luiz and hugging Neymar and is asking me to meet her after the game.
The stadium is a beauty: steep tiered, close to the pitch and surrounded by lush forests. The local fans are in good voice. There aren't many travelling fans from either Brasil or Paraguay but there is no doubt who the good people of Concepcion want to win.
I have no sooner settled into my seat when I look up at the stadium giant screen and there is the German-Brasilian girl smiling and waving at the cameras. You've got to laugh.
Brasil take the lead through their best player - Robinho - and look comfortable for the win until they begin to run out of ideas. Paraguay start to boss it and equalize from the spot after a blatant handball. At 1-1 there is only one team likely to win this and Brasil are fortunate to survive until penalties. Where is the Brasilian hunger?
'FIFA is such a mafia that players miss penalties on purpose' someone suggested to me the other day. I don't quite buy into that but some of the penalties are so bad that you start to wonder.
Paraguay win the shootout and their players as well as the Chilean 'neutrals' are going mad. I have been to two Copa Americas and each time Brasil have failed to get past the quarters.
The press bus doesn't leave Alcaldesa Ester Rosa for almost two hours after the final whistle as we have to wait for the Paraguay and Brasil team coaches to leave first. Robinho and co drive past us, most of the players with their heads down looking at their mobiles, seemingly oblivious to the Brasilian fans waiting to boo them as they depart the scene of their latest humiliation.
As for me, I must confess to feeling slightly scared as I wander through the only slightly lit streets of downtown Concepcion on my tod. I'm carrying my rucksack and day bag and don't really know where exactly my hotel is. The streets are almost deserted and it's way past midnight.
Safely inside the Concepcion Plaza which is more like a travel tavern than the flash name suggests, the only place nearby I can venture to for food is a Chinese.
Jeez, I feel like Alan Partridge as I lie in bed in my business style hotel eating a Chinese takeaway at 2 in the morning. As brilliant as it is to be at the Chile Copa America, there are times when the 10-hour bus journeys, crap food, bitterly cold nights and six hours' sleep all become a bit testing.