Imagine London on a mid-November monday morning with it barely light, howling a gale, freezing cold and bucketing down with rain and you have the scene when my bus arrives back in Buenos Aires today after a 10-hour journey from Cordoba.
Rebooking into the Buenos Aires hostel I am greeted by the sight of a dorm that quite literally resembles a refugee camp. There are 18 characters wrapped in what look like horse blankets, to protect them from the cold - steam filling the air from their collective snoaring - and to make matters even more surreal a bunch of Israeli soldiers are amongst their number, chattering away. I hope they don't start randomly shooting people dead for no reason.
I climb up onto my top bunk and drag the sheets and horse blanket up over my head. I could throw myself to my death off the top bunk and end all this but perhaps that is a bit extreme.
Feeling a bit better for my kip I take the Buenos Aires metro two lines and make my way to the press centre. I've still got my stolen cash disaster fresh in my mind as I turn the corner to the press centre and suddenly get a blow in the private parts. A huge Great Dane dog has jumped up at me and knocked me to the street. It never rains but it pours as they say. Hope the weather and my fortunes improve soon.
Not feeling best pleased after discovering somebody picked the lock on my hostel locker during the night and stole some of my cash. If they'd taken my camera or laptop, or all of my money, I guess it would have been obvious and the police would have been immediately called in. Instead, they just took a single 100 US dollar note, three 20 euros, and a 100 peso. It was only because I had time on my hands this morning and wanted to change all of my remaining foreign exchange that I noticed.
To give big credit to the hostel manager (after all, I could easily have been lying to her) she has refunded me the four nights cash for the time I have spent here, which makes up 60 dollars of the loss...but, it is fair to say, I am not in the best of moods today.
Peru beat Colombia 2-0 in extra time to qualify for the semi final of the Copa America
(c) Justin Walley & morethanagame.info 2011
(c) Justin Walley & morethanagame.info 2011
Copa America hosts Argentina have failed to make it past the quarter finals after being beaten 5-4 on penalties, after extra time, in their quarter final against Uruguay. Uruguay now play Peru in the first semi final after their shock 2-0 win over Colombia in Cordoba.
At Cordoba central station I grab a taxi for the 15-kilometre drive to the stadium, which is looking like one big traffic jam.
Against all the odds, and almost 24 hours on from when I first tried to set off from Mendoza for Cordoba, I make it to the stadium with an hour to spare. Leamington Spa comes and meets me outside with my ticket and I'm in!
The Mario Kempes stadium is named after the star of the 1978 World Cup, which was held in Argentina. That tournament was when I first fell in love with football, aged 7. Thirty years later it feels like a great privilege to be here.
Just taking my seat, who should stride past, dropping his shoulder to sidestep curious onlookers, but the great man himself. Yes, it is Mario Kempes in the Mario Kempes stadium, while down on the pitch below a new generation of Brasilian stars such as Neymar are just beginning their journey of fame.
Brasil are fancied to easily overturn Ecuador, but it is 28 minutes before Pato gives them the lead with a header thanks to a nicely floated ball from the left flank. But, Ecuador,aren't about to roll over and reply inside ten minutes with a speculative shot from Caicedo from outside the box, which squeezes horribly under Cesar.
Brasil retake the lead early in the second half thanks to a great strike from Neymar but, Caicedo not to be outdone, conjurs up another long range effort that this time easily beats Cesar to make it 2-2. Brasil look rattled but the mark of a class side is to retake the lead when their backs are against the wall. Neymar gets on the end of a loose ball to make it 3-2 on the hour mark, and when Pato scores his second and Brasil's fourth with 20 minutes remaining, it destroys what was left of Ecuador's valiant effort to qualify for the quarter finals.
Final score: Brasil 4 Ecuador 2
Having previously given up on trying to get to the Brasil match on time in Cordoba, I decide to give myself a kick up the arse and get up at the crack of dawn so I can get down the bus station before sunrise. It is around 10-12 hours from Mendoza to Cordoba and I reckon if I can pick up an early morning express I can possibly get to Cordoba before the Brasil match kicks off at 9.45pm
I was going to write part of this blog in praise of the City Hotel which was my home for 5 nights, one of them at rather short notice, so now is the perfect time to do that. Of all the people I have so far met in Argentina, Frances, the manager, stands out as one of the nicest people I have met here. He is kind and thoughtful and this is reflected in how he runs his hotel. It might only have one star on the front door but, once you are inside, the treatment and service is more five-star. I was feeling very run down and ill when I arrived in Mendoza but my stay at the (warm) City Hotel helped sort me out. The reason I mention Frances now is because upon checking out before getting a taxi to the bus station, he insists that I only pay the one person rate for my emergency double. He knows about me missing my bus the previous night and just doesn’t think it is fair that I should be straddled with paying for a double. I insist that I pay the full 200 but he is having none of it. If you ever stay in Mendoza and you are travelling on a budget then your first port of call should be the City Hotel on General Paz street. It is a simple old school hotel run with old school principles. And you will quickly feel like you are at home in the very pleasant city of Mendoza.
60 pesos better off from the previous night’s debacle the good news is that a bus leaves before sunrise and is scheduled to arrive in Cordoba around 7.30pm. Once on board I catch up with a couple of hours sleep then contact my friends in Cordoba to see if they can help me organise a last minute ticket for Brasil v Ecuador. The thing is that all journalists are expected to ask for any ticket in person at each respective press centre the day before a match or, if it really has to be, on the day of the match by late morning. Even if I arrive on time in Cordoba the press centre will already be closed for the day and the last bus en route to the Mario Kempes stadium.
German Andy phones to say he isn’t in Cordoba and is on his way to Misiones for a couple of days of sun and rest. “Try ringing the press centre. Tell them what has happened and I am sure they will reserve you a ticket,” I wish Andy all the best until we meet in Buenos Aires next week. Nurnberg Charles has apparently gone north west to catch a game in Salta.
Leamington Spa, a decent English lad, who is working for a Abu Dhabi-based channel, tells me he is on his way to the press centre to see if he can sort out a ticket on my behalf. I refer to him as Leamington Spa because, despite spending a day or two in the company of him and his lady, I don’t actually remember us telling each other our names. I just know he is from Leamington Spa and as English blokes often do, we have been calling each other ‘mate’ ever since we met. The mate references must sound very bizarre sometimes to non-British people.
After hours of no phone coverage as we really do appear to be in the middle of absolutely nowhere, Leamington Spa is back to me by sms with a short and simple message: ‘Got it!’
What a result! All I have to do next is get to Cordoba in enough time to dump my bag at my hostel and get a taxi to the stadium…but after the previous night’s screw up, I’m not counting my chickens (which is as well given that the bus had been driving through farmland for half a day)
Looking out of the window on the road through the San Luis province I see one-kilometre long fuel-shortage queues,and countless real gaucho towns; simple communities that could no longer exist if the agriculture industry died here. They all look more than a little worn around the edges, with the word 'simple' really describing life here. The dust bowl of a landscape is largely flat and monotonous, not helped by a very British style grey gloom.
…with it long since dark, we arrive in Cordoba at 7:30pm and I begin my mad dash…
Copa America 2011
A blog from the 2011 Copa America and road trip around Argentina.