In the grand scheme of a walk, it would be a little longer than a pleasant Sunday morning stroll. The Camino de Santiago, a thousand year old pilgrimage route, would take me from the edge of France and across Spain to the famed cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. A little less than 500 miles.
I thrust my hands deep into the coat pockets, a refuge from the biting cold. The Beagle Channel stretches before me. A fierce, angry wind growls in from the sea. Great hulking ships sit dormant in port. Monsters of nautical travel – ice breakers – Antarctic ships. The frozen continent lies a thousand kilometers to the south. Bronze busts of past explorers line the waterfront, staring whistfully out to sea. I have no idea who any of them are – but if their clothing, steely gaze and sensational facial hair are anything to go by they were quite something.
It was still dark as we woke to the frozen town of Rio Gallegos. We disembarked into the scruffy, but warm bus station. Our legs wobbling slightly, as they became used to being used as legs again. The bus had long disappeared when I realized I had left a camera bag on-board. After a slow and fairly painful interaction with a bus employee, I was given directions to the re-fuelling depot. I ran frantically down the dark, icy street, my breath swirling into mist above me. A bus appeared out of the gloom. I barrelled into the road, waving my…
Our option was a simple one. A flight from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia, at the far bottom of Argentina, would take four hours. A bus trip would take forty-eight hours. One promised a swift and uneventful passage. The other held possible boredom, sore backsides and potential insanity – but also a great adventure. What better way to see something so vast, so epic as Patagonia.
The line that greeted us on Copacabana beach stretched so far that we didn’t even bother finding the end. Instead we nestled ourselves in front of the second screen. The crowd was still thin – but overwhelmingly Argentinian. A lone German stood proudly behind us in his speedos, a German flag fluttering gently beside him.
Goal after goal. After goal. After goal. The Germans bellowed until their throats cracked. The Brazilians carried an empty vacant look. A look of complete astonishment – and also near complete pain. The rain hammered down around us. Brazil’s dreams had been obliterated in one astonishing half of football.
The crowd held its breath. The chants of ‘Julio Cesar’ had died down. The Chilean, Gonzalo Jara, placed the ball on the penalty spot – stamping down on the turf before walking a few yards back – turning, and exhaling. He had to score. Thousands of Brazilians packed into Rua Alzira Brandão held their breath.
This is a story of two halves. One half includes wonderful moments, exquisite skills and the odd hero or two. The other half includes none of these. This is the story of England and France.
We heard it before we could see it. The piercing horns, the banging drums – a steady rumble – the sounds of Brazilians doing what Brazilian seem to do best – partying – and frenzied support of their national football team. We turned the corner and were greeted by an arch across the road. Through it we could see the crowd, already enormous. A torrent of yellow, blue and green. This is where Brazilians come to watch their football. Welcome to Rua Alzira Brandão.
At a certain unspecified point I stopped hating German football, and – whisper it – started to quite like it. As an Englishman, albeit an Anglo-Franco one, we are bred with niggling feelings towards our noisy cousins across the sea.