After 4 years of saving and 6 months of planning, the day had finally come for us to leave for our World Cup adventure. And boy was it an adventure from the moment we arrived at the airport…
It was confusion from the start, as our flight magically changed times (only by 10 minutes) and we were told to go to TAM’s sister airline, American. It didn’t seem right but we did it and checked in, so didn’t think much of it at the time. The flight was surprisingly empty, considering the fact it was right in the middle of the World Cup. While we thought at the time it was because they may have ordered too many flights, a little bit of research (and a few angry calls) upon returning home, we discovered it was the opposite. They’d overbooked a number of flights so in this particular case, they had to order a new flight (via American Airlines) to handle the surplus. The tradeoff was fewer international amenities (no free liquor, no good movies) but tons of space to spread out.
Upon landing in São Paulo the next morning, we arrived onto a pretty confusing scene where we had to check in with TAM, but they had trouble finding our reservation. Thankfully, we still got seats on the flight, but we later learned that the remainder of our flights all got cancelled. To this day I have no idea what truly happened, but I’m told by TAM that they had unprecedented demand for flights which (obviously) put them in quite the situation of overbooking pretty much all of their flights. We just got the crappy end of that deal despite having booked our flights in January.
Once we got to the gate, Doug realized his phone was missing except instead of just having misplaced it this time, he actually left it on the plane! We ran everywhere throughout the airport – this was where I really started putting my poor excuse for Portuguese to use – and after finding the American Airlines lost luggage desk, Doug lucked out and got his phone back right before we had to board. That was probably the luckiest break we would have on the entire trip.
We finally landed around noon at our final destination, Manaus, in the heart of the Amazon rainforest. As we descended into the city, there was little to no civilization or development as there were endless stretches of green canopies bisected by numerous tributaries of the Amazon river. Before heading out to our pousada in the heart of the jungle, we had our driver stop downtown in Manaus to pick up all of our World Cup tickets, then made the 3-hour drive out to our lodge. While we could’ve stayed local in Manaus, we made the decision to stay in Novo Airão for two main reasons: it was night and day more expensive ($350-700 a night for the few places left available) to stay in Manaus due to price gouging throughout the World Cup, and we wanted to have an authentic Amazon experience in the jungle. The first few days were designed to be laid back and chill around the lodge, with the opportunity to watch as many games as possible, since we had booked an “all-inclusive” Amazon tour following the USA-Portugal game that would take us on a number of active excursions. Many of the tour operators included the same activities so it didn’t make sense to do it twice.
By the time we arrived and got checked in, it was already 5pm and the sun was already starting to set, so we decided to quickly explore town to get our bearings straight. Novo Airão was a tiny little town, used mostly as a launching point for Amazon excursions and trips to Jaú national park and the surrounding Anavilhanas archipelago. The town itself didn’t really have much to offer, as I think most of the nicer lodges likely offered a more inclusive deal that kept people at the lodge when they weren’t exploring in the jungle. Ours, however, only had a restaurant open for breakfast so we were on our own for the night.
After wandering around town and realizing how limited our options were – also likely because despite the World Cup, it was still technically low season – we found a friendly bar with a giant entertainment system set up outside called Giga Byte. While not the most authentic place, it had the game on, and the owner was super friendly, so we enjoyed a few Itaipava beers and shared a pizza while watching Honduras play Ecuador. It was also here where we learned the best method of communication – giving a thumbs up. We thought the owner loved us because he enthusiastically came over to take a picture of us (on his camera), then proceeded to do the same with every new table that came in after us.
Throughout our trip, we discovered that there were two main underlying themes. “We made it,” since this was a long-awaited journey and also since there were times we didn’t know if we would ever arrive at the next destination, and the less popular “We have no choice,” since often times there were so many misfortunes that truly were completely out of our hands. But that’s what underlies a true adventure after all…
HOW WE DID IT:
Booked our flights through Orbitz, all (except apparently the first flight) were on TAM. Original itinerary:
June 19-20 7:40pm JFK > 6:25am São Paulo / 9:30am São Paulo > 12:35pm Manaus
June 25 2:55pm Manaus > 6:55pm Brasilia / 7:50pm Brasilia > 10:22pm Recife (we later got bumped off this flight)
June 30 7:09am Recife > 8:25pm Salvador (we later got bumped from this flight too)
July 5 6pm Salvador > 8:30pm São Paulo, 10:20pm São Paulo > 7:10am JFK
Stayed at Pousada Bela Vista in Novo Airão
Transportation to/from hotel was booked directly through the hotel, cash only