When most people think of Brazil, Spain or Argentina, soccer is undoubtedly one of the common links these countries share. Consequently, it comes as no surprise that many of my memorable travel experiences have been related with soccer. Football, fúbol, futebol–regardless of what you call it, the most popular sport in the world has provided me with some of the best times of my life. Out of all of these, the highlight would certainly be watching the final game between Holland and Spain on a huge screen in La Plaza de Colón in Madrid during the World Cup in 2010, then followed by celebrating with all of Spain after La Selección Española were crowned champions.
While that experience will probably never be matched, I was fortunate enough to be in Buenos Aires during a friendly fútbol game between Brasil and Argentina. Before the trip I wasn’t aware of the match, but saw an ad for it at my hostel while checking in. My travel buddy and I immediately bought our tickets and put our names on the hostel group transportation list. How could we pass up the chance to see these two these rivals duel it out in La Boca Juniors’ Bombonera stadium?! Getting to see Neymar and Messi play in real life would just be icing on the cake.
Now, as a current resident in Brasil, of course I had to cheer for my “home” team, and it didn’t take long to make some Brazilian friends in the hostel who were going to the event as well. While leaving for the game in our bus, some of the hostel employees warned the Brazilians not to wear their jerseys. Of course brawls and fights are common in soccer stadiums around the world, and I knew this would be no exception, but I just figured the hostel employees were being overly cautious to protect them from liabilities. When we arrived to La Boca, I realized exactly why they could not wear their jerseys.
Most travel guides claim that La Boca is one of the seediest areas of Buenos Aires, and after going there I can confirm that statement to be true. La Boca is a rough neighborhood, and I couldn’t imagine going there alone at night on public transportation, getting lost trying to find my way to the stadium, or sticking out like a lost gringo while trying to read a map and get there. I don’t usually do hostel outings, but I was relieved that I decided to do this one with the group in a rented bus, and not on my own. If you ever plan on going to La Bombonera at night, I’d recommend going by taxi, and certainly with a group, especially if you aren’t familiar with the area.
Walking to the stadium was filled with excitement and enthusiasm. It almost reminded me of the streets of Madrid during the World Cup games with all of the argentinos in their jerseys, cheering and pumping themselves up for the game. La Boca might be a dangerous neighborhood, but it is lively and full of energy before soccer matches! After what seemed like hours winding through the crowds in the maze of streets , we finally made it to the stadium, got patted down about two times to make sure we were weapon free, and then trudged up the long stairwells to our seats.
Yep, it was definitely the nosebleed section, but I didn’t care. I was about to watch two of the most storied soccer teams in the world perform. The argentinos ended up winning the second game in a two game series, but the brasileños had won the first, so in order to determine the champion of the tournament, it came down to a shootout. It was a great show, and in the end, Neymar scored the winning goal to clinch the title. Yay Brasil! We couldn’t cheer too loudly though, with all of the angry porteños (people who live in Buenos Aires) all around us.
The environment after the game was sharp in contrast to the beginning. It was a silent walk as we traipsed back to the bus, and the Brazilians had to be reminded numerous times not to cheer so that they’d stay safe. I think our hostel guide almost had a panic attack after a Brazilian lady in the group ran through the streets screaming “BRAZIL! BRAZIL! BRAZILLLLLLLLLLL!” loud enough for anyone in the two block vicinity to hear. We eventually arrived back to the bus unscathed and were about to leave when it became apparent that two of the Brazilians had not made it back with us. After waiting for about 30 minutes, riots began a little ways down in the street and police cars whizzed by. Apparently some of the residents in the barrio, unhappy after the recent loss, were chasing some of the Brazilians with knives! Frightening. Again, thank God the Brazilians with us didn’t wear their jerseys!!! Fortunately, they weren’t the Brazilians from our hostel, who returned about 45 minutes after the end of the game. I have no idea what they were doing, but I was relieved to see them back and high tail it out of La Boca.
I would definitely repeat that experience in La Bombonera, but first, I think it is time to see a game in Brasil. Perhaps World Cup 2014?