One week ago I had arrived in Piriapolis on the Southern coast of Uruguay. It had been raining all day, the sun had set and mist had begun to creep in. The only hostel in town was closed and so I walked around asking people for a cheap place to stay. Eventually I found a room above a little restaurant, with an unbelievably friendly waiter, Santo, who recommended highly the milanesa; one huge piece of meat in 2 bread rolls with salad and chips. The room was small with one wall completely dedicated to damp. The puddles that lined the staircase were some indication that this place was not being maintained to the highest standards. But it was cheap. I put down my bags, turned on the oil heater (maybe that will get rid of the damp) and ordered the milanesa downstairs. Santo brought over 2 plates, one featuring a huge piece of meat covered with chips, the other smaller plate with 3 of the tiniest bread rolls I had ever seen. I looked at Santo with confusion, his previous enthusiasm regarding this dish had well and truly disappeared. I picked up the newspaper and went straight to the sports. It was the third time Nacional were going to play Defensor in the space of the week. The first 2 had been draws and they had to keep going until someone wins. Then once one of the teams win they do exactly the same at the other teams ground. If that other team wins, they then do this whole thing again at a neutral ground until there is a champion. I considered going to Montevideo to watch one of the games, but figured that I could be there for weeks just waiting for the Champion to be announced (in the end it took 2 weeks for Nacional to win 2 out of 5 games and seal the title). The other game happening that night was Estudiantes vs Cruzeiro in the first leg of the Copa Libertadores final. I had considered going to one of the games but decided that La Plata in Argentina and Belo Horizonte in Brazil were just too far away. I thought about Piriapolis, about the damp room, the shoddy milanesa, the mist that meant it was impossible to see the sea even when your toes were in the water, and then I thought about North Brazil.
The next day I packed my bags, it was time to watch some football. I still had 6 days which meant I got to go see my friend Fernando in Treinta y Tres (my arrival was timed with that of the bakeries which meant I left with a bag full of dulce de leche-filled delights, always a bonus) and also stop in Curitiba for a couple of days (this place is know as the green capital of Brazil, so I wanted to see what the fuss was about). I had sent out a few messages regarding the Libertadores final and had found 2 people willing to buy me a ticket and give it to me when I got there. I chose the most enthusiastic of the 2 and felt quietly confident it would work out. It was not to be though. All of the tickets had been sold in 3 hours, people had queued for 24 hours just to get one and had still failed. On getting to Belo Horizonte (BH) I asked almost every person I met if they had a spare ticket. They didn´t. The touts were charging around 300 Reais for a 80 Real ticket and I really didn´t want to pay it. Through my whole process of trying to buy a ticket though I had realised one thing, that the real football fans were the supporters of Atletico Mineiro (Cruzeiro´s arch rivals). They were the ones who knew the most about football, they had the team with all the heritage but didn´t have the money to produce good teams as regularly as Cruzeiro, who seem to have one corrupt businessman as their President. So in the end I watched it in a pub surrounded by Atletico Mineiro fans and we cheered for Estudiantes, who eventually won. This was a bit of a shame as the party atmosphere that had been pulsing through BH all day had now dissipated completely, but I was also glad that they didn´t have to make my way through the stadium and back into the city with a load of angry Cruzeiro fans.
The game was last night. Tonight, Atletico play Sao Paulo. The price is 5 Reais, in the same 70,000 seater stadium and I get to watch it with real football fans. I think it was worth making the 2,000km trip just for this.