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I’d been in no rush to leave Rio, and had been planning on taking a relaxing few days to São Paulo. The Rio x Santos road, also known as Costa Verde, is deservedly known as one of the prettiest roads in Brazil as it winds past coves and up and down small hills through the Mata Atlantica (Atlantic Forest).

Leaving Rio wasn’t the most fun, with some heavy traffic. It was my fault as I’d chosen to take the shortest way out, rather than passing along Copacabana and down the beaches of Rio. Original thoughts had been to get to the outskirts of Rio, but upon arriving there my normal problem started. I wasn’t tired and so why not keep riding, even though the sun was about to start going down. That saw me go about 110km instead of 70.

My GPS had made no mention of bombeiros in Mangaratiba, so I passed into town along the coastal entrance, passing a group busy painting the main road ready for the World Cup that would start the next day with Brazil playing Croatia. I’d heard a lot of ambivalence towards the World Cup during my four months, from both obvious sources – those who don’t like football – to less so – ones who love football but still say they don’t want Brazil to lift the trophy on the 13th of July. This group were all very excited, and wanted me to photo what they’d spent the previous days putting together.

I stopped at the first police station I saw, and while the officer gave me the rest of the orange that he was eating he told me that he would unfortunately be unable to help me. I dropped down to the centre of town and found a secondary small police box, with just a single officer, who invited me in to hear my story before pointing out a place across the street, by the tourist office, where I could stay. I hung my hammock up knowing it’d be about the last time for a while that’ll be possible.

I’d been told I had to be up with the sun, and that was no problem. It was the start of the World Cup and I had until 5pm to get somewhere to see Brazil v Croatia. Riding out I saw a fire station, and kicked myself for not staying there, before I kept along the stunning rolling coast. I had heard about Italy having a training camp near Rio, and was surprised to ride past it. The high-security area is about a 90-120 minute drive away from the nearest airport. It makes absolutely no sense to be based there as all their group games are in the north-east. Unlike the England team’s camp, which is more-or-less accessible, the Italian one is completely shut-off with temporary walls erected to stop anyone snooping.

On the way, I met 4 Chilenos, on the way to Rio where they had tickets for the Chile v Netherlands game. They’d ridden their bikes from the Chilean border with Argentina near Santiago to arrive there in about 3 months and were on the penultimate day of their tour. They were psyched to be finishing, because it meant World Cup, and they were upbeat about Chile’s chances. Definitely more so than I was of England’s, even though I also had a ticket to see my team. They were the first cycle-tourists I’d seen for ages, continuing my belief that people really don’t seem to ride in Brazil – which is madness.

I had originally planned to stop in Angra dos Reis (where I knew there was a fire station), but because of riding so far the night before I comfortably made it to the next one in Frade. I even had time to hide out in a couple of bus stops from rain showers. 30 minutes before kick-off I arrived and asked about staying, and was told that I’d definitely be able to stay in a large multi-function room, that seemed to be the gym, the conference room and even had a barbeque sat around.

I had a hot shower and was changed before the game. I don’t know if the other firemen were watching in some room that I didn’t see, but there was only myself and one other fireman watching the game on a small TV in the main office, and he was much more interested in looking at cars on the computer. It was a strange way to be watching the start of the World Cup. Brazil won 3-1 thanks to a Japanese referee that acted like he had family here, that or under orders from FIFA to make sure that it turned out that way. Whenever Brazil scored, fireworks and horns went off around town, and after the game locals took to the main street to drive around like absolute morons pulling wheelies on their motorbikes.

At the end of the game, when I was sorting stuff out in the multi-function room, I noticed the guy who had said I could stay starting to prepare for a barbeque. It turned out that all the firemen on shift that day had decided that that day should be churrasco day and so the rest of the evening was spent eating barbeque and chatting in particular with two of the firemen, Cristiano and Max.

With the World Cup having started, my riding schedule was altered so I’d try to be somewhere at 1pm, 4pm and 7pm to watch the games. It would mean I could ride from early until just before 1pm, then another hour from 2:50 to 3:50 and then find a place after the second game. My goal for this day was Paraty, a city famous for being the original end of the Estrada Real that I’d passed along in Diamantina and Ouro Preto. While the Caminho Novo ended in Rio, it originally dropped down to Paraty as that was the only part of the Serra do Mar, the long chain of mountains that runs just inland down the eastern Brazilian coast, that they could find a route up.

The coast continued to be as beautiful as the day before, and I made it to Paraty without problems for the Mexico v Cameroom game – unlucky for Mexico to only win 1-0. The city is obviously touristic, as the bar that I saw it in had 4 guys from the US saying nonsensical things about soccer the whole way through the game. I was sat outside the bar on a bench to avoid the tourist prices so didn’t end up interacting with them.

I pottered around Paraty, which had the giant, uneven cobblestones of Diamantina and Ouro Preto but without the hills, and was definitely more of a push-a-bike place. It was fairly pretty, but I’m starting to lose my interest in looking at colonial buildings, probably because while there are some differences, I’ve been doing it since I arrived in the colonial heartland in Mexico with Peter in Durango back during Euro 2012.

I’d seen official camping places, but decided to stop by the fire station just before the Holland v Spain game. I was once again welcomed in, and there was some thought that I was a fireman thanks to the t-shirt and baseball cap that I’d been given up in Petropolis. I clarified that I was a lowly English teacher/traveller and after being told that was OK and that I could stay in my tent, but that there was also a bed available, I asked about a nearby supermarket to get something to eat for dinner. The idea was poopooed being told that I’d of course be having dinner with them, and that I should go and have a shower and to feel free to watch the football on the large TV. I did and was treated to a spectacle as the next Manchester United manager took Spain apart 5-1, good times are coming back to Old Trafford! That was followed by dinner and then Chile, a very fun team to watch, starting gloriously before almost being pegged-back by Tim Cahill and Australia only to hold on for 3-1 win.

Before leaving I was given breakfast, solidifying my belief that firemen are the best people in the world, and then had another short ride, to Ubatuba, where I’d be staying with Duda from Warmshowers. Right on time for Colombia beating Greece 3-0 I arrived at a petrol station with a TV, bought a beer at the local supermarket and sat around watching a fine game helped by Colombia scoring early.

At the end of the game, I had an hour to ride through town and get to Duda’s place where we watched Uruguay get taken apart by Costa Rica and then Italy v England in a neighbour’s place along with a couple of Argentines. The result was a let down, but the performance was pretty hopeful for future games as I thought we deserved a draw. We went back to Duda’s place and sat around watching the late game, that started at 10pm, of Japan blowing it to Ivory Coast.

I stayed with Duda for a couple of days, and didn’t see all of the football, because it was more fun to go to the lovely beach that you can see from his place. The area he lives is basically the holiday home of people from São Paulo and only 5 of the units have people living there, the rest are used only on weekends and holidays. I met his friend Omar, and we watched a bunch of the football together. I’d been planning on just having one day off, but Omar was driving to São Paulo on the Tuesday and offered to give me a lift – which I obviously didn’t turn down.

Ubatuba had set up their own watching area, and we’d gone there on the Monday afternoon to watch Germany slaughter Portugal, and sure it was Monday at 1pm but we were the only people there when we arrived 10 minutes before the game. By the time the final goal went in, there were maybe 20. Probably not too excited about the next game, Iran v Ghana which we watched at home, and we all ended up falling asleep during – the first bad game of the World Cup.

Getting a lift meant I got to the outskirts of São Paulo, to the house of Wilson’s brother Izaias, where I’d be staying the night, in time to watch Mexico hold on for a deserved 0-0 draw with Brazil. The family weren’t that excited about football, but his two daughters supported Mexico with me. I think Brazil is a fantastic country, but I don’t want them to win the World Cup. There are many reasons, but the biggest one is that I think that Brazil has serious problems (hence the huge rise in protests over the last year) that will be swept under the carpet and ignored in the upcoming October election. The protests were huge last year, during the Confederations Cup, but in the World Cup they have been much smaller, for several reasons.

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