Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Out of the Frying Pan...

If I was a betting man (and I am), and you asked me whether last weekend's fistacuffs with the bouncer would be my scariest confrontation here I would have taken that bet without hesitation. 

.....I would have lost.  Last weekend I found myself in much more terrifying circumstances, however it didn't seem that way at first....

Katja unexpectedly returned early from her Uruguay trip on Saturday morning and asked me if I wanted to see some soccer.  Her hotel had a package with tickets, lunch and transportation to the game.  Seeing some "futbol" was on my imaginary list of things to do while in South America so I said YES without hesitating.  Unfortunately, things with the hotel did not work out soooo, like Coldplay we decided to head down to the stadium to buy tickets there.  In retrospect, perhaps that should have been my first clue that this was a risky proposition.  Running into trouble going to a stadium event the first time w/o tickets, shame on them.....running into trouble going to a stadium event w/o tickets a second time, shame on me.

We did get some good info from the nice people on the subway, including how much we should expect to pay and that there are a lot of fakes out there.  The way to tell if you have a real ticket?  Swipe it with your nail and see if there is black underneath the scratch.  We bought two 1.5 hours before the game for what seemed like a good price when we chatted with some of the other turistas and the tickets did indeed pass the black scratch test.  Our tickets were for the general section behind the goal which seemed like the fun place to be.  The 2nd clue that this may have been a hazardous idea was when the gate people looked at Katja and checked her ticket to make sure she was, in fact, going into the general section.  One guy showed it to his buddy and they both laughed and let us be on our way.  Hmmmm.......

We went to the 2nd of 3 levels where the "seats" were just bright yellow concrete steps.  Blue and yellow were the home colors of  La Boca Juniors who were playing vs. a team called Racing.  Boca Juniors are one of the most famous teams in Argentina and have represented South America numerous times when they play against the best teams from Europe.  We were there early so seats were plentiful, but it was hard to know where to sit, as most people were avoiding the middle where there were conspicuously a lot of empty seats but also a lot of long flags tied to poles.  Here was our view:

 You can see one of those flags just to the left of us.  When Boca Junior sprinted out from a hole in the pitch everybody rose up and started singing.  The flags were raised and just as the game started, a monster flag that spanned the whole 2nd level was dropped by the level above us so nobody on our floor could see the pitch.  It was a little claustrophobic for the 5 minutes it was there, but according to my friends it looks great on tv.

The singing and dancing continued especially when Boca Junior scored a goal 20 minutes in.  One odd thing was that there was no scoreboard nor clock anywhere I could see.  You just had to keep track of it yourself.

These show some of the chanting, flag waving and general revelry that went on the entire game.  They didn't stop even when Racing scored a goal to tie nor their second goal to go ahead of Boca 2-1.  I swear some of the fans barely knew there was a game going on as they were only standing, staring at the crowd trying to get everyone to sing. 

Day turned to night and with 5 minutes left to go in the game the home team had a good opportunity with a free kick:

It's a little blurry, but if you look hard you can even see the ball dipping down after going over the wall, but alas, it sailed over the crossbar.  At that point, we decided to leave to beat the rush of the unhappy fans. 

As we made our way through the crowded rows, we were informed by one guy that we wouldn't be able to get out.  You see, they lock the whole section in for 30-45 minutes after the game ends so that they won't go out to the street to fight with the opposing team's fans.  Gotta love South American futbol (actually I think fights between soccer supporters is a global thing).  Anyway, he told us we were trapped and his son was next to him grabbing my sunglasses that were hanging off my shirt.  He then began telling me to be careful with my camera as people there will stab me for it while he made a stabbing motion with his hand and poked me in the stomach.  No doubt, I started getting nervous at this point and told Katja let's keep walking.  He got in front of us and cleared a path to a few steps below the gate telling me how people there would kill for things like phones and other electronics.  By this point I was legitimately fearful for Katja and I, and when we couldn't get closer to the gate he asked us for money for helping us.  I did NOT want to take my wallet out in that situation so I declined and just stared at the ground using the dumb tourist and armadillo/ostrich defense of not understanding and ignoring him and his son.  They were persistent and said some nasty things in Spanish.  Katja did an exemplary job of getting them to shoo off and they just poked both of us once and went back into the crowd.  I told her we should get out of that spot in case he returns with friends or a weapon and some nicer people made a lane for us to get to the gates where 10 cops were keeping everyone from leaving.

We chatted with the cops and they confirmed our fears that bringing cameras and phones to that part of the stadium was not a good idea.  Even being female and going to that section was not the best idea as it must've been 95% male.  We were made to wait for 40 nerve-wracking minutes in which we befriended a German tourist and decided to band together once we hit the streets in case we encountered more trouble downstairs for we had no idea what awaited us below.  Once we were finally freed from our confinement, we darted down the stars where everyone was pushing and got to the street.  In our frantic escape we noticed about 15 guys in riot gear marching in single file toward the gate we had just left with shields, helmets and batons.  Katja went to reach for her phone to take a pic of them and they briefly stopped and raised their shields in her direction thinking she would pull something else out.  When she saw that, she stopped and held up her empty hands and they continued marching straight faced.  With a big exhale we got to the main street 4 blocks away and found a bus that took us home.

Because I am lucky to be living in Dom's apartment in a fun, safe part of the city, I sometimes forget that there are some less savory parts not too far away.  We were lucky to not only escape unscathed, but also to get some unbelievable footage in that section.  Katja took two videos of the craziness, one of which is on my facebook page if you are curious.  Escaping from a situation where one's well-being genuinely feels threatened makes you appreciate all the things you have and also makes you realize that 90% of the things that one stresses over, day to day, are not nearly as important as they are made out to be. 

After the match, we met up with Pedro and friends for an asado or Argentinian BBQ.  No one there could believe that we went into that section.   They said it is too much for them and also couldn't fathom that we were dumb enough to bring our electronic gadgets with us (hitting my head on the table).

The asado was fun and always good to meet new people.  I definitely needed a beer or three after the day's roller coaster.  I will bet big $$$ that the soccer match will be the most treacherous occurrence while down here and hope, for my sake, that I am not again blogging in a week that I would have lost that bet...

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