Why you HAVE to visit Rio De Janeiro.

I’m often reminded just how lucky I am. I found the perfect university for me. I have the opportunity to study and meet people over 5000 miles away from my original home. I also play for one of the top soccer programs in the country, let alone D3… And with that honour comes incredible opportunities. Not only do we have the privilege of competing all across the United States in our annual quest for a National Championship, but once every three seasons we are blessed with the option for international travel and competition. Three years ago, I was being recruited by Trinity, and I remember having conversations with Coach McGinlay about his 2013 team’s trip to Rio De Janeiro. Never did I really imagine that my time for that same experience would come so soon. This past Spring Break, it was my turn.

The trip on the whole snuck up on me. Midterms got in the way, as they always do, and the fact that I was headed for my first trip to South America didn’t really sink in until I was boarding my 6 a.m. flight from Austin to JFK. A day in New York in both directions was the tradeoff for finding the exceptionally cheap flight we managed to get on. I was more than happy to spend time in the Big Apple, one of my favorite cities in the world. But eventually, having lucked out and gotten an entire row of seats to myself, I woke up … in Rio De Janeiro.

The week itself was a rollercoaster. For a “vacation,” it sure was busy. I don’t know that I really relaxed a whole lot, but that was mainly due to being too busy having fun. Afternoons spent on Copacabana beach were unreal. Street vendors spoke in Portuguese with a tiny bit of broken English selling all sorts of things. An interesting aside was that, regardless of what they were selling, they always ended their pitch by offering us marijuana… Apparently selling caipirinhas, sunglasses and bracelets is not enough! Gotta have some drugs too! Or not. To each their own i guess. But aside from this, I saw nothing of the “dangerous” or “criminal” side of Rio we had been promised. None of our team lost anything or had anything stolen. In fact, I felt just as safe in Rio as I do walking round my native London; it’s just another one of the world’s biggest cities. But it’s different to anywhere I’ve ever been before.

The streets felt as humid as the rainforests that lined the mountains around the city. The intimate nature of our little area a couple blocks back from Copacabana made me feel like a drop in the ocean of Rio whilst still knowing the local streets like I’d been here for months, within three days. One interesting tidbit; the lines in Brazilian grocery stores are the slowest in living memory. I must’ve spent three hours in line across six days attempting to stock up on water, sunscreen and local delicacies and snacks. I’ll tell you this, they had some lovely little lime oreo type biscuits that were superb. Yep, I said biscuits. Not cookies. Deal with it.

And then came the serious sightseeing. Sugarloaf mountain and the cable car that led up to it was a spectacle to behold, our boat trip to some of the small islands off the coast of Brazil. I of course loved the tours of the Rio De Janeiro soccer clubs like Botafogo and Vasco Da Gama. But there was one sight that trumped everything else. Christ the Redeemer made me feel smaller and less significant than I have ever felt before, and I loved it. This monumental statue, which is 38 m tall, on top of the 710 m peak of Corcovado mountain is truly breathtaking. Taking the train up to the peak gave us views of the whole of Rio from up high and gave Coach McGinlay and a couple others a serious fright. The incredible statue must be so special to those of a religious persuasion, but even to me it was a humbling experience. How that statue even came to be is a miracle. A once in a lifetime experience that I think everybody should see before they die.

On the soccer field, the Brazilians taught us a lesson or two. We competed well as a squad, but having been turned by the centre back of the Botafogo U20 team or beaten to a header by the man mountain of Boa Vista’s reserve team, I realised that I’m definitely some way off  of the professional Brazilian standard. Every touch was immaculate, every flick went exactly where it was desired, the pace was frantic but controlled at the same time. I guess it’s just another level to aspire to. But the hospitality the various Brazilian teams showed us was a dream come true. I’m now the proud owner of a “Jairzinho” Botafogo jersey and can say that I managed to score a goal against a Brazilian team in Brazil… there’s not many Englishmen around the world who can say that.

Apologies this is a couple weeks late. If we’d have had a paper out last week this might have felt a bit more current. The Trinitonian schedule kinda played havoc with getting this written! But at least it’s done now. I can’t thank those who helped organise it enough. Coaches McGinlay and Cartee, Sergio and Jeronimo Neveleff, Felipe from Botafogo and last but not least, my parents — also known as the Flexible Bank of London. Appreciate you all.

Opportunities like this, they just makes you think… I’m incredibly lucky to be here.