Life with Larson (World Cup diary)

Brazilian fans searching for tickets for the  semi-final match Brazil against Germany, hold...

Brazilian fans searching for tickets for the semi-final match Brazil against Germany, hold placards outside Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte July 8, 2014. (REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach)

KURTIS LARSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:49 PM ET

SATURDAY, JULY 12

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil - Scalping tickets here is akin to drug trafficking.

Think about it. Multiple FIFA officials are under investigation for allegedly re-selling tickets for an extraordinary price -- a scam that has earned "dealers" close to $100 million, according to various reports.

Then there are street-level ticket dealers, the guys who lean up against trees outside stadiums and whisper things as you walk past.

On my walk to Maracana Stadium Saturday afternoon, a shady-looking dude rolled up next to me and asked if I needed tickets.

"Tickets, amanha,?" he repeated, asking if I needed a ticket for Sunday's final between Argentina and Germany.

He took out his phone, typed in a number and handed me a cell that appeared to be 10 years old.

So, naturally, I put it up to my ear.

Only the number the man typed in wasn't a phone number.

It was $4,000, the price he wanted me to pay.

Just to have some fun, I told him that was simply too much.

He then typed in another four digits: 6,000, the price in Brazilian reals he wanted me to pay.

Roughly converted, 6,000 reals is about $2,750.

I agreed.

"Do you have the ticket?" I asked.

Being a street level operator, he told me to follow him.

We eventually approached a small church group handing out Christian material.

The ticket scalper, apparently friends with the church-goers, wrote down a number on a sheet of paper, telling me to call in order to arrange a pickup.

It appeared as though the church group might have been a front for a lucrative ticket scam, one involving an off-site distributor that was taking calls like any other drug dealer.

It was genius, really.

With police and military doing their damnedest to snuff out scalping, what better way to avoid detection than to act like an innocent messenger of God?

Then again, ticketless fans likely still think it would take an act from the heavens for them to purchase a seat to Sunday night's game.

Maybe they're right, they've just been looking in the wrong place.

Luckily, my media credential gets me a prime seat.

FRIDAY, JULY 11

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil -- For a place that got such a bad name before this World Cup, Manaus might be the best Brazilian city I've stopped through during this five-week tournament.

You remember Manaus, right? Where I spent the second week of this World Cup odyssey.

Yeah, it was humid. The bugs were 10-times the size of anything we have in Canada.

At times, the temperature was unbearable.

But I'd much rather be back in the secluded regions of the Brazilian rainforest than in this pollution factory.

I'm sure there's something I'm missing. I'm sure Rio has some nice beaches. I just haven't seen any ahead of Sunday's final.

Worse than anything in this massive metropolis is the noise.

Bus after bus.

Ambulance after ambulance.

I know what you're saying: "OK, Larson. Allow me to call you a wambulance."

Only that's not what I'm getting at.

Before this tournament, Manaus was slammed by outsiders because of its location.

But ask anyone who went and they'll tell you the conditions weren't that bad. It was nice being away from the hustle and bustle of busy cities.

It was something different.

The same can be said for Salvador and Fortaleza.

Even Belo Horizonte was fairly tame compared to this giant slab of concrete.

Then again, maybe I just have sour grapes.

If there's one thing I've learned, it's to never trust a South American hotel based on its online profile.

My pad here in Rio, while brilliantly located, doesn't offer Internet -- or shower curtains, for that matter.

I'm basically in a time warp.

This hotel hasn't been updated since Pele graced a soccer pitch.

It has the essentials -- air conditioning and a bed.

But after that, I'm not quite sure what separates it from a jail cell.

Where am I going with this?

My hotel out in the rainforest -- you know, where those untouched tribes still walk around in cloth -- had a flatscreen.

The shower had a door and it felt more like something you'd pay for.

Before this tournament, I never thought I'd miss a place known for malaria and yellow fever.

But it turns out, in taking the route less travelled, I was a bit more spoiled than my co-worker, Morris Dallas Costa, who has mainly split his time between Rio and Sao Paulo.

Ask me where I'd visit again if I ever return.

The answer's simple: I'd go back to the western and northern outposts of this South American land, where life moves slower and accommodations are as advertised.

THURSDAY, JULY 10

BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil -- Like most places in South America, getting from here to there takes a fair bit of patience.

It's mentally draining. It will suck every ounce of energy out of you. It's hazardous to your health.

Then again, it's Brazil. It doesn't have to make sense.

And the nonsense begins first thing in the morning.

A simple task like checking out of a hotel -- err, love motel -- can take up to 30 minutes.

"Did you have anything from the bar, sir?" a front desker asks.

If you answer yes, prepare to wait.

"Laundry?"

Yep.

"Did you order dinner?”

Ci.

Because everything is done on paper, it takes them considerably more time to get you out of the place.

And just when you're too frustrated to pay attention, they try to walk you through your bill.

"We've already charged you 50%," they explain. "Here's the other half."

They hand you four receipts along the way.

Late for your flight, you have to figure it out later.

In retrospect, don't make the mistake of leaving your hotel on time. Leave two hours early.

You're going to hit a classic Brazilian traffic jam wherever you may be.

I kid you not, these things can be deadly.

Some reporters down here were provided gas masks in case things got out of control.

In reality, they should wear them whenever they're on the road.

In hour-long traffic jams, big diesel trucks idle endlessly -- their exhaust pipes pointing straight in your face on the highway.

Excuse me, if none of this is making sense. The amount of fumes I've inhaled the last four weeks has been immense.

If that doesn't leave you feeling sick, the fact your flight leaves in a little over hour will make your heart race.

But even when you get to the airport, the frustration is just beginning.

While some airports here are far better than others, many of them have no order.

Lines don't matter.

Brazilian families -- like it or not -- spread out across three and four queues to see which one is moving faster.

People think luggage can serve as a placeholder in line while they wander off to get a coffee.

These are all things we North Americans scoff at.

Though the first half of my day in Belo Horizonte was chaotic, there was one saving grace.

Sitting in Row 1 on my flight to Rio de Janeiro made it all worthwhile.

It's exactly what I needed after the aforementioned fiasco.

WEDNESDAY, JULY 9

BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil -- Being that I continue to stay in love motels across this country, it feels weird referring to Brazilians as masochists.

In a way, though, that's what they are.

How else can you explain SportTV, the soccer-mad station down here, replaying the Brazil-Germany match four times before 4 p.m.?

Unfortunately for locals, the score never changed.

Conceding seven goals to the Germans will remain in FIFA's history books -- and the Hall of Archives, if Brazil has one -- as the worst Brazilian defeat in nearly a century.

Strangely enough, Wednesday's post-mortem was fairly tame.

Prior to Tuesday night's match, media here covered this tournament non-stop.

Brazil's players couldn't move a muscle without a reporter filing a story on what Neymar had for breakfast.

A day later, the same channel that featured wall-to-wall World Cup coverage -- at times in excess -- elected to show Brazil's men's volleyball team tango with the Italians.

It wasn't exactly riveting stuff compared to what we'd been accustomed to.

It's safe to say talk has shifted.

Top concern? The prospects of Argentina winning the World Cup in their rival's territory.

One local here Wednesday told me all of Brazil would come out in support of Germany.

His reason: People in this country would settle for not having a sixth World Cup as long as their neighbours to the south didn't hoist it here.

After all, the thought of that is downright scary.

"It's Messi vs. Neymar," the man said to me.

And Messi is a game away from leaving a country that hates him with a trophy.

The distaste for Argentina down here rivals the hot and cold relationship America has with Mexico.

It extends beyond the soccer field, though that is where the battle is usually won and lost.

Funny enough, when I asked my love motel desker about Brazil's dislike for Argentina, he didn't really know.

Like the fans in Sao Paulo for Wednesday's Argentina-Netherlands semifinal, all he knew was he was supposed to boo whenever Messi touched the ball.

Because of that, it's clear Argentina, despite not facing the host nation, will be the away side come Sunday in Rio.

TUESDAY, JULY 8

BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil -- I woke up to a full blown emergency Tuesday morning, the day of the biggest match of this World Cup.

I wasn't injured. There wasn't a family emergency, either.

Nope, my love motel wasn't on fire, thank God.

But for a journalist, what happened to me late Monday night gave me nightmares.

The power cord to my laptop broke.

It snapped in half. There's no coming back from that.

It forced me out of bed before 9 a.m. Tuesday morning.

I know, the horror.

Here's the thing: Had I been back in Toronto, no problem. A short jaunt over to the Apple store and on I'd be on my way.

But in Brazil, doing just about anything is difficult, if not impossible at times.

I asked the desker at my motel about the prospects of finding an Apple store.

"There's one," she said, causing me to perk up.

"It's in Rio."

Just a six-hour drive away.

"There is a place at the mall that might have one," she added.

So off in a cab I went.

The first mall, just up the road, didn't have a computer store.

Luckily, someone pointed me to another mall downtown.

Problem is, on game day -- Brazil happened to be playing Germany in a World Cup semifinal -- getting just about anywhere is a no-go.

Still, my cabbie jumped on the highway.

Just when things looked to be going well, we came to a massive traffic jam.

Not just any traffic jam, "this one could take all day," my driver said.

He then went into a bizarre rant about how Brazilian authorities refuse to scrape bodies off the pavement following car wrecks, instead allowing them to sit there for hours on end at his inconvenience.

Meanwhile, I was sucking exhaust pipe fumes as we were sitting next to massive trucks at a standstill.

By that time I had convinced myself I wasn't going to find a Mac power cord.

Was I even going to make the match? After all, it was only five hours away.

Eventually, my cabbie managed to zig-zag to an off-ramp before taking a back route that eventually brought me to a shopping mall three hours later.

According to the Internet -- which is almost always right -- there was a Mac retailer somewhere in this collection of stores.

But when I approached mall staff, none of them had heard of the place I was looking for.

When I'd just about given up, I whipped out my laptop and pointed to the Apple.

In turns out there had been some miscommunication.

Mall staff knew exactly what I was asking for and delivered me to the "iPlace" store.

At the end of a four-hour journey, I was back in business, ready to report on the biggest match I'd ever attended.

"Wait, where's my laptop?"

I nearly left it at the Belo Horizonte "iPlace" store.

That's right, I almost departed for the stadium with only my brand new power cord.

A month in Brazil will do that to a man.

MONDAY, JULY 7

BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil -- The Le Monde love motel here in this southern city is delightful.

It's not like my love motel in Salvador.

In Belo Horizonte, the employees speak English. They wash your clothes.

They're extremely helpful.

Which is why my buddy here -- well, the front desk worker -- let me in on a little secret shortly after I arrived.

Apparently at least one current Brazilian international has frequented this love motel during the tournament.

Three of the motel staff here claim Bernard, who's currently competing with Brazil, has been here multiple times.

"He stayed for around five hours," the desker told me.

Five hours at a love motel?

I'll let you determine what that means.

It makes sense, too. Brazil also played here during the Round of 16, knocking off Chile in penalties.

One of the deskers also claims Ronaldinho has graced the Le Monde motel -- something that also makes sense when you consider the Brazilian legend is currently playing for the local club here in Belo Horizonte.

So, naturally, I asked the obvious question: Can you take me to the luxury suite?

Because I'm so friendly, of course they obliged.

So off we went, eventually walking up a flight of stairs before entering a Le Monde suite that costs upwards of $3,000 a night if you order all of the bells and whistles.

(Note to boss: I'm in the much cheaper, much more modest room. I promise.)

The four-figure suites come with a hot tub, pool, disco, bar, multiple beds, two-person shower and more.

I could almost smell Ronaldinho's long, flowing locks of hair.

There was also a retractable roof akin to Toronto's Rogers Centre that sees the indoor pool quickly become open air.

I had the staff snap a few photos of me, too.

Because, you know, it's not often I get to put my butt aboard the same barstool graced by greatness.

SUNDAY, JULY 6

BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil -- After suffering through a night with me at my Salvador love Motel -- yes, we had separate rooms -- Leonardo and I shared a cab to the airport ahead of my flight to Belo Horizonte Sunday afternoon.

Now a U.S. citizen, the Brazilian 30-something-year-old man spoke English, making the cab ride -- and price negotiations -- more manageable.

Only this conversation was different than past interactions.

It wasn't about fixing Canadian or American soccer -- something I've routinely been asked.

It was about the absence of a special player in Brazil.

Nope, he wasn't talking about Neymar.

"Everyone in Brazil wants to be a star," Leonardo told me, adding that they want to do tricks. "We don't have a No. 9."

He mentioned Ronaldo, Romario and other "unskillful" players who simply scored.

Brazil's current No. 9, Fred, "was good at the Confederations Cup," he finished, saying the hosts will need to play different with Neymar out of the tournament.

But Fred hasn't been in top form, he agreed.

Then, a revelation: "You say you're from Toronto?"

Although he asked if Toronto was as cold as New York, he recognized the fact Brazilian goalkeeper Julio Cesar played for a short time in the Big Smoke.

A close follower of the Brazilian top flight, Leonardo also perked up when I mentioned Gilberto.

"A good player," he said, the first time anyone I've asked has recognized Toronto FC's new Designated Player.

Attempting to talk MLS 10 years ago was like speaking to a wall. Nobody cared.

In Brazil, however, I've been approached by a number of people looking to talk about Jermain Defoe -- or even the league's growth.

An example: An Australian man at the Salvador airport asked me why the New York Red Bulls keep playing Tim Cahill out of position.

"He has no pace and is terrible with the ball," he added -- an analysis I certainly didn't agree with. He thought Cahill should be playing with Thierry Henry up front.

But, hey, I was just happy to be talking MLS with foreigners who previously didn't give the league the time of day.

And then, as always, the Aussie had to bring it up.

"When's Canada going to make another World Cup?" he chimed in.

When Kangaroos fly, I thought to myself.

"It's going to be a while," I replied.

FRIDAY, JULY 4

FORTALEZA, Brazil -- People speak of the death of journalism in Canada and the U.S.

They either don't like the stories, or they simply don't understand the difference between an opinion piece and a hard news angle.

While I obviously disagree with the aforementioned notion, it's safe to say journalism was never even born outside North America and parts of Western Europe.

For instance, remember those Chilean fans that attempted to break into Rio's Maracana Stadium a few weeks back?

A little less than 100 of them attempted to bust down the media centre walls that day.

In talking to a U.S. journalist who was at the Maracana that night, she simply thought the jersey-wearing Chilean law-breakers were journalists attempting to get through the cafeteria.

Because, well, South American journalists don't really "report" in the sense you're familiar with.

They wear jerseys. They cheer throughout the match.

Heck, most of the people sitting in the written press area at every stadium I've been to aren't writing anything. They don't have computers, either.

Here at the Estadio Castelão Friday night, a group of Chinese journalists arrived. They were sitting to the left of me in the press box.

For some reason, they were passionate Brazilian supporters, cheering loudly whenever Brazil was in possession.

They were clapping, taking pictures and, quite frankly, not reporting.

The English guys to the right of me were just as disturbed as me.

The same thing can be said of Brazil's "press."

At a press conference here Thursday, Brazil manager Luiz Felipe Scolari pleaded with local journalists to support the team rather than publish reports he deemed negative.

So, local journalists started stating their affiliation before saying "we're behind you, professor," the title given to managers in this part of the world.

Can you imagine a room full of NHL reporters constantly supporting your local team despite poor results?

Can you imagine a losing NFL coach being blindly supported by a room full of journalists wearing football jerseys?

I'm all for patriotism, but real journalism sucks the fan out of you.

Quite frankly, I could care less who wins anything following six years in this business.

Coming to a World Cup makes you realize journalism is far from dead in North America.

It also makes you realize how lucky we are to have an unbiased press that remains jersey-less.

THURSDAY, JULY 3

FORTALEZA, Brazil -- "This is my taxi?" I asked hotel staff Thursday morning.

"This isn't a taxi," I added.

My hotel desker's response: Thumbs up!

Needing a lift in this coastal town, I asked my hotel to phone up a cab.

Minutes later, a banged up Volkswagen rolled up, with a woman inside.

There was no meter. No "Taxi" sign, either.

"You have got to be kidding me," I thought to myself.

Running late and desperate, I agreed to a price and hopped in the back.

"No," she gestured, pointing to the front seat.

Apparently she was uncomfortable with a man sitting behind her.

When you're in this situation, you don't really know what's next.

Was she taking me to some dark alley? Am I being held ransom?

All of these thoughts, while unlikely, run through your head.

After 10 minutes, we pulled up to my destination.

I thought it absurd to ask for a recibo (receipt), but decided to anyway.

Lo and behold, my taxi driver -- well, just my driver -- pulled out a sheet of receipts as if she was legit.

Considering the interaction I had the night before, this cab ride was a joy.

Looking back, some dude that picked me up after dinner Wednesday night attempted to charge me $250 for a 10-minute ride.

I talked him down to $10, proving I'm either the greatest negotiator in history or that he was a complete crook.

I'm going with the former.

To end Thursday night, I sat down with a group of Brazilian reporters, all of whom spoke English.

I brought up history, asking them about past Brazilian World Cup heroes.

I named Romario, Cafu and Roberto Carlos.

Bebeto, Rivaldo and friends.

To my surprise, they knew exactly where everyone was -- a politician, a commentator a bum.

On every flight I've been on, flight attendants have welcomed passengers to the "country of soccer," a phrase verified by the fact World Cup heroes are followed around like U.S. presidents.

The country of soccer, yes, as well as crooked cabbies.

WEDNESDAY, JULY 2

FORTALEZA, Brazil -- You know those underprivileged men and women that sit on street corners with a sign out in front of them?

"Will work for food."

Or, "Can't find a job."

Or, "Ex-veteran, looking for work."

All unfortunate souls, yes.

Well, here in Brazil soccer fans -- mostly foreign -- have started walking around airports with similar banners begging for tickets.

There are even people without flights posting up in airport departure lounges looking to score seats.

After all, those with mad money to spend thousands of dollars on World Cup tickets likely aren't walking the streets of downtown Salvador, are they?

One Spanish-speaking man boldly plopped down right in front of security in the Salvador airport Wednesday asking for tickets to an upcoming quarterfinal.

When I asked to take his picture, he thought I was trying to offer him a pair.

I killed his excitement faster than security likely dragging him away.

"Sorry, man. No tickets. Can I have a photo?" I asked.

It turns out a few people decided to copy the aforementioned man at security and drew up their own signs inside the terminal.

At one point, there were three or four of them walking around aimlessly with signs hung around their necks.

It was as if they were picketing. They were walking with a slow gate, taking long enough for people to read their signs.

Tickets in this country are golden -- akin to Willy Wonka.

FIFA says they exist. The World Cup's governing body says there are still some for sale.

Still, nobody has been able to purchase any.

At a recent media briefing, one reporter took aim at FIFA staff, accusing them of misleading ticket-seekers.

Brazilian authorities also arrested 11 suspected scalpers on Tuesday, and are investigating whether or not some members from the Brazilian federation are involved in a ticket ring.

Wouldn't that be something? Members of a certain national team allegedly scalping their free tickets?

Meanwhile, these zombie-like fans walk around the airports here in Brazil looking for a massive score.

A man on my flight from Salvador to Fortaleza on Wednesday said he couldn't find a ticket to the World Cup final for less than $8,000 -- more than 10 times face value.

From what I can tell, most people around the stadium I've visited can barely afford a soccer ball, much less a World Cup ticket.

You almost wish the kids playing in the streets out in front of the stadiums could get in for free.

Instead, they have all-too familiar signs out in front of them, similar to the ones I mentioned above.

MONDAY, JUNE 30

SALVADOR, Brazil -- I'm back in Salvador, where my coverage began three weeks ago.

The front desker at the love motel I've returned to is excited to have me back.

And, after what just happened to me in Recife, I can say the feeling is mutual.

The Pousada Recife Inn was simply too much to handle.

I arrived at my hotel following Costa Rica-Greece, ready to hit the sack.

Exhausted, I wasn't thrilled at the prospects of waking up a 4:30 a.m. for a flight to Salvador.

At least I'll get a shower, I thought.

But upon turning the knob to the left, no water came out.

In Recife, it was hot, it was sticky and I'd been inside a stadium pounding on my keyboard most of the night.

I tried the faucet. No luck. No water.

The toilet? It wouldn't flush.

So back down the stairs I went to try and hammer things out.

The front desker, a helpless kid at this point, directed me towards a sign: "We had a pipe break," it read. "The water will be out for ONLY six hours."

"So, in other words, the rest of my time here at this hotel," I said with a laugh.

I wasn't smiling when I got back to my room. I took a few bottles of water out of the mini fridge to wash my face.

I can't wait to get to the love motel tomorrow, I thought.

There were ants on my counter and water damage along the ceiling.

At that point, I had just four hours before I needed to wake up.

The last thing I saw before I departed Monday morning? A cockroach the size of a toonie racing underneath the bed.

Following a night without water and bugs on the floor, surely a discount was in store.

Nope, instead the Pousada Recife Inn charged me for the bottled water from the fridge I cleansed my face with.

The cab ride to the airport was a new experience, too.

It turns out Brazilian cabbies are allowed to run through red lights at 5 a.m. as long as they blare their horns when going through intersections. It was as if I was in an ambulance.

Well worth the risk of an accident considering the conditions I was running from.

Even better, the shower at my old love motel is warm.

SUNDAY, JUNE 29

BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil -- He claimed to be the Australian David Luiz, with at least one missing toe.

For me, following three weeks on non-stop World Cup coverage, it wasn't exactly the type of conversation I wanted to have at 6 a.m., but it was interesting nonetheless.

"Where are you from?" an Australian man asked after seeing my Canadian flag.

"I'm looking for some weed," he added, because the stuff in Brazil is wack.

Having spent some time in Vancouver, Lewis described the difference in marijuana is night and day.

"I'm looking for a TAM kiosk," I replied.

And so began a walk through the Belo Horizonte airport ahead of my flight to Recife ahead of the Costa Rica-Greece game.

"I was supposed to leave last night," Lewis piped up. "But they said I was too drunk."

Well, were you?

Lewis admitted he was, but only because he was at the Brazil-Chile match, "a once in a lifetime opportunity."

At that point, I think he began to scare some of the locals.

He began standing next to a cardboard cutout of Luiz, pointing to the image in an attempt to get people to notice.

All I could notice, however, were his feet -- the fact he was missing a pinky toe.

He must have lost it in the outback, I surmised, maybe to a dingo.

I also wondered if he'd make his next flight, considering he admitted to drinking throughout the night.

If you've ever watched The League, this guy reminded me of Rafi.

A partier through and through, without a care in the world.

At Brazil 2014, these drifters are everywhere -- and they're certainly not afraid to strike up a conversation, whatever the circumstances.

Another drifter nearly got kicked off my flight from Recife to Brasilia last week after starting a dust-up with man sitting next to him.

Luckily for FIFA, I've seen more squabbles between drunk people in love motels and aboard planes than at any of the arenas.

As for Lewis, I can only imagine where that guy will end up.

He added he recently fell in love with a local girl he vowed to marry, adding he didn't want to return home.

I just wondered if he even had a home.

But, hey, when you supposedly look like a Brazilian national team player, I guess there are perks to bumming around any Brazilian town.

SATURDAY, JUNE 28

BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil – It was a day that started with a slap to my face.

OK, it was accidental, but it still gave me a fat lip.

Note to anyone thinking of going to a Brazil match: Avoid large crowds.

Unfortunately, here at the Mineirao, media have to walk through thousands of yellow-clad, drunk Brazilians just to get to the press centre.

Upon clearing security here Saturday, I attempted to avoid a group of fans taking pictures when all of a sudden, WACK!

I took a palm to the face.

It turns out a Brazilian fan, eager to hold his flag above his head, forgot there might be unsuspecting people walking in the vicinity.

So, swollen lip and all -- and a small headache -- I pressed on through more security than the White House has.

After all, the Chileans were in town today.

FIFA has already had one problem with a group of Chilean fans attempting to break into a stadium.

So, like anything in life, everyone had to suffer.

There were so many fences up that none of the volunteers knew how to tell me where to enter.

"Prensa! Journalista!" I said, unsure what language I was speaking.

And then, it hit me.

It turns out the best way to sneak into a World Cup game -- are you listening El Gordo? -- is as a volunteer.

At least 80% of the "volunteer" staff here has no idea how to help people, especially those who don't speak Portuguese.

Case in point, the fact four different volunteers here in Belo Horizonte on Saturday told me the press entrance was in a different place.

An hour later, I eventually found my way … To my seat in the nosebleeds.

Not that I'm complaining, but the fact the stadium setup here actually has Brazilian fans chugging beers literally in the press area is a bit distracting.

So, along with the rest of the Senegalese and Kenyan federation, two Canadian reporters were forced to take in the game basically holding hands with fans -- something that's not that easy when you're filing a story on deadline.

Then again, when you're from Canada, you can't really command that much respect from FIFA because, as one stadium worker in Recife told me last week, "(Canada) no qualify."

"Not even close," I replied .

FRIDAY, JUNE 27

RECIFE, Brazil -- News broke a day late in this soccer-mad nation that one of its own is now an NBAer.

In northeastern Brazil, it seems, this story was a Toronto Sun exclusive.

In other words, the Toronto Raptors drafted a "guy nobody has heard of," a soccer fanatic informed me.

At least not in this part of the country.

Which got me thinking: Surely someone, somewhere has heard of this kid other than the Americans sitting next to me.

So, as I don't speak Portuguese, I brought out a more universal form of communication -- my iPhone -- pulled up Google and searched for Bruno.

"What was his last name?" I asked a family from Houston in the vicinity.

Caboclo.

Ah, yes. That's it -- the 18-year-old from down south in Sao Paulo who at this point is an enigma.

"Not anymore," I thought, taking a break from the World Cup.

I'll impress my editors back on the desk by tracking down this draft pick's origins.

Up popped Google on my phone, with an image of Caboclo playing for Pinheiros.

To Brazil's curious citizens, I came across as someone attempting to issue an Amber Alert.

My first question to everyone: "Excuse me, do you speak English?"

Then the follow-up: "Have you seen this man?" holding up an image of the mysterious Caboclo on my phone, his name still legible in the search engine.

"Caaaaboooocloooo?" my first Brazilian subject read, squinting to see the name above the image I provided.

"I don't know him," he responded, acknowledging he knew just two NBAers: LeBron and Jordan.

He then became visibly rattled when I told him I was a reporter.

On to my next interaction, which was a little more friendly.

"Bruno Caboclo," one store owner read slowly. He then did a double-take at my phone before repeating.

"Caaaboooclo?" he said again, reading it as a question this time.

"Surely you know someone in the NBA," I chimed in.

"Scott Pippen?" he replied. "Oh, and Shaq."

Fair enough, I thought, maybe they play more basketball in the south of this country, where 75% of the population lives.

"No, we play here," the store owner added. "Our women's team in Recife is really good."

Thumbs up, although clearly not the answer I was looking for.

I went through three papers.

No Bruno. No love for Toronto.

I might have had better luck searching sprawling Recife for a missing pet.

A third man, a help-desk worker at the airport, simply gave me a Dikembe Mutombo finger when I approached him about Caboclo.

OK, fine. Maybe a TV station -- on a day without any World Cup games -- will lead its broadcast with the Caboclo's mug.

Nope! Nothing!

It was almost time to give up.

In terms of Caboclo, everyone here looked as confused as NBA commissioner Adam Silver when he announced Caboclo's 20th overall.

I eventually gave in, tracking down some Americans who were interested in roundball.

"I had him going in the second round," a man from Orlando said sarcastically, a shot at the Raptors' new mysterious commodity.

He then asked if I thought the Raptors were going to keep Kyle Lowry.

"I don't know," I thought. "I'm just a soccer columnist who looks silly walking around with a Caboclo sign."

Is that even how you say his name?

Even if I stapled posters to every sign post in this city people still wouldn't know what I was talking about.

Then, something caught my eye. Facing away from me, I could see a teenager wearing a basketball jersey.

"This is my chance," I contemplated. "I've found the one kid in this part of Brazil who seems to care about the sport."

Upon approaching him, however, I realized his "basketball jersey" featured Brazil's national football crest -- and a No. 10, no less.

And with that, the Legend of Bruno grows further in his own country and the Great White North.

THURSDAY, JUNE 26

RECIFE, Brazil -- I wish I was back at the love motel.

OK, the bed and breakfast I'm in isn't terrible -- the people are nice, there's a TV and a mini fridge -- but sharing a bathroom with German and U.S. fans just isn't for me.

Call me a princess, if you will. I've been called worse throughout this tournament.

It's also a little unflattering to drive up to a place for the first time only to see a man popping a squat.

Now, back to my B&B. Like I said, it's not terrible here in Recife, but I usually like to locate at least two exits in my building.

At the Pousada Pinheiros there's many. Problem is, they're all locked up.

All of the windows have prison-like bars on them -- a little unsettling in case I need to get out.

On Thursday, however, that's the last of my worries after waking up to flooding of biblical proportions.

It turns out cabs don't do well under water so they refused to pick up anyone up from Pousada Pinheiros due to our bizarre location.

The fact there are men relieving themselves in the streets likely doesn't help.

"Should I walk and find one?" I ask the ladies at the front desk.

They strongly suggest I wait this storm out.

But with U.S.-Germany three hours away, it leaves me little choice.

Against their wishes, I embark on a "dangerous" journey to find a cab.

The journey, let's call it, lasted about five minutes before I found a taxi stand around the corner that was more than willing to take my money.

Navigating flooded streets was an adventure in itself before we pulled up to Arena Pernambuco where a plethora of poncho-selling men come out.

The first -- a terrible negotiator -- offered me protection for approximately $10.

I shook him off visibly enough to allow his buddy to come in for the undercut.

Not bad to talk the price down to $5.

Then again, the profit margins were probably still massive.

Strangely enough, I hear my name called out.

It's my college teammate, Ted Schleisman, who just happened to roll up.

The walk from the stadium drop-off point was immense.

In pouring rain, my shoes and socks didn't hold up.

They're still wet as I write this diary entry, the most uncomfortable part of this World Cup.

Now, I'm beginning to wrap today's coverage, but I can't stop thinking about the long, wet ride home.

And if the same man is relieving himself outside the Pinheiros.

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 25

MANAUS, Brazil -- Oh, great, now I'm whistling the FIFA anthem when I wake up in the morning.

Today I'm headed to Recife where the U.S. will meet Germany on Thursday.

But first, a quick shave and a shower, where I discover the water here in the Amazon is a bit murky.

Small black pebbles of dirt are beginning to fill my sink.

The same water I've been drinking all week.

The good news? At least it's my last day.

Now, for a cab ride to the airport, a soul-sucking venture that makes you think.

Driving through this Amazonian city you see the face of poverty -- a man with half a leg, children begging for cash, many of them filthy.

They stare at me, not with any aggression or anger, but with wonder. Their eyes seem to be asking, "What is it like to be him?"

For seven days now the locals here have left me alone, seemingly resigned to their fate. Resigned to their poverty, their shacks and the heat.

At this point, though, I'm just hoping my reliable cabbie doesn't hit one in the street.

We're taking a back route, my cabbie attempts to explain.

With Honduras playing Switzerland at Arena Amazonia today, all the streets are blocked up with drivers looking to avoid media checkpoints.

So, naturally, we begin driving in what I call the "fourth lane."

You know, the lane drivers in Brazil make up when it's down to three lanes.

The motorcyclists at this point are zooming by us on sidewalks.

Forty minutes later into what should have been a 10-minute drive, we arrive at Manaus International Airport.

"You don't have any of these in your carry-on?" the TAM worker taking my bag asks.

"No," I laugh. Do you usually have problems with people carrying handguns, poison and hand grenades?

And what the hell is up with these gates?

I had the same problem in Salvador when I couldn't find my plane.

In Manaus, they don't put your destination or flight number on a monitor until minutes before you depart.

It leaves you wondering if you're in the right place.

Am I late? Am I in the right terminal? Is this the right date?

Maybe I won't be making it to Recife after all, hopefully you'll see me at the game.

TUESDAY, JUNE 24

MANAUS, Brazil -- It was over for Italy before it began.

"Are you Italian?" a restaurant owner asked, surely an omen ahead of Tuesday afternoon's match, a 1-0 loss to Uruguay.

"Estados Unidos and Canadiense," I replied, before the man flashed a thumbs-up sign.

After watching the U.S. pick apart Portugal here Sunday night, this Amazonian town has a newfound appreciation for the way the game is played up north.

The owner especially liked our female teams, he responded, keeping the conversation short.

While eating my Amazonian Stew -- broth, rice, porridge, fish and eggs -- English was being spoken to my left.

"Are you English?" I asked, an offensive question to the guests.

It turns out the father-son combo were Welsh.

"Sorry," I responded.

I guess that's like calling a Canadian an American.

Then again, essentially being a dual citizen at this tournament, I never have that problem.

After they told me they're from Cardiff, the conversation shifted gears.

"What do you think of (unanimously loathed Cardiff City owner) Vincent Tan?" I laughed.

They smiled, and put their heads in their hands.

"He changed our colours," the father remarked.

"A sea of blue and he's the only one in red."

Surprisingly, they knew quite a bit about MLS.

We talked former Welsh international Robert Earnshaw.

"He has lost a step."

And Kenny Miller.

"Done and dusted."

And, finally, Toronto FC Designated Player Jermain Defoe.

"I think England should have picked him," the son said.

Because, well, he just scores goals -- something Wayne Rooney has more or less failed to do at multiple World Cups.

That said, the obviously supported Wales, guaranteeing me I'd see Gareth Bale at the 2016 Euros.

It turns out the younger of the two even went to primary school with the most expensive player in the world.

"He wasn't close to that big back then," the son said.

I played against U.S. centre back Matt Besler growing up, I responded.

Their response: A good side, the U.S.

Not to be mistaken for Italy, I guess.

MONDAY, JUNE 23

MANAUS, Brazil - I'm stuck.

That's what I am. I'm stuck in the rainforest -- well, a city in the rainforest -- after having my flight cancelled.

For 12 hours I had a massive case of the Mondays.

As of early Monday morning, I was essentially out of luck.

No flight. No hotel. No vacancy, according to the pads I phoned.

For a few hours, I was literally facing the streets -- and the giant bugs.

The moths here are mammoth.

They look like something out of a Bear Grylls film. Then again, I'm in the Amazon. I guess they actually are.

Following Sunday night's U.S.-Portugal match, one attacked me while I was reaching to plug in my laptop.

OK, it didn't attack me. But it led to the scariest half-second of my life.

Even scarier? All of the Honduras fans that just rolled into my hotel.

They look at me, I look away.

Don't forget, they're a big reason why Canada lost its chance to make it here.

I was in Honduras when Canada was routed 8-1 in qualifying. Like most Canadian footy fans, it's obvious I haven't recovered.

Just like my stomach hasn't recovered from last night.

Plain and simple: Pizza in Brazil is quite poor.

While the country's steak is to die for, Brazil needs to rethink the way it goes about producing pies.

Instead of tomato sauce, Brazilians smear a much different spread over the top of their pizzas.

It's called catupiry, an extremely soft cheese that looks like mayonnaise.

In my opinion, it also tastes like mayo. But that might just be my mind playing tricks on me.

My mind wasn't playing tricks on the way home from Arena Amazonia after the game.

You never know what you're going to get in an Amazon cab.

The drivers here will tell you they know where they're going before stopping an asking every fellow cabbie along the way home.

I'd much prefer that, however, to my last cab experience.

You think talking on the phone and driving is a distraction? What about watching TV?

That's right, my cab driver here in the jungle took out his phone, typed in YouTube and placed it on his dash.

I reached for my seatbelt, hoping to avoid a crash.

SUNDAY, JUNE 22

MANAUS, Brazil -- Portuguese fans know how to party.

Well, at least the ones attending Sunday night's U.S.-Portugal match.

How do I know? Try heading to a Brazilian steakhouse with 150 raucous Ronaldo-lovers.

First came the singing. Then the table pounding. Then the drinking. Oh, was there ever drinking.

I watched two middle-aged men take down two bottles of red wine, a bucket of brews and a couple of double shots.

Then the U.S. fans arrived.

The hammered Portuguese guys behind me got up on their chairs, chanting back in unison.

Por-tu-gal. Port-tu-gal. Por-tugal.

This wasn't a pub, either. This was fairly expensive stuff.

It was bizarre, but so is everything here.

Little did I know that chaos would pale in comparison to the chaos I'd face Sunday morning.

It was supposed to be my last full day in the Amazon.

So, like any good traveller, I checked my online itinerary.

Wait, what?! When did my flight plan change!?

To two days ago!!!???

Apparently in Manaus, they change your flight, don't tell you and then advise you that you were supposed to depart two days earlier.

Well, I'm still here.

No worries, I thought, surely our travel agent can sort this out.

"Sorry, sir. There are no flights leaving Manaus for two days," she said.

OK. That's cool.

"Just connect me through a different city," I responded. "I have an Italy-Uruguay match to catch."

"No, sir, you don't understand," she started. "There are no flights available from Manaus. Period," she replied.

Lots of thoughts ran through my mind.

Should I join an Amazonian tribe?

Will my hotel let me stay another night?

Wait a minute, what kind of city has nothing available, to any city, for 48 hours?!

Up until now, things were running far too smooth.

And while there are worse things than being stuck in a World Cup city, the logistics of getting out of the rainforest are harder than originally thought.

So, after 30 minutes on the phone, the Natal portion of the trip has completely been scratched.

See you at U.S.-Germany in Recife, as long as everything works out.

SATURDAY, JUNE 21

MANAUS, Brazil -- Day 10, the day before the U.S. meets Portugal here in the jungle.

I have to hand it to Portuguese fans, their unwavering confidence in a mediocre team is pretty special. They won't even bash their own players.

"No comment," a Portuguese fan having breakfast at my hotel says when I ask him about Pepe.

Back to Arena Amazonia, my first return since Croatia stomped Cameroon a few days earlier.

The heat today is outrageous. It's 30C, but feels more like 35. No wonder they play all the games at night

I'm off in a cab, a good ride considering we avoid two wrecks.

A normal day in Brazil features twice as many close calls.

And another thing: What's up with Brazilian parents letting their kids waltz out into traffic to sell water at every traffic light?

Kids, many less than 10 years old, weaving in and out of vehicles as the light turns green.

"Hey, wait a minute, why is this cab ride taking twice as long as the last?" I ask myself.

Unsurprisingly, it seems my driver has taken the, uh, scenic route. Also known as the I'm-going-to-squeeze-your-wallet-for-all-you-have route.

But, it's Brazil. It's South America. It doesn't make sense.

Much like security here at Arena Amazonia.

I approach the metal detectors before setting them off.

Security's reaction?

"Who cares?" was the feeling I got.

Then they scan my press badge. "Declined."

"Oh well, must be a malfunction." They let me pass. Must have been my good looks.

Maybe it's not a good idea to have volunteers manning media security.

And why the hell does the Portuguese press keep referring to Figo as the world's best player in 2002? I seem to remember fat Ronaldo bagging a brace to beat Germany in the final that year.

But, hey, this is the World Cup, where unbiased media doesn't exist.

Like last week in Salvador, where the Dutch press might as well have been clad in orange.

Next, the U.S. press conference.

Finally, a real question: What will this tropical heat do to U.S. midfielder Kyle Beckerman's dreadlocks?

"I can't imagine it will be a factor," U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard responded.

Like the Portuguese fan from the hotel this morning, U.S. midfielder Jermain Jones says no comment.

Relax, I thought.

Which got me thinking: I hope the plethora of Portuguese fans back at my hotel won't be given a reason to party.

Come on, U.S.

FRIDAY, JUNE 20

MANAUS, Brazil -- It's morning on Day 9.

Don't leave your window ajar in the Amazon.

My sheets are covered in mosquitos. My hands and back littered with bites. I count as many as 10 on both hands.

An American down the road says I'll be fine.

"You've been taking your malaria pills, right?"

"Malaria pills?" I respond. "The Brazilian consulate told me that wouldn't be necessary."

At that point, though, I'm beginning to feel sick. Hopefully it's just the street meat I stupidly decided to try the night before.

An off-day in the Amazon means it's time to take a boat trip.

In Manaus, which is bizarrely presented as authentic Amazonian culture meets World Cup fever on a daily basis.

With the second-longest river in the world at fans' fingertips, supporters gather in mass to embark on boat tours akin to National Geographic.

Only these jaunts up and down the Rio Negro and Amazon are a bit different this summer.

Recently-installed flat screens aboard tour boats offer fans a chance to watch World Cup games in-between stops.

Naturally, I oblige -- and sit side-by-side with a plethora of American, French and Brazilian fans who are along for the ride.

"Thank God those (Mexican fans) aren't joining us," a U.S. fan says as a green-clad group boards a vessel on our starboard side.

"No surprise they're taking the short trip," his friend replied.

So that's how this trip is going to be, I surmised.

And so it began, an Amazonian river adventure that left a lot unanswered and needed plenty of censure, beginning with our first stop: An indigenous tribe that was obviously contrived.

When our boat arrived, Chief Tuchaua -- the name of a soft drink in Brazil -- led a nearly-naked group in a traditional jive.

"This isn't a zoo," a disgusted French fan told me upon returning to the boat.

True, I responded, the world's biggest bird s--- catcher is just over yonder.

Arena Amazonia, which was built using these waterways, sits kilometres away from all of this nonsense.

It will host just four games, the next of which will feature the U.S. playing Portugal here on Sunday.

Our tour guide, Marcio, agreed. Like bogus Chief Tuchaua, none of this makes sense.

A stadium, in the jungle, surrounded by Amazonian actors hovering a shade above the poverty line.

"The Brazilian government is stuffing its pockets," Marcio said.

Like we were stuffing his.

"It has been good for tourism," he agreed.

But after the World Cup, what then?

He has no answer.

THURSDAY, JUNE 19

MANAUS, Brazil - Booking an Amazon adventure is an adventure in itself.

Welcome to Day 8, an off day here at Arena Amazonia, which I am told was constructed using materials that were shipped inland via one of the largest rivers in the world.

I have a story idea: A feature. How in the hell did the stadium get here? How has it impacted this isolated town? What will become of it when the World Cup is done? And what better way to get a sense of the method used to build it than to take a quick speed boat ride down river?

The Rio Negro, which connects with the Amazon, flows a kilometre from my hotel. To book a trip, you simply walk down to the shore, which also doubles as a farmer's market full of people from all walks of life.

When I get there, I'm accosted by a mass of amateur "tour guides" who are all looking to take me for a spin on their boats. They show me pictures: Snakes, monkeys, river dolphins and more.

"Are you mad," I think to myself, smiling the entire time. "You want me to go with you, a complete stranger, on a solo boat ride down one of the most unpredictable rivers in the world?"

I've seen this movie before. It's called Anaconda.

No way, Bento, I'll take the less authentic, more popular luxury boat Friday at 8 a.m.

Now then, time to enjoy this farmer's market before the games start today.

Unfortunately, my 6-foot-1 touristy frame -- not to mention the laptop I'm carrying -- is quite attractive to local merchants, both legal and illegal.

I'm approached by ragged-looking dude -- yes, he's still wearing a Brazil jersey -- who puts out his hand to display a gold chain. Obviously stolen, I politely decline.

Like any good second-hand merchant (thief?), he refuses to take no for an answer. He follows me up the road, approaches me again, and holds out his hand.

Having travelled all over the world, I've seen this trick before: Hey, tourist, look at this shiny thing while my buddy comes up from behind to steal your bag.

I put my laptop case around my neck before telling the guy to get lost. I check to make sure I still have my wallet and iPhone.

Back to the hotel.

Have you ever had to watch three games straight on TV? Not as easy as you think (not complaining). My face is numb.

Nothing a few beers can't cure.

Dinner is always an interesting occasion. I rarely know what I'm getting. Case in point, the meal for three I just ordered.

No wonder the waiter made a funny face.

It's a soup, served in a trough, with floating eggs and fish. While delicious, it's enough for the last supper.

Speaking of last suppers, hopefully this trip down the Amazon Friday proves safer than it seems.

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 18

MANAUS, Brazil -- Well, that was an interesting flight last night.

In North America, you can't say bomb on an airplane without attracting attention.

In Brazil, apparently you can't have a beer.

You can drink anywhere in this country. You can buy booze from kids on a street corner.

But try to bring a bottle of brew on an aircraft and you're swarmed by flight attendants.

"Cerveza?" a male flight attendant pointed at me.

"Yes," I calmly replied. The Brazilian dude sitting next to me began to laugh.

"No!" the flight attendant said, taking the beer out of my hands.

It reminded me of the Soup Nazi in Seinfeld.

A few hours later we arrived in Manaus, a four-hour flight from my previous spot in Salvador.

My Manaus hotel has an actual mattress, a massive upgrade over my Salvador love motel.

And the shampoo is free, too! Can't wait to use that in the morning.

At daybreak, I'm curious: What does the rainforest feel like?

Upon cracking a window, it doesn't take long to feel the humidity, to smell the dampness in the air.

It's hot, but not that hot.

Having travelled with Canada to Cuba and Honduras for a pair of World Cup qualifiers, I know hot. Both of those trips were more hellish.

After that, it's not long before I experience the other thing this part of the world is known for: Torrential rain.

I make it into the press area at Arena Amazonia just in time.

The skies open up ahead of the Croatia-Cameroon tilt.

Which makes me wonder: Who the hell builds a stadium in the middle of the rainforest?

The venue is beautiful. The parts to build it arrived via river boat. But what a strange decision, I think to myself.

At least at this stadium they have a decent pre-match buffet.

The food at Arena Fonte Nova last week left so much to be desired.

Even better, the cashier tells me it's all you can eat. Eat up!

But when I go back for seconds, I'm told that isn't the case.

"You're finished," the buffet's caretaker says.

Miscommunication, I guess. Much like last night's beer fiasco aboard my flight.

It's as if the Soup Nazi is omnipresent in my life.

No beer for you!

No second-helpings for you!

What's next? No room for me back at the hotel?

Luckily, I doubt that will be the case.

This isn't a love motel, after all

TUESDAY, JUNE 17

SALVADOR, Brazil -- Day 6, my final day in this coastal town.

By the time most people read this, I'll be in the Amazon getting set to take in Croatia-Cameroon inside Manaus’s Arena Amazonia.

Crap, I forgot my bug repellent.

As I said earlier, the Brazilian consulate assured me I wouldn't need a yellow fever vaccination.

Oh, and just as I'm typing this, a news flash on the TV: "96,000 cases of dengue virus reported in Sao Paulo."

Brazil isn't the place for a hypochondriac, I assure you.

Now then, to start the day. I wonder which story the boys back on the desk used for the front of the sports section this morning.

Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo in the fetal position? That should go over well.

Sure enough, a message comes in from a Portuguese fan: "You're a racist."

"Against who?" I wonder aloud. "Olive-skinned western Europeans?"

Sheesh. Relax, people.

Off to kill some time before my four-hour flight into nothingness.

But first, a cab to the airport with my driver, Luciano, who looks like he's 17.

It just so happens Luciano has an intricate app on his phone that translates his Portuguese into English and projects it over the radio.

It's nice, but considering traffic in Brazil is treacherous, the fact Luciano prefers to speak into his phone instead of managing the road is a bit nerve-racking.

His translator was a bit off, too.

I tell him I'm going to Manaus.

"There are very hot minnows there," he replies through his mobile translator.

Another confusing one: "Orlando and Germany have very strong teams," he says.

"Orlando?" I respond.

He agrees.

OK, then.

Minutes later, an ambulance comes crawling through. In a traffic jam, the EMS driver simply makes his own lane.

Motorcyclists take advantage of the space like some kind of highway funeral procession.

An hour after leaving, we finally arrive at Salvador International.

Can I get a beer, waiter?

Oh, that's right, Brazil is playing. There's no time for customers while passengers, flight attendants and airport workers crowd around the big screen.

There were concerns coming into this World Cup that flights wouldn't leave on time.

No wonder, all of the airline employees are stopping to take in this game.

See you in the jungle … maybe.

MONDAY, JUNE 16

SALVADOR, Brazil -- What is this, Day 5 at the World Cup?

Either way, I'm off to watch Portugal-Germany at the Arena Fonte Nova.

What a matchup, right? Should be a dandy!

The walk to the stadium today is a bit more lively.

All of a sudden, two kids dart across a walking bridge above me with a grown man in pursuit.

It looks like they've stolen something.

It also looks like they're in trouble because it just so happens the man's 40-something legs are moving pretty well.

The trio disappear into a favela above the highway, the kids' fates unknown.

What do they do with thieves in Brazil?

Oh, well. Out of sight, out of mind.

It turns out the locals have decided to make a little extra cash off the influx of walking traffic.

Vendors line streets approaching the stadium, hoping to sell World Cup revelers water and beer.

I feel bad declining two-dozen offers.

Some of these people are desperate. Desperate to make some coin, no matter the amount.

Finally to the stadium.

Again, do Germans not believe in lines?

Their lack of queue awareness is quite astonishing. I mean, I'm the next person in line, when all of a sudden a man comes barreling up the queue in some kind of needless huff.

Maybe the fact his boys beat the pants off Portugal will get him to relax post-game.

"Excuse me," someone says behind me.

A Portuguese reporter asks if he can get me on camera talking about the match we both just witnessed.

"Are you American or Canadian?" he asks.

"I'm an American masquerading as a Canadian," I responded.

He looks back confused.

Then asks me my thoughts on Ronaldo.

When I criticize Ronaldo's inability to track back and defend, the Portuguese reporter looks confused.

Then mad.

His eyes say, "What the hell are you talking about?"

One thing I've learned covering Portugal is you don't criticize Ronaldo.

After God and Jesus, he's third in command.

This is my last night in Salvador until the second round.

I'm off to the Amazon Tuesday night.

It's time to bust out of this love motel, where I'm staying two other times throughout the tournament.

SUNDAY, JUNE 15

SALVADOR, Brazil -- The streets of Salvador, Brazil, can be rough.

At night, I constantly look over my shoulder.

When I pass a group of young, suspicious-looking locals -- which is pretty much everyone when you're paranoid -- I put my phone away. I look the other way.

I've been told to fear them.

But nobody told me to fear the wildlife.

To close out my first week in this Brazilian coastal city, I was attacked. I was attacked by a black cat.

OK, I wasn't "attacked."

I'm being more of a drama queen than Fred as I write this.

But I was certainly chased -- borderline accosted.

Sounds dumb, right?

Well, you didn't see this cat, which looked like an animal out of the Walking Dead.

It was skinny, appeared to have leprosy and frolicked after me for at least 50 metres.

Let this be a lesson: Fear the felines in Salvador, not the humans.

Well, unless they're German humans.

Nothing against Germany, but do you guys believe in lines? Seriously, queue up for goodness sake!

Yes, I know you're excited to see your team take on Portugal Monday afternoon, but you don't have to be rude.

Reporters from the European powerhouse seem to completely disregard order of any kind.

I mean, it's one thing if you're eager to order a Bavarian brew, but is it really necessary to bully fellow media to get into a press conference?

Speaking of being bullied, beware of returning to the same restaurant twice here.

I use the term restaurant loosely. This was more like a garage with tables.

And while the food was better the second time, I don't think that justifies increasing the price by 20%.

Something tells me they were taking advantage of a foreigner.

Guess who didn't get a tip this time around?

That's it for now. Back to my Brazilian love motel.

I leave Salvador for the jungle on Tuesday night.

SATURDAY, JUNE 14

SALVADOR, Brazil -- Good morning. It's Day 3 of the World Cup.

Where did this headache come from? Is it the water I've been gulping down? Yellow Fever?

The Brazilian consulate in Toronto told me I didn't need a vaccination.

Oh, that's right. It must be from all of the smokers inside Arena Fonte Nova during Friday night's Spain-Netherlands match.

Nothing three cups of coffee and an apple won't fix.

Off to the stadium, where Germany and Portugal will train Sunday afternoon.

The stadium still reeks of beer, the remnants of Spanish fans drowning their sorrows following a punishing defeat by the Dutch no doubt.

Oh, and there are cigarette butts everywhere inside the stadium, a reminder of where this splitting headache originated.

Thankfully, a pair of FIFA officials steer me towards a few Tylenol capsules.

One of them, Nadine, is fluent in English -- just the third person in six days here in Brazil to have a conversation with me.

And it just so happens Nadine lived in Toronto a few years back.

Now 22, Nadine sits down for a chat about the Big Smoke, where Brazilian goalkeeper Julio Cesar played the last few months -- something Nadine told me wasn't well-received down here because of the low wage he agreed to play for.

She then tells me about one of her more forgetful experiences in the Great White North: A Toronto Blue Jays game.

"I fell asleep," she said.

Nadine says she is used to the party scene that is Brazilian soccer -- something the Jays don't come close to emulating.

She did purchase a Jays cap, though, "to remember the experience."

Her and a co-volunteer then confirmed one of my early experiences here in Salvador.

It turns out, as I mentioned yesterday, the Brazilian digs I'm staying in are that of a "motel" -- not to be mistaken for a "hotel".

It turns out motels -- Hotel Sempre, in my case -- in Brazil are for intercourse, and not much else.

So that explains the double-headed shower and strange noises at night.

When I show them some pics of the place, they begin to snicker.

"Make sure you have headphones," Nadine's co-worker says.

I smile back, already well-aware.

Back at the hotel now. More noises.

Here we go again. Is it time to fly to Manaus yet?

FRIDAY, JUNE 13

SALVADOR, Brazil -- My fourth day in Brazil. Time to start Matchday 2 with a proper South American breakfast -- coffee, fruits and breads.

Alas, the staff at Hotel Sempre, a love motel in this coastal city, has found out I'm an imposter.

Nope, I'm not with my girlfriend, a wife or a lady of the night (I promise, Sinead).

And, as a result, the hotel delivery team has cut my meals in half. Apparently they only serve meals for two if your significant other is with you.

Speaking of significant others, there are a lot of them here at this love shack. I hear them nightly.

Even worse, it turns out this was Valentine's Day week in Brazil, which certainly kicked things up a notch.

But I digress, although I am starving as I write this.

Moving on ...

Canadian pundits love to punish the Canadian Soccer Association for its inability to develop talent.

Because, you know, the association is the sole purpose Canada has been approaching terrible for a decade now.

On my walk to take in Spain-Netherlands Friday, I came across the real reason Canada hasn't made a World Cup since 1986.

Throughout the streets leading up to the Fonte Nova stadium were hundreds of kids playing soccer barefoot in the streets, the sun beating down on them as they attempted to score in makeshift goals.

This is where the best players in the world begin to hone their skills. It's akin to Canadian kids playing shinny with a tennis ball.

In stopping to ponder this phenomenon first-hand, I saw kids take chances without the risk of punishment -- or disdain from parents.

As for parents, my mother wouldn't be happy if she knew I was walking through a few different favelas on my way home from the arena Friday night.

Time to sign off. My head's on a swivel.


Videos

Photos