Picking up where we left off in the ongoing saga of World Cup mania in Colombia, I had just bought tickets on the street to Colombia’s sold-out September 6th Qualifier against Ecuador. I bought the tickets literally a few hours before the game, and paid a hefty price.
The purchase was dicey in two respects: 1) tickets are all too often found to be counterfeit, which can mean a colossal waste of money for the purchaser, and 2) my husband Gio had to work until just before the start of the game, which meant it would be no small miracle if we were able to arrive at the stadium on time. We made the leap anyway because we realized at the last minute that we would not be in Barranquilla during the remaining home World Cup Qualifiers. This would likely be our only chance to see our team — the number 3 ranked team in the world no less! — in action. It didn’t seem like an opportunity to miss.
So you can imagine our dismay when, just as we bolted out of the house to rush to the stadium, the storm clouds let loose.
A torrential downpour just before a major sporting event is a problem in any city; it’s bound to cause traffic snafus. But in Barranquilla, a major downpour doesn’t just slow things down — it stops everything. This is because Barranquilla has no drainage system other than the streets themselves, which means the streets become whitewater rivers — called “arroyos” — that are capable of sweeping cars underwater and (sadly) killing people too. Gio and I donned plastic garbage bags in a (failed) attempt to stay dry and ran down the street desperately trying to hail a cab before the streets became impassable. With each step we took, the rain came down harder. We made it about two blocks from our house before the water began rushing down the street and over our shoes. At that point, we knew it was too late. Just when we decided to turn around and head home, and just when I thought it couldn’t rain any harder, it did. We were starting to feel waterboarded when we finally made it to the shelter of a nearby apartment building’s porch and a small store on the ground floor.
That’s when the fun really began.
At first, the storm seemed like just a typical downpour with Barranquilla’s extremely weird but normal-for-here arroyos — but then the wind kicked up. For about fifteen minutes, conditions can only be described as hurricane-like. (I feel legit in saying this since I have been through several hurricanes.) Lightning struck nearby over and over, at one point exploding something — who knows what — just outside. Immediately after that, a transformer blew and sparks crackled down a power line. The garage of the apartment building where we were waiting filled with probably seven feet of water, completely submerging the cars that were parked inside. This video will give you an idea:
Throughout all this, Gio and I were still hoping to make it to the game. Because we had left so late, we were pretty much the only ticket holders not already in the stadium when the bottom dropped out. Once the rain slacked, the game had to be delayed for 90 minutes to allow the field to drain. Amazingly, that gave Gio and I enough time to call a taxi driver friend, who was able to quickly pick us up thanks to the lack of traffic. We then sailed through the wet streets and arrived just in time for the start, breathing deep sighs of relief that our tickets weren’t fake after all.
The rest, as they say, is history. Colombia beat Ecuador 1-0, and in so doing guaranteed itself a play-off spot for a place in the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil. The experience of going to the game was nothing short of epic. We joined the sea of yellow and cheered our hearts out. It was hands down one of the most fun sporting events I have ever attended. I have always enjoyed watching World Cup games, but now I understand the appeal more than ever. World Cup soccer combines professional-level talent with real heart. The players, who play for professional football clubs around the world, come home to play with pride on the national team. The athleticism and spirit on display are hard to beat. I am so glad we were able to witness it.
For those who are following along, Colombia plays Uruguay today in another qualifier that will take place in Montevideo. ¡Arriba Colombia!