Rio de Janeiro means "River of January." The city's name refers to what explorers thought was the mouth of a great river back in 1502. In fact the river mouth was the Guanabara Bay, which means "arm of the sea" in the local language. The mistaken explorers navigated the coast along the abrupt rising and falling of the Sugar Loaf Mountain Range to arrive at present day Rio on January 1st. In order to keep track of discoveries, it was the custom to name places according the date of disovery. The name stuck, and the lanscape once teeming with jaguars and tapirs became the city know as Rio de Janiero, later the remote capital of Portugal, and then the capital of Brazil until it moved to Brasilia in the 1950's.
Upon arriving in Braziil, one of our players, Deqo, who is of Somali origin, said she thought we had played a trick on her, and that in fact she was back in Africa. Indeed the palm and banana trees, the hazy-thick air, and the haphazard stacking up of houses on the wild curving topography all are the traits of her birthland. Driving in the from the airport we approached the city's center on a high rising freeway overseeing the favelas, which seemed more like sea wreckage washed up on the hillside than the homes of more than 15% of the metropolitan area's 11 million inhabitants. The favelas (slums) of Rio have birthed famous footballers like Ronaldo (most goals ever at the Fifa World Cup), Garrincha (the best dribbler ever to grace a soccer field), and Romario (the highest scoring professional soccer player in the world with more than 1,000 professional goals). As the van hooked east toward the water, our Brazilian Gudie, Paula, apologized for the poverty, saying that Rio is much more than just this, which stuck an extra strange chord given the nature and title of the tournament we had come to compete in. Just as Paula said this, French colonial architecture began to emerge from the sea of favela housing, giving way itself to modern architecture from the latter half of the 20th century as well as cheaper cement apartment buildings, and finally after passing through a low semicircular tunnel, the busy streets and coastline soccer fields of Copacabana took center stage and the favelas were out of sight and out of mind on the far side the Sugar Loaves.
The US teams are staying with the Romanian Team in Botafogo, home of the black and white striped soccer club for which Garincha played. From the street in front of the hostel we simply have to look up to see Jesus perched, arms embracing the vastness of sky, sea, and man made maze before him. He looks out from Corcovado - "the hunchback" - a 2,300 ft. mountain named for its lumpy and leaning posture.
The hostel in Botagofo is one metro stop away from Cardinal Acroverde, the site of the tournament headquarters at "Mellow Yellow Pary" hostel, a tall, slender, dingy, cement building where the largest group of teams are housed.
Our hostel has been the perfect retreat from the tournament's excitment. We've relaxed in the courtyard, told jokes and compared notes about all we've seen and done. After 2 days, it feels like we've been here two weeks.