NATAL, Brazil -- Manaus sits 1700 miles from Natal, give or take. Getting back and forth from the city, deep in the heart of the Amazon, is supposed to take quite some time. It is, however, not supposed to take 41 hours, which it did for 200 United States fans.
The American Outlaws had plans to fly to Manaus early Sunday morning, go to the pre-party, watch the team play Portugal and then fly straight back to Natal. That should have taken about 24 hours. It wasn't even close.
At 2 a.m. on Sunday, a tired crowd packed the hotel lobby, waiting for the buses that were supposed to take them on the hour-long drive to the airport. Thirty minutes later, they were still waiting. And thirty minutes after that. The buses finally showed up at 3:30 -- not a good start to the trip.
Little did anyone know that an hour and a half delay would feel almost trivial by the time the Outlaws got back here.
At the airport, everything seemed to be going smoothly. There were no problems with checking in, and within an hour of arrival the whole group was ready to board. As it turned out, that wasn't going to happen for a while. On the agenda instead: lots of standing.
The first plane wasn't ready to be boarded and there was some extra surprise paperwork to take care of. That was just a matter of time -- after another extended wait, the first half of the group were in the air and on their way to the rainforest. Which left the second half, who had a rather bigger problem with their aircraft. Namely that there wasn't one.
And this was the start of Plane 2's long adventure.
More from Brazil
More from Brazil
When a plane finally showed up to take the second half to Manaus, it took over an hour to refuel, clean and get it ready to turn around. All the while, more than 200 people were milling about the airport -- and there's only so much you can possibly do at an airport -- wondering what the hell was going on. That is, if they weren't sprawled out on the floor sleeping.
By the time the second plane was ready to take off, it had been eight hours since everyone first gathered for the buses in that lobby. For a group running on little to no sleep, eight hours is an eternity.
But at least they were finally on their way to Manaus. The flight was a little under four hours long, and while they missed the pre-party, they made it to the match plenty early. They saw the strange, half-crumbling city that is Manaus, the gorgeous stadium in its midst and experienced Silvestre Varela-induced heartbreak on the match's final kick. And then they got ready to make the journey home.
They were about to become intimately familiar with Manaus International Airport.
The American Outlaws arrived at the airport at 9 p.m. only to be told that they wouldn't actually be taking off until 5 a.m. and 7 a.m., respectively. Apparently, FIFA got priority on all flights out, so everyone got pushed back, but not even FIFA could conquer the byzantine rules of the Brazilian government. Paperwork issues kept the FIFA flights on the ground, even the team charters. Paperwork issues are common here.
Finally, the FIFA planes were able to get going, but the American Outlaws were still on the ground and hours away from takeoff. The airport looked like a refugee camp, with hundreds of people lying out on the marble floor, hoping to grab whatever sleep they could and trying not to stare too long at the hungry mosquitoes that dotted the ceiling, scoping out tired targets. People packed the couple stores that were open, cleaning one out of ice cream and the other out of chips. Food could have been sold for quadruple what it normally goes and it'd have still been bought.
Nobody was happy, but come 5 a.m., the first plane had boarded and not long after, it was on its way to Natal. But, once again, Plane 2 had problems.
7 a.m. came and went without takeoff. The PA said -- to general skepticism -- that that the new boarding time would be 8 a.m., but that didn't happen either. It was okay though, because they then announced that the flight would take off at 9 a.m.. Which it, to the surprise of exactly nobody, did not.
While all this was happening, people were trying desperately to find a Ten Dot representative. Ten Dot is the travel company in charge of organizing the trip and planes on behalf of the American Outlaws, so naturally not a single member was anywhere to be found in the terminal.
The issue apparently was not the plane, but the crew. Once a crew had been located, then the plane could take off. It took nearly an hour for the crew to show up following the missed 9 a.m. deadline, and when they finally did, the plane still didn't go anywhere. Airport staff then moved the American Outlaws to a remote gate, presumably to keep the 200 plus from conducting history's sleepiest riot in full view of everyone else.
The new gate didn't help. The plane was ready, the crew was accounted for and everyone remained stubbornly earthbound. Word spread through the group that the problem was the fuel. The authorities were demanding payment for the plane's fuel, which the charter company insisted they had done months in advance. Apparently, it was a paperwork issue. Surprise!
Futbol in football country
Futbol in football country
At this point, people had been traveling for more than 30 hours. They were tired and sweaty and still covered in beer from the match. They did not want to hear about a paperwork issue, and when an unfortunate staffer said that it might be another hour or two before they could take off, they snapped. People yelled and rushed to the door. Nobody was in their right minds, nor could they realistically be expected to be after the day they had had.
Somehow, everyone cooled off. And they resumed sitting in the remote terminal, looking at the waiting buses that would take them to their plane, which by now was taking on mythical status despite being clearly in view and clearly ready to take off.
Finally, noon came around and the group was cleared for takeoff. The Outlaws got on their buses, got to the plane, boarded as quickly as possible and got up in the air.
By the time they reached Natal, the group just wanted to get back to the hotel and shower. They moved quickly through the airport and to the waiting buses, except for the couple that thought they had all the time in the world to stop and watch Brazil play on the airport TV's. It's a good thing everyone else was already on the buses because that duo may well have been physically beaten for slowing everyone else down.
Because Brazil was playing, those on Plane 2 finally got their first break in last two days -- there was no traffic.
By 7 p.m., everyone was back at their hotel. It had been 41 hours since they first gathered there.
And the U.S. didn't even win.