The Triple Frontier is a point at which three countries meet – Argentina (the small town of Puerto Iguazú), Brazil (the larger city Foz do Iguaçu) and Paraguay (Ciudad del Este). It’s famous for the Iguazú waterfall – ‘Big Water’ in Guaraní – the pharaonic Itaipú hydroelectric dam a tad further north, supposed to be man’s greatest ever public works project, and for the shadiness of the commerce that goes on on the Paraguayan and Brazilian sides.
This was the area I was to start my World Cup. The flight was full of Aussies off to the Brazilian cowboyish hinterlands to see Australia vs. Chile. As we arrived into the Argentine airport it was a reddish brick building that reminds me of old fashioned churches and is typical of the red dirt, fertile green surroundings, picket fence vibe of that area and of the entire country of Paraguay in general.
My memory of the Argentine part was foggy, a place where the sun was shining and everything was rosy when I travelled there in 2006 with a mate, Jonas. But arriving there direct from Australia this time felt so strange. The teenagers were out wandering about in their school uniforms, finished for the day, and I was hustling around looking to change some money in small tourist agencies.
I had a lucky break, one of many, when three Melbourne boys let me share their taxi into town. The young blonde driver told us that the Argentine side of the falls was closed due to a flood of biblical proportions, the water rolling over its limits in a breathtaking show of unanswerable force. Go to Brazil if you want to see the falls, she said.
I took a taxi across the border with an Argentine driver who wrote off Argentina’s World Cup chances and said 80% of his countrymen did likewise. I told him Argentina’s team has a good reputation internationally and he waved it off. Suddenly we were in Brazil, where Spanish social order, innate social respect and reserve were no longer factors.
Brazil! With its slurry language and mutt-like people, a mix of God knows how many races. This was the seat of the World Cup, a country teeming with people who whatever the up and coming oil richness at the top could never stop running on the treadmill, for among 200 million competitors if they paused for a moment they would surely fall off.
That was the mood. I took a bus to Curitiba with a bunch of people who had nicked across the open Paraguayan border to buy up a bunch of goods in the free-for-all market of Ciudad del Este and sell it surreptitiously in Brazil. The dodginess of it all was confirmed when the bus rolled over a police weigh station – all people at the front of the bus went to the back to lighten the front load, then rushed towards the front once the front wheels had passed. But they were foiled by uncomprehending me blocking the aisle, not knowing what the fuck was going on. They subsequently failed the weigh station but an uncaring officer waved them through. Lucky all over, again.
I was aided by the milk of human kindness and by my wonderful friend Regiane and her husband. Arriving in Curitiba, there had been an article by a Spanish journalist saying “Curitiba is not Brazil”, a sentiment I’d heard before, not as festive, black, hot, dancy or whatever else Brazil is supposed to be. To which I can say: thank God, for the moment. I can’t keep up the pace.
Here in Curitiba we saw Brazil’s handsome it boy Neymar score twice in the opening game. His first goal was what a champion team needs – in any sport when things are nervous, you need an X-factor to pull a scoring play out of nowhere and lighten the load. I think I have a crush.