Chile Copa America 2015

This will be my fourth visit to South America for the Copa America. Originally I had planned to go to the first two weeks of the tournament, but due to other people at work also having holidays I had to settle for the last week of the competition. This meant I had difficulty in getting tickets for the games I wanted before I set out. The first phase of tickets went on sale in January, these were venue specific tickets. i.e. a set of tickets for all the games to be played at one venue. Whilst I was in Australia, I managed to get a set of tickets for Concepción, where three games would be taking place whilst I was out in Chile. The other tickets I needed were to be slightly more problematic, as the two other games I hoped to attend were the semi Final and the Final at the Estadio Nacional In Santiago, which also just happened to be hosting all of Chile’s group games, meaning that this set of tickets sold out before I could blink. However I did manage to pick up a semi Final ticket in the next sales phase in March , but had no luck in managing to get a Final ticket.

I set off on Friday 26th June half expecting a repeat of the last Copa America when I also took a flight from London to Madrid in the evening before heading to South America. Then instead of making the connecting flight I was ushered onto a bus and told that the flight would depart the next morning. (The same thing happened on the way home… Work were not too happy!) That resulted in me missing Brazil v Venezuela in 2011.

This time there was no problem, to my surprise the flight was there in Madrid and I arrived in Santiago at 9am on the Saturday morning, in plenty of time for my 3.30p.m. flight to Concepcion. Had already been in contact with friends and found one just happened to be on the same internal flight to Concepción. We shared a taxi to my hostel, dumped our bags and went straight to the stadium.

That evening Brazil play Paraguay at 18.30 (see there was plenty of time!), as they did in 2011 in the round of 16, and history repeated itself as Paraguay knocked out Brazil on penalties.

After the match , went to a Peruvian restaurant which had been recommended to a friend. Worryingly he spotted other people he knew, this is the second biggest city in Chile so we should not be bumping into people we recognise…… unless there are no other good restaurants in town! Spending 4 days in Concepción, later in the week did not seem to be such a good idea.

The next day I was heading back to Santiago. From where I had just come, as the first of the Semi Finals would be held there on Monday night. I found that there was no bus from Concepción to the airport. As I had time, I took the trouble to find how I could get there with public transport. The answer was to catch a bus to the Mall (surprise – a large shopping centre) and then walk 20 minutes.

Waiting on the street early on Sunday morning,I asked some locals if I was in the right place as numerous busses had gone past and none to the Mall. Whilst they were telling me I was in the wrong place I spotted Mall on a bus, and hopped on.

Once I reached the Mall I knew I was less than two miles from the airport so I expected to see some planes just to reassure me, that I was in the vicinity of the airport. There were none. Upon arrival at the airport I found that my flight was the first out of the day.

Saw some people who had been to the Copa (David Luiz and Willian) and were now going home, what other job rewards you with an extra weeks holiday when you don’t perform as expected!

Arriving back at Santiago airport I decided to try and save some time by checking in for future flights.

A week before I flew I received an email from the travel company who I had booked with (they should remain nameless, but Opodo if you want to avoid them) notified me that my flight was cancelled, after a great deal of effort I managed to find out that it was just one leg of my journey and managed to alter this, so I thought everything was OK. That was until they sent me my updated schedule – which looked fine, but with the same disclaimer that my flight was cancelled and that I should contact them. I wrote to them basically stating that I thought the flight had been amended and that I believed their customer service department had got it wrong by including the note about the flight cancellation, I did ask them to correct me if I was wrong, but they didn’t therefore I assumed everything was Ok (Are you still with me?).

The automated machine I had used the day before for domestic flights rejected my request and advised me to contact an agent. I remember having fun and games when I booked this flight I had to send a scan of my passport within so many hours of booking the flight and I even contacted my Credit card company as I thought it might be a fraud, but they looked intuit and assured me it looked OK. The reason why I wanted to check in for this flight was that it was early on Tuesday morning, and I knew I wouldn’t have much time, but as it wouldn’t work I would have to sort it out on Tuesday.

Then I tried to find an Iberia desk to check my flight home. There was no sign of such a thing. Oh well I will leave that till next Sunday..and trust that it will be OK.

During the afternoon I went for a walk around town looking for some signs of night life for later. I headed to Plaza de Armas, the centre of town where it was lively but no sign of night life, I walked through the streets and found myself at the Palacio de la Moneda, Chile’s presidential offices, and then meandered back to my accommodation.

Returned to my hostel in Baqadueno and found the area in full swing. Down an alley way I found an assortment of restaurants. Looks like I had found the area I was looking for on my doorstep. I enjoyed a meal and of course a soft drink before retiring for the evening.

Unfortunately the night life went on later than I did!!

I hadn’t realised but next for to my hostel (more specifically my headboard) was a night club which started to get lively around 2am, thankfully it quietened down by about 5a.m. Thank goodness that was a Sunday night.

I had somehow managed to work out that there was a football match in Casablanca at 12 noon today, Monday. Having been there (In Morocco) last December, I had said to myself at that time that I would visit Casablanca again.

This Casablanca is about an hour away from Santiago on the road to Valparaiso. I found a bus, bought the ticket and checked with the driver that he was stopping at Casablanca.

Tracking my journey with maps.me, for a while I could tell exactly where we were, but it was starting to lose the signal. There was a thick fog and I realised we must be close. The driver promptly drew back his blind, and beckoned 50% of the passengers on the bus forward. He then pulled up at a bus stop on the side of the motorway and I got off.

Although the app did not give me my position, it does have an offline map so I negotiated the streets of Casablanca, without any problems. Thoughts turned to how I would get back to Santiago for the evening’s Semi final. Would I have to go back to the motorway and flag a bus down?

I passed a couple of cake shops and made a mental note of their location, before finding a bus arriving at the stadium. Content with the knowledge that the game was on I returned to the shops! The first one was the best.

I chose my spot in the ground, and stood on my own until an entourage in green approached looking for a place in the desolate stand.Despite the fact there was no one else around they seemed to think I had the best spot and joined me.

The drummer (ahora mi amigo) introduced himself and a number of his colleagues. Forgive me I can’t remember all the names. They immediately offered me refreshments and a relaxing smoke, I didn’t take the pipe.

They brought two fire extinguishers, and set these off as their team General Velásquez emerged from the building behind the goal.

They seemed to be putting in more effort than their team as they sang their hearts out. I took some photos and showed them to them, I got there approval and so carried on.

The supporters efforts were rewarded with a last minute goal and I now count General Velásquez as a friend.

I had managed to work out my route back to Santiago, and as I waited I could hear the familiar noise of the General Velásquez supporters as their bus headed home to San Vicente de Tagua-Tagua, some three hours away.

Now I may not have a ticket for the final of the Copa America, but one of the last things I did before I left home was to purchase two additional tickets for the semi final game in Santiago once I knew Chile had qualified, I thought it might be a useful bartering tool, to help me get a Final ticket. However arriving late at the competition meant that I had not made any contacts, so a good friend put me in touch with a local, whom I offered the tickets to, in the secret hope that they might just return a favour. In the end a friend of the friend, of the friend said they were interested. Now those of you that no me will know that I most of my communication is by email.Well I tried to to arrange a meeting with this friend of a friend……….., but despite saying he was interested I ended up having to borrow a mobile and ring him to arrange to give the tickets just two hours before the kick off. On the plus side I got driven around town and saw his apartment with a wonderful view of the Andes.

The game was an excellent match with Peru giving their all, but a dubious refereeing decision saw them reduced to 10 men with two thirds of the game still to go. In the end the winner from Vargas was worthy of sending any team into their first Final in the Copa’s 99 year history.

After the match I decided to head back home to Baquedano where there was plenty of life. As I emerged from the metro my very first thought was that it had been raining, as I noticed the damp pavement. Strange, I thought. I then looked behind me and saw the pavement was dry. An isolated shower? Heading towards the Mapucho river I could see the remnants of earlier crowds and I noticed people coughing and spluttering in doorways.

Then I felt my eyes stinging and throat irritable. I now realised that there must have been a celebration dispersed with water cannons and tear gas.

Across the river a police unit in full combat gear were making a tactical retreat. I found that the clubs and restaurants had all been shut. So no meal.

Up early, before metro starts so two mile walk to Los Heroes to catch first airport bus at 5.55a.m. In order to catch 7.30am flight

Tried to check in at automated machine again, thinking that maybe it would work on the day of the flight. No it didn’t. So I queued to check in, eventually getting to the desk at 6.40. Whilst I was greeted with a smile, all the make up could not hide the feelings of the check on assistant as she struggled with my details. She explained there was a problem with their computer system. ( Sound familiar).

30 minutes later I had my boarding pass and then ran to security before calmly negotiating the crowds at the security check.

Of course I made it on time, and then the plane was delayed. Apparently it was foggy in Concepción, and we were unable to land. Not surprising there is so much fog as the Andes seem to run down the length of the whole country.

Back in Concepción checked restaurants to see if they would be open after tonight’s game. One in particular, at a hotel, had been recommended. We asked in perfect English and were ushered up to the restaurant right then, it was only 3 p.m. A friend had been before and also returned for breakfast the following day, when he tried to pay he was told it was free.

Needless to say that after the Argentina v Paraguay (when Messi took Paraguay to the cleaners) game we returned to the restaurant only to find they had finished serving food. We didn’t let this worry us as we retuned the following morning for the free breakfast!

There was now a gap of two days before the next game. I had decided to base myself in Concepción, where the next game would take place, whilst everyone else seemed to be spending one more day here before they returned to Santiago for the final on Saturday. I would go the meaningless third/fourth place game on my own.

But today I had companions and one had decided he wanted to go snowboarding. So four of us set out to Chillan, three for the sightseeing and one for the snowboarding.

I neglected to mention that last Sunday when I left Concepción, the friend who was driving today, had intended to go to a football match some two hours away. I sent him an email the following day to compare notes after my trip to see General Velásquez. Unfortunately the card din’t start and he didn’t make the game. In fact the car hadn’t started since then and would you believe when we tried to get it started this morning it wouldn’t start either. Anyway we enlisted the help of the receptionist at his hotel Valeria, and she arranged for someone to come and have a look to see if they could fix it. We used this time to go for our sumptuous breakfast.

Sure enough when we came back all was well and we headed off towards Chillan. Now two hours out of Concepción. I am sure someone said “It couldn’t be any flatter if we were in Cambridgeshire!” This was true but after another 30 minutes we could at last see mountains and…..snow. What seemed like a fancy idea, was actually coming together and so I would see snow on my birthday for the first time!

Apparently the snowboarding was good, almost too good. I was waiting to take photographs of our snowboarder when after two hours with no sighting we see two paramedics coming down with a body bag. Thankfully it seemed to be a training exercise, shortly afterwards we were all reunited.

Now two of our group were heading back to Santiago, and as we were a third of the way there it was silly for them to drive all the way back to Conceptión, so the two of us that were left were dropped off in the town of Chillan and made our way back by bus.

That evening we returned to the hotel for something to eat….and paid. My companion had been couch surfing and this has been a useful way of finding out about our surrounding. Tonight we contacted Jorge we was kind enough to come and meet us. I kept in touch with Jorge and as I was on my own and met him over the next two days, as well as visiting the hotel for breakfast.

I had to return a map to the receptionist, Valeria at my friends hotel. As I had spoken to her previously I asked her for help in trying to find a ticket for the Final on Saturday. I showed her the website Mercado Libre (Chilean eBay) which had tickets for sale.

She immediately highlighted that people selling the tickets had no ratings and that there was no way of knowing if the pdf tickets were genuine. The other risk was that the owner of the pdf could print off as many copies as they wanted. Or someone could simply take a copy of someone else’s ticket and sell that (again, as many times as they want).

With Jorge’s help found some life in Concepcion, with a number of bars and restaurants near the university. During one of our conversations Jorge asked if I smoked (not the first time on this trip I had been asked!), he went on to explain that most people took marijuana even though it was illegal to smoke it in public. Also, to make sure the marijuana has not been tampered with most people grow their own! He recounted a tale about someone who was moaning about their health, and the answer for them was simply to smoke Marijuana, the Health service couldn’t do anything so it appears that this was a natural solution, which is now being endorsed by the Government.

Took a walk up in Park Ecuador, although a steep climb it was a joy to have fresh air, a stark contrast to the air in Santiago where cars are prohibited from travelling on certain days of the week depending on their number plates. In Concepcion the haze at the football ground was caused by firewood being burnt in nearby houses to keep the locals warm.

After the third/fourth play off match I walked back to Jorge’s house as he had kindly invited me to meet more friends and share a meal. I didn’t waste the opportunity and soon had them enquiring about any spare tickets for the final. The word back was that there were none available, and that there were a lot of scams.

On the day of the final I caught the plane from Concepcion, my schedule showed the plane leaving at 10.30, but upon picking up my boarding pass I saw that it was now departing at 11.10.

Valeria the receptionist at the hotel where my friends stayed had made my sign – in Spanish, saying that I wanted a ticket for the Final, she also added a logo for the Chlle Under 17 Tournament!

I placed this in my bag so that all travellers could see it. Whilst waiting I several people wished me luck but no one came forward with a ticket.

On the plane I found I was set next to two Colombians who had paid 1500US$ each for their final tickets. They went on to tell me that there was another Colombian on the plane, who had offered to sell them a final ticket for 500US$. They had explained that they didn’t need one and told him how much they had paid, as they seemed to delight in telling everyone how much they had paid!!!!

As we exited the airport I caught up with Ernest, and talked to him about the ticket. He was willing to sell, but only if he price was right.

I made enquiries about the ticket – it was Category 3 cost price about 40US$ and a pdf ticket. The price he wanted was the amount the other Colombians paid. I made him an offer of 200,000 pesos (US300$) but he wasn’t interested.

Not only had my plane departed later than expected from Concepción, it was also delayed, this meaning I arrived in Santiago after 1p.m. Kick off for the final was 5p.m.

So I headed to my accommodation for the night to drop my bag. As I arrived I was greeted by a member of staff that remembered me from last weekend (who just happened to be Argentinian), he quickly informed me that he was about to head to the stadium. I explained that I was going, but didn’t have a ticket. “No problem”, he said as he handed me a pdf of a final ticket.

Since I met him last week he found 4 friends to accompany him to the match. The plan was that we would all put in 30US$, and the first of us to the actual place where our ticket is scanned would offer this to the person on the gate. Our own ID and the pdf ticket would get us to this point, then if they accepted we were in. Simple!

So if we went me and 5 Argentinians. I asked if any of the others spoke English, of course the didn’t, they asked if I spoke Spanish. Of course I don’t. Then they started,

“Vamos, vamos Argentina,
Vamos, vamos a ganar,
Que esta barra quilombera,
No te deja, no te deja de alentar.”

they realised I knew the words and as we walked down the road, we didn’t need to talk as they sang their hearts out and improvised with a Coca-Cola bottle as the drum.

In the underground we drew jeers from the Chilean supporters all around us, and one elderly lady came up and remonstrated with us, as I understood for basically being disrespectful to everyone else there. Of course this just made my companions louder.

Reaching the stadium, we then spent some time watching goings on before making our approach, our Id was scanned as we want through the first control and then at the front the money was presented, there was a high police presence and the bribe was declined, we left the area and they decided to head to the other side side of the stadium to try again. The stadium is situated in the centre of a block, with sporting facilities surrounding it. and so to walk round .

Whilst walking round the stadium a hole in a fence was spotted and we stopped to survey the scene. The block around the stadium, must be about a mile long, meaning there would be opportunities to work your way in. before I knew it two our group were through the fence. Apparently (!!!) inside they rolled under another fence and then were presented with a view, inside the turnstiles of the entrance to the stadium, where all you needed to do was to show your pdf. However there was a drop of about 20ft and there was a heavy police presence inside. They decided to come back out,as they squeezed back out of the perimeter fence police galloped down on horseback and surrounded two of them. The police appeared to ask for their tickets – decided immediately they were fake and told the to get lost.

After this we regrouped and the Argentinians decided they were going to head back into town and watch the game in a bar. I decided to carry on with my quest to get in, but took the address of the bar just in case. I wandered round the perimeter of the stadium flashing Valeria’s sign when the police were not looking. Someone approached and said they had a ticket, they wanted 200US$. No problem, I thought. I explained that I had 30US$ (yes I still got my money back) and I had the rest in Chilean pesos, I worked out they would need about 120,000 Chilean pesos, as I had 300,000 this was no trouble. When I explained this using the calculator function on my iPod, they were clearly not impressed. I explained that I believed this to be slightly above 200US$. Then the guy remembered the word thousands. Two thousand US$, was the price he wanted for his ticket. Oh well, I’ll keep on looking then.

By now there was less than one hour to go before kick off, undeterred I kept going I was approached again. This time by someone who had obviously witnessed my last attempt to purchase a ticket. They had a cat 1 ticket and wanted 300,000 Chilean pesos. OK, here we go again. I was introduced to Louis, and elderly gentleman who asked me to go with him and he appeared to be leading me round the stadium to our entrance, I wasn’t sure but it looked like he was going in with me. Which would be fine. But as we neared the entrance he asked for the money, bearing in mind he was going to part with a pdf ( which you could print off as many times as you wanted) and I was going to hand over all the money I had I was not prepared to do this, there was a chance that he would disappear into the crowd as I made my way to through the security process which could take a little time and then when I got to the final check where they scanned the pdf I may find that it was not valid. I wasn’t prepared to take the risk, I had spotted that he had an actual ticket in his pocket and explained that I would be willing to accept that. he agreed to part with it and in possession of a proper ticket I then set off for the other side of the ground!

Much to my relief the paper ticket was fine and I was in the ground with 20 minutes to spare. The game itself was tense with Argentina appearing to be in control in the first half without really threatening. Medel was doing an excellent job in frustrating Messi, giving him no space and getting away with just one booking for a kung fu type kick that floored Messi.

In extra time the Chilean supporters burst into a passionate rendition of their national anthem which seemed to be even louder that the one before the match. This seemed to inspire their team as they headed for penalties. Higuain, will no doubt be remembered as the man that could have rewritten Argentinian history books missing a chance in the World Cup Final 2014 and then during the 90 minutes in this Copa America before missing the first penalty for Argentina which gave Sanchez the chance to roll the boll slowly down the centre to give Chile their first Copa America win in its 99th year. ( This was the third time I have seen Argentina in a penalty shoot out, and they haven’t won one.)

After the match I headed back towards the metro, as I approached I saw someone I recognised carrying a large cardboard box. It was one of my entourage. He was headed back to meet up with another one for something to eat so of course I joined him. he fought our way on the metro with the box as the jubilantt Chilean supporters continued to clelebrate we had already watched an earlier train jumping up and down on the tracks now we were crammed inside….with a large cardboard box. This was an essential item and would be needed to transport all the bits and pieces he had accumulated during the tournament on his journey home to France via, Buenos Aires, Puerto Iguazú, Foz de Iguaçu and Rio de Janeiro. The fact that the box still existed after that evening told me that the rest of the journey would be no problem for it!

Arrived back at Baquedano, where the streets were full with people, each bus shelter was decorated with five or six people cheering and waving a Chilean flag. The police were hiding in some back streets and in front of the nearby Argentinian embassy. This time there was no police intervention, from people that had seen these scenes before this was by far the greatest number of people out on the streets. But the bars and restaurants were closed. We made enquiries and found that they were due to open at 11pm, as it was now just after ten we decided to take in the scenes and return at 11. We returned at 11 to be told they would maybe open at 12! I suggested we should go back across the river and try our luck there. There were similar scenes, thousands of people, police hiding in the background and bars closed, however as we peered through to the shopping complex I had been to on my previous visit to Santiago we realised that it was open, but that we had to find the entrance round the back.

I managed to spend what few pesos I had left with my companions, before returning to my nearby hostel. By now I was really tired but had to make sure that my alarm was working, despite the revellers next door, I think I slept a little and even managed to hear my alarm at 8am. Leaving the hostel the streets were strewn with debris from the night before and the bus shelters took on a slightly distorted shape, but all was quiet as I left.

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