Whoever said the journey is half the fun of getting to a destination obviously did not have in mind nearly 19 hours of economy class travel in one day unevenly spread over two flights.
Of course, there are other ways of getting to Brazil. Careers put on hold, a group of Englishmen are trekking it through parts of South America, their belongings piled on what look like wheelbarrows.
On the way, they have even been adopted by an abandoned pooch. But for the less intrepid, long haul flights are the only way to get to World Cup country, one where football is a part of life, literature and more.
“Oh, this is really far,” said the Chinese journalist on board Qatar Airways flight 771, halfway through the 14-hour non-stop journey from Doha to Sao Paulo over Africa and the Atlantic to south Brazil.
The journalist said he was from Guangzhou, a city that now has Marcello Lippi and Sven Goran Eriksson as coaches for rival football clubs, and had flown to Doha to take this connection.
Stretching limbs by the rear exit of the plane, we were joined by a man who said he was from Nigeria and made his living as a football coach. “I am going to the World Cup to learn,” he said. To do that, he flew from Abuja to Lagos before flying six hours to Doha.
A member of the crew who said he was from Casablanca joined the conversation and was immediately told by the Nigerian that he had played for the city’s iconic football club Raja Casablanca “for eight months before moving on in search of better prospects”.
Half-a-day in this country, the only people this reporter met who said they spoke ‘Ingles’ were at the Guarulhos International Airport. Two were at the Duty Free and a third was a woman police officer eager to help in giving directions.
The lady at the immigration counter, taxi driver Cristine, the shop around the corner where we tried to get a local SIM, the security guard at our lodgings in Bela Cintra — not far from the city centre — all smiled, gestured and tried their best to help even when they did not understand what we were looking for.
Nice time to remember the comment from a Fifa media officer in Germany while complaining about the lack of translations of coachspeak during the 2006 World Cup finals. “English, sir, is just one of the Fifa languages,” he had said in a manner that ensured further complaints were nipped in the bud.
Through proper nouns and gestures in her left-hand drive VW station wagon, Cristine spoke. As we hit the road named after Ayrton Senna, Brazil’s biggest non-football sporting icon, Cristine told us as much as she could about the city that looked a bit like Mumbai minus the autorickshaws.
Hoardings of Brazil’s national football team stretched across five-lane one-way roads and petrol pumps were in colour schemes of the Selecao.
It gets dark quickly here so by 6pm on Saturday, evening had set in. So far, at least, the Southern Hemisphere winter has been pleasant; it was 25 degree Celsius on Saturday and Sunday began on a sunny note.
For those who believe in first impressions, Sao Paulo makes you feel it is keen to be a friend.