This is a guest blog written by our traveler Inaki Dauwe.

Where do I begin? That is the question. How do you summarise the best month in your life? 16 August 2008, that seems like an appropriate starting point. As a 13-year-old boy I attended the pre-season friendly match between FC Barcelona and Boca Juniors. It goes without saying that on this age, I was primarily interested in football stars as Andrés Iniesta, Xavi, Thierry Henry and Rafael Márquez. Nevertheless, I was overwhelmed by the fans of Boca Juniors who showed up in great numbers and created an amazing atmosphere. And that is how my love for South American supporters was born and little by little, the experience off the pitch became as equally important for me as the game in itself.

While other youngsters used to listen to for example Drake or David Guetta, I constantly downloaded the fan chants of San Lorenzo and Boca Juniors. It was around that time that I started to visit football matches outside the national borders and I began to consider myself as a groundhopper. Back then, I made myself a major promise: once I would obtain a master’s degree, I would travel to South America to experience the home of football culture.

And here we are. Although it didn’t go as planned, since I only decided to contact Homefans and to pack my bags one week prior to departure. I was wavering between going on a big trip and going for an additional master’s degree, but after much deliberation, I decided that it was time for me to chase my ultimate dream.

But why Brazil? That is a question I get all the time. After all, I have always dreamt of travelling to Argentina and I still regard Buenos Aires as the capital for every genuine lover of football culture. I simply opted for Brazil because I was able to visit all major derbies in one month in the country with the most successful national team in the world. The Fla-Flu Derby, The Clássico Alvinegro of both Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, the Paulista Derby and the Grenal were all played within a time span of one month. An opportunity for me that was just too good to ignore. Eventually, I would visit twelve match in ten different stadiums. What follows is the story of my Ultimate Brazil trip.

Vasco da Gama: the biggest surprise

The journey kicked off with several guided tours through the most important stadiums of Rio de Janeiro like the Olympic Stadium and of course the mythical Maracanã. That proved to be an ideal activity to get to know fellow travellers Mikołaj and Krzysztof and local host Matheus. Afterwards Matheus took us to our first match, the derby between Vasco da Gama and Botafogo. And this match couldn’t exceed my expectations more! Initially I assumed a derby between two clubs who were at the end of a disappointing season, would be a pleasant warm-up.

But it didn’t take me long to realise how wrong I was. The fans of Vasco da Gama fully complied with my image of South American football fans. Regardless of the score, the supporters kept chanting and particularly jumping. I can guarantee that the teenager besides me didn’t stop jumping for a second during those ninety intense minutes. Everything about Vasco was pure madness. It was an unbelievable experience, and in fact very dangerous, to go to the bathroom during halftime or to leave the stadium after the match. It is almost a miracle that nobody got crushed by the large crowd at the way too narrow entrances. Those scenes would certainly not be tolerated in Europe, especially with the Heysel Stadium and Hillsborough disaster in mind. Even prior to the match, I was stunned by everything around me. The streets were crowded with street vendors who seized every opportunity to sell beer and churrascos. Eventually those scenes would be very typical for Brazilian football. Três por dez (three beers for ten Reais) and ingressos, ingressos (tickets, tickets) must have been the sentences that I have heard the most during my stay in Brazil.

Moreover, Vasco da Gama is a beautiful club. We learned about it the following day during the Estádio São Januário tour. At the beginning of the 20th century, football was exclusively for the elite and black people were excluded from the game. Vasco da Gama refused to comply with these norms and was eventually the first club to win a Brazilian championship with black players. In addition, the club could open its stadium in 1927 after they set up a crowdfunding avant la lettre. In that manner, Vasco da Gama had sufficient resources to construct its own stadium, which was at the time the largest of the country.

Flamengo: the biggest football party

Shortly afterwards, the programme ensured some variety with smaller matches like Fluminense – Paranaense and Botafogo – CSA, but above all the Fla-Flu Derby took centre stage in the Ultimate Brazil of Homefans. Despite that the atmosphere in a packed Maracanã was brilliant, I missed the traditional rivalry that usually comes with a derby. What happened was that the Fluminense fans were very few in number, since they could predict that their team would most probably lose. Matheus commented that that happens a lot in Brazil. Matheus as an avid Flamengo supporter was only too happy to joke that Fluminense had Ukrainian fans, referring to yellow-blue seats in the Maracanã.

But the big highlight regarding Flamengo was yet to come. Matheus did everything he could to take me to the most important Flamengo match of the decade. For the first time since 1981, Flamengo played the semi-finals of the Copa Libertadores and I was so lucky to be there. Statistics show that approximately 40 million Brazilians support Flamengo, which only confirms the luck I had to attend this match. That is why I can’t thank Matheus and Homefans enough. The match and everything around it just had it all and would turn out to be the most insane football party of my life. And believe me when I say that that is hard for me to admit. As a proud fan of Royal Antwerp FC, I am always bragging about the authentic football experience at home matches in the Bosuil Stadium, but Flamengo – Grêmio was off the chain.

It already began before the match. You could sense the tension and particularly the security services were on high alert. In the days leading up to the event, the media already reported that people would try to enter the stadium without a tickets so you could cut the atmosphere with a knife. Pushing and shoving at the turnstiles and the stench of tear gas filled the air. Complete madness! And the match in itself was no different. The teams were very equal during the first 40 minutes, but after the opening goal, the match turned into a goal fest with a 5-0 victory for Flamengo. With every goal, the atmosphere went crazier and crazier. The party continued in the subway and even in the streets surrounding my hotel, the celebrations lasted the entire night.

Furthermore, the city of Rio de Janeiro is an absolute must for everyone. You have the wonderful beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema, Christ the Redeemer (one of the Wonders of the World), the cable cars of Sugarloaf, a stunning national park with a rainforest is a short 15-minute drive away and it is only a two hour drive to Arraial do Cabo, the Brazilian Caribbean. In conclusion, the possibilities are endless and Rio de Janeiro has something for everyone.

São Paulo: the biggest city

Then it was time to take the bus to São Paulo, where three matches were scheduled. With Corinthians – Santos, São Paulo FC – Atlético Mineiro and Palmeiras – São Paulo FC, I could visit the three big clubs of the city within one week. Furthermore, I had the good fortune to see two derbies in São Paulo. But in spite of that, this was again a different experience. Due to riots in the past, away fans aren’t allowed at derby days in São Paulo and beer is forbidden inside the stadium. In addition, I was on my own and it was hard to organise everything. Most Brazilians don’t speak a word of English so I was struggling sometimes to arrange tickets.

The Grenal: the biggest derby

Porto Alegre breathes football. Despite the fact that Porto Alegre is only the tenth largest city in Brazil, the two major teams have together won the Copa Libertadores five times. Those clubs, Grêmio and Internacional compete for the honour of the city and the state of Rio Grande do Sul in the ‘Grenal’, the most fierce rivalry in Brazil. The derby is so enormous that that the most popular radio station of Porto Alegre is called Grenal and covers non-stop news about both clubs. In Porto Alegre you can be indifferent to football, still everyone shows his true colours. You are or red and white, or blue black and white.

Obviously the Grenal was the main reason of my visit to Porto Alegre. Earlier, Fabio offered me a free VIP ticket for Internacional – Paranaense, an offer I couldn’t refuse. So, back to the Grenal, which is in my opinion an underestimated derby. I was the first traveller of Homefans that visited the Grenal and it was clear to me that the locals weren’t used to receive tourists. People looked truly amazed when hearing someone speak English and everyone wanted to hear my story and offer me something. I felt like being a king in Porto Alegre.

The experience itself started in Porto Alegre many hours before kick-off. The pregame is at least as important for the Gaúchos, the inhabitants of the state of Rio Grande do Sul. The fans are having a barbecue and drinking lots of beer before entering the stadium. That is because in the south, beer is forbidden inside the stadium as well. And here I finally felt the intense rivalry that I missed elsewhere in Brazil. The police did everything they could to prevent that both groups of fans would mix and perhaps rightly so. Grêmio fans tried to intimidate Internacional all day long by singing chants that mocked the opponent. The atmosphere inside the Arena do Grêmio splendidly fulfilled my high expectations. The fans of Grêmio were undoubtedly the loudest of Brazil.

Salvador: the biggest distance

My last destination was Salvador, which is located in the north of Brazil. On the one hand, it would be the gate for me to visit the breath-taking Chapada Diamantina. On the other hand, Salvador was a good ending to my football trip. Bahia – Chapecoense was a nice dessert in a World Cup stadium. Vitoria – Brasil de Pelotas, my only Serie B match, was much more special. The atmosphere in an old-school  South American stadium, men and children who climbed on the fences, referees who needed protection of the police and about fifty away fans who travelled more than 3000 kilometres to attend this match. In short, a perfect finish for my football trip.

Local hosts Matheus and Fabio

I would like to say a few words about the local hosts I met thanks to Homefans. I consider Matheus as a friend for the rest of my life. We hit it off right away and he shared his passion for Flamengo with me. In addition, Matheus was helpfulness personified. Until my last day in Brazil, he helped me with translations into Portuguese and like I mentioned before, Matheus was the reason I could attend the semi-final of the Copa Libertadores. And until now, we have been in touch nearly every day since.

Fabio, for his part, is the personification of hospitality. Right from the day I arrived in Porto Alegre, I was always welcome at his place. I said before that he presented me a free ticket for Internacional – Paranaense, but it didn’t end there. He took a day off at his work to accompany me to the Arena do Grêmio, he introduced me to his group of friends and we went to several bars together. The following day, I was invited to a birthday party and I partied till dawn at the apartment of Gustavo, one of Fabio’s best friends. Honestly unbelievable how welcome he made me feel.

The added value of Homefans

Finally, I want to share something about my experiences with Homefans. Personally I see two unique assets no other football travel agency has to offer. Firstly, which was predominantly the reason why I chose Homefans, is the fact that Homefans is able to arrange tickets for the most coveted matches. I can tell you with absolute confidence that it would be impossible to attend the semi-final of the Copa Libertadores and the Grenal without the help of Homefans.

Secondly, what turned out to be the main selling point of Homefans, is that the organisation brings like-minded travellers together who share the same passion. I will always remember people like Mikołaj, Krzysztof, Pieter and Gerrit Jan and of course the local hosts and their friends. It is extraordinary to share those experiences with like-minded people. Flamengo and Grêmio will forever have a place in my heart, since the shared experiences were much more intense. Moreover, the local hosts show you the hidden gems of a city, which you would never discover as a single tourist.

And for all those who are interested in the Ultimate Brazil 2020 of Homefans, don’t let the negative image and the dominant thoughts about criminality in Brazil stop you from going. During my whole month in Brazil, I didn’t witness any worth mentioning incident. Just use your common sense and don’t forget to enjoy this amazing country.

Instagram: @inakidauwe

This is a guest blog written by our traveler Inaki. Have you traveled with us and would you also like to write a blog about your experience? Please contact us via [email protected]