Our bus departed the hotel at 5pm, which everyone thought was a little early as the Opening Ceremonies weren't scheduled to start until 8pm, but there was a rumour going around that they were going to feed us beforehand; deception always digests easier in those who want to believe it.
The full bus took us directly to the muster point a short distance from the stadium where we were to march in. This was the first sign of trouble as some of the rumour spreaders mentioned a potential stop at another destination where we would eat. More buses showed up as time passed and after about an hour the area was full of athletes, coaches, other support staff, and volunteers. Flats of water bottles were being circulated and shortly after that, apples and juice. At only 90 minutes prior to the scheduled beginning, this was our second sign that this would be the only sustenance we would receive before marching in.
With this knowledge in hand I defeatedly took and apple and a bottle of fruit punch (even my initial assumption we would receive juice was mistaken) and tried to enjoy them. About an hour before we were scheduled to march in, the volunteers began to mobilize us, separating us alphabetically by country and lining us up 3 abreast in preparation for our entrance. As we exited the segregated muster area, we were greeted by police officers and walls of civilians cheering loudly as each country marched out. It was clear that the passions of the athletes competing in these games would more than be equalled by the passions of the local spectators. Too late I realized it would have been an excellent opportunity to hand out some small tokens of our country or sport to these enamoured fans but alas we had none. Luckily for them, the roller hockey team had been equipped with wrist bands which they joyously shot into the crowd as we passed and, much to the spectators' delight, even ran across the barricaded street to get a few photos.
As we approached the stadium entrance, Jen and I also took the opportunity to get a photo with the riot police, who wore much heavier protective gear which made them look almost robotic. As we passed them and Jen referred to them as "robocops" I realized the moniker was an apt fit.
Our entrance onto the stadium floor was quite similar to the format of the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara, where each country entered alphabetically after the other, with a brief space in between to allow for appropriate individual fan appreciation. As we walked out I was again overwhelmed by the sense of joy and passion of the local community. It was apparent on all the faces I saw as I walked the track that they were extremely happy to host us, and extremely proud of their country's work on securing these games. It was heartwarming, and I found the smiles on these faces contagious as I was unable to stop myself from smiling back, holding the gazes of and waving to as many in the crowd as I could.
After one lap we were seated and we were in the unlucky minority that were seated at the back of the lower level. This meant our view of the top of the stadium (and above - where the fireworks would go off) was completely obstructed. The silver lining was being right near the corridor at the back of the section, which meant we could duck out to the bathroom or simply to walk around if we liked. This became a blessing when about halfway through the ceremonies the hunger pangs Jen and I had been fighting for the last several hours became too much to bear and we ducked out to find food. With our options limited (being in a stadium), we unfortunately had to settle for something less than healthy and I won't go into details about that.
The entertainment was actually quite enjoyable, although we were also in the unenviable position of being seated at the side of the field so much of the performance was extremely difficult to see. A description would not do the performances justice, there were several dance numbers which included fire, acrobatics, and a live brass band! The fireworks topped the night off and while it was thoroughly enjoyable, by the end all we were craving was sleep.
In the anarchy that followed the conclusion of the fireworks, we were gradually sifted, organized and guided by helpful volunteers towards areas where our respective buses would pass. They finally took this opportunity to offer us some "real" food - which consisted of an extremely dry sandwich, another apple, and small bottles of pepsi. While this was far from anything substantial, after several hours of nothing but processed crap from a stadium vendor, it was a godsend. As one might expect though, with all those people there were of course not enough buses for everyone to leave immediately and the mob mentality surfaced, ensuring the loudest and rudest an immediate ride and the rest of us were left waiting for subsequent transportation. We did eventually find another bus with our route and were able to finally relax after boarding. After arriving back at the hotel my only desire was sleep but it had been almost 2 days since my last post so I was able to summon enough guilt and willpower to throw up a quick post before going to bed.
Jen and I both play our first matches later this afternoon! I will update with results tonight.