As you're reading this, Joe Wennerlund is currently kicking it Veracruz, Mexico. At this particular moment, the 27-year-old Valley resident might be either sipping some cerveza, feasting on some tacos, or maybe just checking out the city.
However, he isn't just another gringo soaking up some south of the border fun and sun, wey. On the contrary, the local filmmaker has just completed the first part of a 10,000-mile journey that will take him all the way to Rio de Janeiro for next month's World Cup.
It's the trip of a lifetime for Wennerlund (a major soccer fan) that will take him through 16 different countries and ultimately deposit him in the midst of an absolute Mecca of fútbol along with hundreds of thousands of other footie fanatics from around the globe. Wennerlund is also filming his experiences along the way for a documentary entitled Caravan to the Cup that will encapsulate the journey.
The trip is more than a chance to travel, witness the world's best soccer players in action, and create a unique documentary, however. For Wennerlund, it's also a cathartic experience.
According to the Caravan to the Cup website, Wennerlund's journey to Brazil became a way of getting out of a personal rut of sorts.
"I have spent most of my life wondering and not witnessing," he states on the site. "People who know me can tell you business ideas I've had, places I've wanted to go, things I've wanted to do, and they could tell you the person I'd like to become. The problem is I talk too much and have nothing to show. Caravan to the Cup is my personal uprising."
Like many of his ideas, Wennerlund writes, taking a trip to see the World Cup in person was conjured up while drinking with friends, which in this case was in August 2012.
That might be the reason most of my ideas never get looked at twice, but I stick to the fact that alcohol and friends place all the stressful things in life aside as I open my thought process and let everything in and then out. "Let's go to the World Cup, guys!" I said, on that foggy August night in 2012. "Hell yeah!" As they slurred, sipped, and swayed to the idea that of all World Cups to go to, the one in Brazil had to be it. "And let's drive there!" I yelled, only to get another "hell yeah" from about half of them. I truly do appreciate having friends that support my crazy ideas.
Unlike Wennerlund's other alcohol-enabled inspirations, this one made it past the conception stage.
"I have spent most of my life wondering and not witnessing," Wennerlund wrote. "People who know me can tell you business ideas I've had, places I've wanted to go, things I've wanted to do, and they could tell you the person I'd like to become. The problem is I talk too much and have nothing to show. Caravan to the Cup is my personal uprising."
Like many of his ideas, Wennerlund writes, taking a trip to see the World Cup in person was conjured up while drinking with friends, which in this case was in 2012. But unlike his other alcohol-enabled inspirations, this one made it past the conception stage.
Wennerlund originally envisioned making a 10,000-mile excursion from Arizona to Brazil by car along with his longtime friend and fellow filmmaker Matthew McCloskey. They'd seek out crowdfunding for the project, use social media and hospitality exchange sites like Couchsurfing.org to find housing, and record their experiences on video along the way.
Meanwhile, they'd "do as the locals do and stay away from the typical tourist way to travel" and attempt to engage in meaningful tourism in a sense.
In the video accompanying Caravan to the Cup's Kickstarter, Wennerlund says that the project also has some loftier goals.
"We want to show the world that a trip like this is possible. I mean, we're traveling through 17 different countries, over 10,000 miles, and through a lot of countries that people are afraid to travel through," he says. "But we want to show the world that you know, something like this, can and is possible, if you just travel in a safe and smart way."
And while both Wennerlund and McCloskey began planning and raising money for their trip in earnest, there were a few unexpected bumps in the road.
Their Kickstarter attempt only raised a mere $850 of the $10,000 needed. Then, McCloskey reluctantly had to bow out because he landed a job after being unemployed for a spell.
"Long story short, Matt finally found work and started making money, but with the opportunities available to him, leaving it all for a crazy drive to Brazil was no longer an option," Wennerlund stated on the Caravan's website. "I don't blame him, I am in the opposite situation. I have a job with no future opportunities I'd like to partake in, I have money saved, and I am ready to quit [my job]."
Wennerlund decided to go it alone, opting to take busses and other transportation all the way to Rio. Thankfully, fate interceded. A fellow soccer fan from New York named Carlos, who was buying an RV to drive to Brazil on a similar journey to the World Cup with two other friends, offered to pick him up in Veracruz.
"That's all I [needed] to know," Wennerlund states.
He quit his job, packed up a couple of bags, and left Phoenix on May 12. His father took him to Nogales, where Wennerlund left on a bus to Hermosillo, Mexico. And while leaving his homeland, as the filmmaker stated in a blog covering his first week on the road, he got a bit emotional.
"As the bus crossed the border, I had an extreme feeling of accomplishment but I also felt nervous," Wennerlund writes. "I'm a tall white guy with a red beard (depending on the light), I was carrying a lot of stuff, my Spanish was horrible (it's getting better), but knowing that there is no turning back, knowing that I am traveling 10,000 miles to Brazil, knowing that if I backed out and didn't do this trip, I would regret it for my entire life, that all made it better."
So far, Wennerlund has traveled more than 1,700 miles, reunited with a longtime friend in Hermosillo, downed plenty of food and spirits (such as tortas ahogadas and mescal in Guadalajara), spent time in out-of-the-way dives that most tourists miss, partaken in some rather magnificent-looking sites. (You can follow his travels via the Caravan to the Cup's Facebook and Instagram.)
He's also interacted with a few memorable characters and fellow soccer aficionados along the way, like a lad from the U.K. named Colin who took him to a hole in the wall bar in Guadalajara called The Rusty Trombone.
Hidden to where there are no signs for the bar and the door has a slot for when you knock, the bouncer opens it as if he needs a password to let you in. We both immediately thought, "hell yeah!" and then right after we thought, "what if it's a gay orgy bar?" Because we were both aware of the sexual connotation it has, but also aware rusty trombones aren't just associated with homosexuals or orgies. So off we went.
After about an hour of walking around, asking around, getting lost, we finally found it. It was just like it was described to us. Nestled between 2 homes in a neighborhood I walked up to the door only to ask, "este es Rusty Trombone?" and the door opened for us. That must have been the password. It was a dark and classy joint, local people were dancing and talking. It was great!
And according to his blog, Wennerlund has gotten to have plenty of conversations about soccer and also getting into some travel misadventures.
As I was eating my 6 tacos, Mike from Switzerland and his local friend, Carlos walk up after returning from the club. We talked futbol mainly, from Chicharito being a shitty player and Guadalajarians having no idea why Man Utd signed him, to the World Cup and who we thought would win. Between the 3 of us we made a bet. We each picked 2 teams that would win the World Cup and the 2 losers have to mail out a local beer from their city to the winner. Mike picked Germany and Belgium, Carlos picked Arentina and Colombia, and I picked the USA and Uruguay. I love the bet because even if I lose I don't mind sending the winner a couple local beers, Phoenix has amazing beer!
We were talking for a few hours until we realized it was 5am and should go to bed, only to find out that the hostel was locked and the 1 person running the desk fell asleep and wasn't answering when we rang the bell. We ended up sleeping on the picnic tables out front.
Suffice it to say, Wennerlund's experiences should make for an interesting documentary once he returns to Arizona.
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