It was a Sunday in June that I got a call from Jez telling me to pack a bag and be ready within 48 hours to board a plane to Brazil. Needless to say it was a shock.
It took a while for me to fully embrace what was happening, in fact, it took the entirety of my journey. Even after walking in to Stansted airport, a 10 hour flight to Sao Paulo, an 8 hour layover in the airport, a 3 hour connecting flight to Teresina and then a cab to the hotel, I was sat in the lobby still a ball of nerves. I had no idea that within minutes I’d be embarking on one of the most incredible journeys I’d ever been a part of.
A Nissan 4×4 screeched up outside the hotel and I was greeted by some familiar faces, Will and Colin from Wing as well as a freelance producer called Roberta who I’d not met before. From this point on, everything was so hurried and fast. A quick hello, a handshake and we were away. I had no time to think about nerves, or how tired I was from the journey. I was ready to go and wouldn’t really stop for 24 days.
After just 5 minutes in the car, I had hopped out with Will and we were sprinting down the road after the convoy in 30 degree heat. The atmosphere was a mixture of tension and excitement. Cyclists and runners ran alongside the convoy and as (most of) the spectators lined up along the road cheering, Will and I burned past the back end of the convoy. Then, just ahead I could see the Olympic flame and got my first look at the place I would call home for most of my time in Brazil: Media 1.
Media 1 was a modified van with an open back, designed to capture the Relay from directly in front of the torch. It was truly the best seat in the house for the spectacle and that seat was mine. Within 15 minutes I had been briefed by Owen at Wing, sat down, and all too quickly taken the reins.
That night would prepare me for what I would encounter in Brazil, headed up by the protesting. As we reached the outskirts of the city and the sun started setting, the spectators began to take a bit of a turn. The boos that had been effectively drowned out earlier were more clear, the shouts of “fora temer” were audible and the police numbers had doubled. It wasn’t long before things had got a bit hairy and action was taken, the wind carried pepper spray and tear gas through the open back of Media 1. Lesson 1: breath through your nose (the first time I learnt that the hard way). The tension was high for the next few hours as we finished off the last remaining torchbearers of the day, and it wasn’t until the shutters on the back of Media 1 had closed that I remember taking my first full breath. Luckily, my nerves had transitioned to adrenaline which I’d need to help me stay awake until 2 am, ready for my 4 am wake-up, the flying leg of the Relay beckoned.
Until this point in the Relay, the convoy had to drive between locations. Each day would go as follows; the team would wake up, drive to the first city, complete filming the necessary torchbearers and then foot on the gas to the next place on the list. I had joined on the last day of the initial driving leg, so everything now would change for 20 days. The team would wake up earlier (usually between 5am and 6am), travel to the airport, fly to a new location where MOST of the convoy vehicles would be waiting ready to go. Media 1 however, would take the form of various different flatbed trucks. We would build a frame onto the flatbed, fix an FS7 on a tripod and a makeshift DIT station to the vehicle using mostly tape, cable ties and bungee cords, power them using a (very loud) petrol generator and pray for no rain. Because as Jez very aptly stated before I left “when it rains in Brazil, it really rains”.
It’s hard to summarise the weeks that followed, Brazil is bigger than I could comprehend. Every city had different people, different weather and different terrain. The one constant was the team I worked with, everyone was tired and as a result everyone had to simultaneously suck it up but everyone did so without ever breaking a smile. There was no time to be tired or sick. It’s amazing looking back at the level of energy the whole convoy brought in to each city. Maybe it was the power of the Relay… maybe it was the amount of Coca-Cola that we went through on any given day but it was nothing short of incredible.
The stories that were told in the daily videos were incredible; from celebrities and marriage proposals to Brazilian aborigines and even a retired clown. The people involved were amazing, and not just the elected torchbearers. A number of people working for Wing and other people involved in the Relay were lucky enough to run, an appropriate reward for the blood, sweat and tears that they put in. Though I wasn’t able to run with the torch, my time in Brazil wasn’t without its highlights. Manning a camera in a canoe in the rivers in Macapa, an impromptu night out in Argentina, conquering Brazilian rain in the not so waterproof Media 1 and watching the friends I’d made running with the torch from the best view in the house to name a few.
Amongst all the excitement and chaos I had blinked and there I was, my last day in Brazil had come. Iguazu through pure chance would be my final location, home of one of the natural wonders of the world, Iguazu falls. I spent the afternoon walking through the national park alone, taking in as much as possible before I had to leave. I’d had the opportunity of a lifetime, to see one of the most amazing countries in a way very few people ever will. I was suddenly very aware of just how lucky I was, I had fallen in love with Brazil the last 24 days and I’d never forget the amazing times I’d had. As I watched the water tumble over the edge of the massive cliffs, the memories of lying in bed at home that Sunday came flooding back. All the nerves, the uncertainty seemed so unnecessary, the Torch Relay would go on for another month after I would leave, and I was truly devastated that I wouldn’t get to be a part of it. That being said, nobody can take that time away from me, it was the best experience I’ve ever had and I’ll never be part of anything quite like it again and only a handful of people ever will. All I can do is hold my breath and hope I’m part of the next Torch Relay, but it may have to settle for silver as Brazil will always take the gold.