First things first, I’m a student journalist. I’m one of 50-ish Ball State University students with enough guts and student-loan money to go to Rio to cover the 2016 Olympic Games.
In our time in Rio (14 whole days), we’ve had a few bumps in the road, including but not limited to 19 of us being stranded in Miami for 30 hours. We’re certifiably capable of going with the flow.
Traveling to Olympic Park from our hostel was a different story, though — after getting tickets for two-murmur-murmur dollars.
Armed with a metro card and bus card, two travel buddies and I commenced the trek. One metro ride, a line transfer and a sketchy security check later, we placed our bus card on the machine reader to board our next leg. I was let through, but my other two travel buddies were out of luck.
We had to hurdle the language barrier with exaggerated facial expressions and pointing, telling the attendants that the other two cards wouldn’t work. I passed my card over the barrier so they could use it for admission, but it didn’t work.
More pointing and facial expressions told us we had to wait two minutes to re-use a card for admission. So, four minutes later, we were finally through.
The final leg of the transportation journey was getting on the BRT, Rio’s public bus system. Finding a seat was akin to pillaging a small village or shopping on Black Friday. We got seats, no survivors.
Here’s the fun part: Once we hit pavement, there was roughly a half-mile walk on a wide berth of asphalt where all hot-and-sweaty, frustrated foreigners longed for the security entrance. It felt a lot like being one of the zombies in a Walking Dead herd.
Just a note on security, I’m really sick of having to chug my water to be allowed into a place. One of the travel buddies and I guzzled 48 ounces of filtered water, passing the bottle while we passed each other in the hamster line. It was awful.
Olympic Park is in its own little universe. Everything has a custom everyone but us seemed to know. Buying food involved multiple stations and tickets, things could only be purchased by cash or VISA, and we were ushered through a lot of weird hamster-cage lines.
Probably the most dramatic misstep of the day was a food issue. If there’s one thing we can’t deal with, it’s when someone screws up the food. My travel buddy, Casey Smith, ordered a veggie burger and got a double cheeseburger, which is a problem because Casey hates cheese (I guess she’s an alien).
I was already mid-bite into my chicken sandwich when I asked Casey, “Wanna swap?” So she took my chicken sandwich, and I got the double cheeseburger, clearly winning the swap.
The rest of the trip there can be summed up in getting judged by a German family for cheering loudly at swimming prelims (it was a lifelong dream, OK, I’ll cheer if I please, judge-y spectators) and having a small but significant panic attack trying to distinguish Olympic Arena from Arena 2.
Spoiler alert: Olympic Park is a theme park without the rides. It’s hot as hell; there is no shade, and everything is confusing and overpriced. You find yourself wondering why you spent so much money and effort for this.
Until I saw Michael Phelps win his 20th gold medal. Then it was worth it.
Laura Arwood is a Ball State University student and writer for Ball State at the Games, a group of 50 journalism students traveling from Muncie, Indiana, to Rio for the Olympic Games. Follow them at bsuatthegames.com, @bsuatthegames on Twitter and Instagram, and facebook.com/bsuatthegames on Facebook.