Brazil is a country with a population suffering from poverty and just begging for social and political change. Of all the countries to be hosting the world’s largest football event, this was the one that was chosen.
For my first trip out of the United States, family and friends have never been more worried. They all asked the same question, “why Brazil? why can’t you go somewhere close?”
I had all but one answer.
It’s the World Cup.
People read in the news about the protests, deaths and the underlying feeling that some violent breakout was going to happen. Luckily for me and my traveling companion, Gabe Bicker, none of the sort happened – well for the most part. I was reading in the news for months, checking the situation over there and when it kept getting closer and closer, my nerves were heightened.
I was just getting anxious. The night before we set off I couldn’t get much sleep. It wasn’t because I was nervous, but that I was going to the soccer capital of the world, where it is not a game it is a religion, to watch the World Cup.
With our backpacks filled to the brim, we boarded the plane. After the 12-hour flight, we still had some more traveling to do, a six-and-a-half hour layover and off to Salvador, where we were staying.
When talking to the only person who spoke English in our first hostel, he told us that we were the first Americans to ever stay there. I thought that was very cool and hoped that we gave a good impression. In Salvador, the streets themselves screamed excitement, passion and love for the game. Walking around, you saw tiny shops set up selling everything and anything Brazil and soccer related. People juggled soccer balls everywhere and groups of children were blowing horns and playing drums.
You couldn’t help but get chills and that rush through your veins. The streets were flooded with the smell of all different types of Brazilian foods from Pasties to Moqueca de camarao. You take a deep breath in through your nose and you are full just from the smells. Bicker, my buddy, really enjoyed “the diversity and quality of easy-to-access restaurants along the cobblestone streets.” Everywhere you turned on a street there was a place to eat.
At every restaurant on the street there were tables and chairs set up so you could watch every game. People from all over were out, eating on the streets together, all watching the games. I have never seen a sport bring so many different people together at once. They feel the same love for this game that I have.
Days of the matches were wild! You would wake up and hear horns being blown, firecrackers being shot off and music so loud you could hear it from five blocks away.
The square of Pelourinho in Salvador was major attraction for fans to meet up before the matches, in part because it’s only a 10-minute walk to the stadium. We were lucky enough to stay for a week in that area. As early as 10 a.m., people would be in the square preparing for the days festivities. The two countries playing that day in Arena Fonte Nova would have their flags strung about the square. Their colors flowed through the streets like a river ripping through its path.
If you weren’t wearing the colors of the team, strangers were more than happy to put face paint on you, even if you weren’t rooting for them. Bees and people were the same that day, buzzing around the tents that served the Caipirinhas and cerveja (beer).
The march for the United States team was led by no other than Teddy Goalsevelt, a rabid fan dressed to mirror the former president. He was the icon for the fans in Brazil. We were lucky enough to talk with him for quite some time and he was just as excited about the games as we were. He didn’t even think about the army he was leading, just loved the fact that he was following the U.S. marching to a stadium.
For a match, everyone enters together. You march together. You might as well be a team. Everyone walks and screams their nation’s song in unison. Half the time I didn’t even know what they were saying, so I just yelled in hopes that I would blend in, but the people around us just liked the fact that I gave it a go. Loud noises were key.
After the games was a different story. People were either riding the high of their team’s victory or feeling the woes of a loss. Regardless they drank. The small restaurants were overwhelmed with all the people asking for a cardapio. After the France vs. Switzerland game, we found a small place to sit and have a few drinks with some friends we met. Within minutes half of the place was red and the other blue. The France-Switzerland rematch was upon us. Drunken chants were being yelled from across a 40-foot cobblestone road. We just sat back, bought a couple more beers and enjoyed the show.
Once we were finished, our walk back to the square would not be empty-handed. Vendors on the streets want you to spend money – so we would, on more beer. It was rare to see someone with an empty hand. They either had a drink, a girl, food or some gift they were buying for someone. But mostly it was a drink.
Gabe was a big fan of the Caipirinha.
“it’s the drink of Brazil. I feel like I’m insulting them if I don’t drink it,” he said.
It was all rum and some lime juice for $3. You can’t not love it.
The thing that both of us won’t ever forget is when we approached the stadium for the first time. You would get almost a little nervous, like you are so excited that you were almost afraid. Waiting in line to go get our tickets scanned, people of all sorts were taking selfies, pictures of the stadium, the woman wearing the bright orange feathered hat and orange bikini or even just getting a shot of the enormous crowd funneling in through the tiny gate entrances. But after you got through security and first walked into that stadium, stepped out from underneath the stands and just looked around, it took your breath away. It was just pure amazement. The national colors just scattered throughout, as if some artist closed his eyes took his brush and flicked it in every which direction.
It was unbelievable. Once Gabe and I finally reached our seats, our view was perfect. The entire stadium was in our sights and as the very first whistle blew we were on the edge of our seats and ready for the trip of a lifetime.