We love it when our fellow Explorateurs report from the field! Here's reader Ross Hull's take on his experience at the World Cup. Who are YOU rooting for? And thanks Ross!
I traveled to Salvador da Bahia, Brazil's third most populous city and center of its Afro-Caribbean heritage, two weeks ago to see the World Cup in person. Being a... meticulous planner, I procured two tickets to see teams F2 v. F3 in Salvador's recently-renovated Arena Fonte Nova - a beautiful structure only one half mile from the city's stunning Pelourinho neighborhood in November of 2013.
After the lottery balls fell (maybe with some help for certain teams (cough... cough - Argentina and Brazil) according to some), it turned out that F2 and F3 were Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iran, respectively. Not soccer powerhouses per se, but... I was scheduled to see the World Cup in person... in Brazil.
I arrived in Brazil with little trepidation regarding the social unrest being advertised on the major media outlets. I'd been to Brazil for Carnival previously and felt confident in the security surrounding the event. Brazil has too much at stake - especially with Rio de Janeiro, and a few other select Brazilian cities, hosting 2016's Summer Olympics. My confidence was supported once I touched down. From the airports (São Paulo's Guarulhos to Salvador's Deputado Luís Eduardo Magalhães) to the streets of Salvador's neighborhoods, everything was well signed, well organized, and well secured on the ground. The crowd for the game I attended was certainly manageable because of the teams involved, but the experience was still electric, yet courteous and safe. As for the game, it was a better than expected contest with Bosnia-Herzegovina defeating Iran 3-1 - the country's first ever World Cup victory. How awesome for the citizens of a small war-torn country... and myself.
As for Brazil's team, I unfortunately didn't get to attend one of their matches during my trip. However, my good friend Tony and I did watch the entertaining Chile v. Brazil match at a bar in the gritty Rio Vermelho neighborhood. The crowd of approximately fifty fans went crazy after every home goal and when Brazil won the match 3-2 - only after Chile's last penalty kick hit the goalpost - the whole neighborhood went wild. As an American I've never seen anything like it. During the match and for several hours afterwards, the entire neighborhood, and I'm assuming the entire city, shut down. Besides for bars with large-screen televisions, it seemed like all shops closed and all traffic stopped.
It was only my first World Cup, but I highly recommend you experience the World Cup the next time it comes to a soccer-crazed nation like Brazil. Cheers to the World Cup, FIFA (generally), Brazil, and all of the wonderful Brasileiros I met. Muito Obrigado!
PHOTO CREDIT: Sunset over Baía de Todos os Santos from Salvador's Santo Antonio neighborhood - Photo taken by Ross M. Hull