Maybe I left Brazil too soon. I was wearing the same Brazil shirt that I had worn while watching their previous two knockout round matches. This time, though, I was back in the US watching the Brazil-Germany game from a bar in New York City, having just arrived earlier that morning after we flew out of Brazil the previous night. That’s why they were demolished by the mighty Germans in the semis – they were missing their good luck charm!
But seriously, I know better than to take credit for their performances. In fact, it seems almost fitting that the end of the Seleção’s World Cup run coincided with the end of my own World Cup venture in Brazil. As I sit here now a few days later reflecting on my trip and my experiences there, I’m still in awe of the opportunity I just had. I got the opportunity to see what it really means for soccer to be a religion. I got to be part of the World Cup festivities. I got to travel to Brazil and see the sites, and to experience the culture and food. And of course, I went to a World Cup stadium to take in a match live.
I experienced other facets of the World Cup experience in Brazil, too. Here are several others I want to share with you:
Millions of people from around the world traveled to Brazil for the World Cup, and many flew in just for the experience of being there without match tickets. When fans didn’t have tickets to the match, they gathered at the FIFA Fan Fests set up in the host cities.
I went to the Fan Fest in Rio de Janeiro, set up on the Copacabana beach, to watch a couple of games where it was packed with thousands of fans all watching on the big screen. Fans were adorned in the shirts and flags of their favored nations, even if they weren’t involved in the games taking place that day. It was definitely crazy and certainly provided a festive atmosphere. As most of the crowd were neutrals, though, it wasn’t necessarily the loudest atmosphere if you wanted to be among your own fans.
The Fan Fest space in Salvador was actually much smaller than in Rio as they took over the area next to the Barra Lighthouse. I went to the post-match party after Brazil defeated Colombia and it was a madhouse – absolutely packed and we had to slog through just to make our way to the main stage. A Brazilian singer was performing and everyone was in a party mood, dancing the night away.
The Other Side of Brazil
For the past few weeks, just about all the coverage on Brazil has focused on soccer. And how could it not? However, while soccer may be a religion down there, there is so much more to the country than just the Beautiful Game.
I had previously posted about some of the street art in the Santa Teresa area that criticized Brazil’s hosting of the World Cup at the expense of the real needs of the people. In Salvador, I went on a walking tour of the city that focused on the non-touristy areas outside of Pelourinho – an effort to show the real Salvador and the real Brazil that most people don’t get to see. It was striking to see the sorry state of so many of the homes and shops and commercial buildings. Whole buildings had been simply abandoned and left to rot. So many of those buildings could be restored and converted to housing to relieve the homeless issue in the city, but instead they just sit there unused and wasting space.
The people we encountered were much poorer and could’ve cared less about soccer and whether Brazil won the World Cup or not. This was just a small sample, but I could see why many Brazilians were protesting and calling the World Cup a waste of money. If even a fraction of the money spent on the World Cup had instead been spent in restoring some of those abandoned buildings, this part of Salvador would look so much better and be so much more habitable, and the people would really benefit.
I found most of the Brazilian people to be very friendly and always willing to help us out or point us in the right direction, even when we had problems communicating due to our non-existent Portuguese language skills. They supported their national team with such a passion and many wore yellow jerseys whether Brazil was playing that day or not.
I’ll remember the crowd at the Botequim Informal who made me part of their post-match celebrations. I’ll remember the bartender behind bar at the place where we watched the Brazil vs. Colombia match, jumping up and down in excitement and yelling “Yeah Brazil!” every few minutes, and the ecstasy he displayed when Brazil won. I’ll remember the various chants that still echo through my head: “A Julio Cesar!” and “Ole! Ole, ole, ole! Ticos, Ticos!” I’ll remember the fellow soccer fans who came in from all over the globe to share in the passion for the World Cup and the game of soccer.
For many soccer fans, being at a World Cup would be a dream come true – and ultimately nothing more than a pipe dream given the costs and logistics. That’s perfectly understandable as we all have different obligations and circumstances in life. But if you get the opportunity and you have the means, I highly recommend that you go at least once. It only happens every four years and it really is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. To be part of the world’s biggest soccer festival among thousands of fellow soccer fans who share the passion for the beautiful game is something that is hard to describe in words and just has to be felt. It really is something.
I’m sure that I’m going to faint of shock after seeing my credit card bill next month but here’s the thing, it will be worth it. To be in Brazil for the World Cup was a dream come true and an amazing experience. I may be lighter in the wallet now, but I am so glad I went as I have these stories and memories that I will cherish for a lifetime.
Editor’s note: Travels In Brazil is a series of articles written by Jameson Lam, who was in Brazil for the tournament, where he tried to capture the mood, atmosphere and spirit of the World Cup, to share it with the readers of World Soccer Talk. Read the other articles in the Travels In Brazil series.