After 3 weeks with one of my best buddies I was back on the solo travel, a 10 hour night bus from Recife and I landed in Salvador, ‘The Saviour’. Due to the Recife sunburn, I was unable to carry my rucksack on my bag. Struggling through the humidity of Salvador, I was sweating and cursing the fact I didn’t research the location of my hostel. It’s these moments where you question what you’re doing with your life, and how much easier things would be watching from the comfort of your own sofa back in sunny Manchester.
After an arduous search, I finally arrived at the hostel and was greeted by the owner. ‘Is this Hostel Larangeiras?’
‘Sim. Make sure you don’t take out your phone, camera or anything more than the cash you need, you WILL get pickpocketed in large crowds.’
I had been warned already by a friend who had been here, but presumed he was just drunk and careless. However, it seemed it was a real risk. I bumped into a couple of blokes and agreed to watch the next match with them, but the pain of the sunburn in the shower meant I couldn’t go anywhere other than stand up against a cold wall, again just wishing I was back at home.
Eventually, I made it out after a little nap and wandered down the cobbled streets of Pelourinho. A truly beautiful little town, something I had completely failed to take in earlier when in a less than enthusiastic mood. Vibrant, colourful buildings everywhere, drum beats on every corner. I’d honestly never seen anywhere so vibrant. It was no wonder that in the queue to get into the big screen area there was no one stood still. Whereas any teenage boy dancing in the street back in England would typically be mocked by their friends, here was the opposite, everybody bouncing from side to side as the crowds filled up on the famous hill.
Prior to the match I found a decent little spot and then realised I was literally the only white person around. Given the earlier advice, I felt like I may stand out as a tourist and felt a little uneasy despite the relatively calm atmosphere and the heavy armed police presence. As soon as I saw two other white guys I went over for a chat and was soon telling my new Canadian friends how amazing it will be to listen to the Brazilian national anthem in such a local environment. I was very surprised then to hear that the locals didn’t seem at all enthused by the anthem and barely anyone sang.
‘Ah, sorry guys, I guess this part of the country isn’t so enamoured with Brazil.’
I later found out that Salvador, despite being the original capital of Brazil, was now the place of some of the lowest literacy rates in the country, and the locals were often the victims of racism and police brutality – so there was some logic to them not feeling too crazy about supporting the national team.
Brazil went on to beat Colombia 2-0 with the most crucial moment being the nasty challenge which led to an injury to Neymar. In a very surreal atmosphere, as soon as the match finished the music started and immediately the place sparked into life, it was almost as if the football had been an interruption to their party and normal service was resumed.
On our way back to grab some food, it finally happened. I felt a quick grab to my back pocket which was thankfully buttoned. A quick turnaround in the crowd and I had no idea who it was so just carried on. That was close, but with admirable persistence they tried again, another grab, another fail. Now with every step I held my pocket and did a full 180 with my head. I eventually got to the restaurant with my £12 still intact. Another high octane experience came to a happy end.
The next day was Costa Rica vs the Netherlands. Still with an extra ticket, I made my way to the ground where I found a nice bar and joined a lovely English group for some pre-match beers. Keeping an eye out for who wanted a ticket, I luckily found a guy who knew a guy who wanted one, and that was good enough for me. Entering into the impressive Itaipava Arena – another newly constructed for the World Cup – I wandered around, happened upon the BBC section, had a bit of craic with Danny Murphy for my sins, and went off to find my seat.
After two weeks of enjoying the whole vibe at the World Cup, I still felt a little on the outside due to the absence of England, but this game was quite inspiring. As I sat down, an ecstatic man from Costa Rica appeared holding a ticket with my name on it. It was this moment that it really dawned on me that a country of less than 5 million people, in only their 4th World Cup, were now experiencing the greatest moment in their footballing history, having never reached this stage of the competition before. It really was a pleasure to spend it with the guy. Throughout I was imagining how amazing it would be to watch an England game at this stage, and add to that the fact they never expected it, coming into the tournament dubbed as the whipping boys in the group of death.
As was befitting with my World Cup, the game was a rather uneventful 0-0, which then went to penalties. A game most famous for the late introduction of Tim Krul in the Netherlands net for the shootout, which was inevitably justified as Costa Rica’s dream finally ended. However, still a great moment to see the connection between the fans and the players, the immense feeling of pride, the satisfaction of going much further than they ever imagined. This is what it’s all about, an experience that will live with these guys forever.
Back at the hostel I was again looking for someone to go out with to experience the vibrant atmosphere of Pelourinho.
‘Alright mate, how’s it going?’
‘Good pal, ahhhh you’re English.’
‘Fancy a beer?’
The simple but beautiful conversation that always ends in a good night. We wandered the lively streets, chatting with various groups as they came and went, a street seller with a fridge full of beer never more than 5 metres away – what more could two Brits want. We ended up making great friends with a couple of locals and spending the night drifting from bar to bar. As the night came to a close, the sun was setting on my time in Salvador and by morning I was back at the airport for my flight back to Sao Paulo for the semi-final.