It was finally time to leave the cold comforts of the Southern region of Brazil on my fifth day in the country. With most of my matches up in the North-Eastern coastal host-cities coming up, we needed to take a flight to Salvador, from where we would then bus around the region.
One realises the vastly different climes immediately upon exiting onto the aerobridge. More than the flight-map, it’s this surround of warm humid air that verifies the proximity to the equator of the region. Flying into this city of Salvador, that was from the beginning of colonialism in Brazil for a couple of centuries the primary capital, I could catch the Arena Fonte Nova with its lights on in the night sky even as the plane encircled down the famously large All Saints Bay before touching down into Salvador.
With Salvador being the oldest ‘City’ in Brazil, the famous old city area known as ‘Pelourinho’ has been restored to its old iconic colonial glory. In fact the entire area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, mostly closed to vehicular traffic, with steep coble-stoned streets, and colourful old hill-side mansions side-by-side. Even more colourful flags and art hang over the street. Strikingly, all houses are in different bright colours, which gives the entire locality a feel experienced nowhere else.
While the Pelourinho offers to be the tourist, historical, and cultural hub of Salvador, Salvador itself, with a port area just behind Pelourinho, is supposedly not a very prosperous city. So wanting to be careful late night on our arrival, we got ourselves driven to the accommodation. Then immediately upon entering the Pelourinho area, part of which was being cordoned off in preparation of the Portugal-Germany game the next day, we knew were in a place completely different to anywhere he had been or could be going.
Next day on the agenda in different Salvador was to witness my favourite team Germany’s opening match against Portugal at the FanFest. Now the interesting thing about the Salvador FanFest had been, that FIFA were negotiating until the last minute to arrange a FanFest with the local authorities, and also to find a suitable location. The initial point which I had mapped down before I set off from India had been replaced by the idyllically scenic Barra Lighthouse and the grounds surrounding it. So post breakfast we boarded the bus heading down-hill Salvador to the Lighthouse, running a special frequency for the FanFest.
Lighthouses are normally located where the land juts out into the sea, and this most picturesque southern-most tip of the Salvador city peninsula was where the clear waters of the All Saints Bay on one side met the Atlantic on the other. If it was any other team’s game apart from Germany, I surely would have had a difficulty keeping an eye on the World Cup match rather than the Lighthouse with its seas and scenery surrounding it on that beautiful sunny day. It also seemed the local authorities in their bargaining had managed to wrest some leeway from FIFA suits, for I saw laxer security, but also cheaper official foods, sale of unofficial street-food, along with locals peddling souvenirs and trinkets, none of which happened much at other official FanFests.
Salvador, in the state of Bahia was where the slaves from Africa disembarked. Resultantly, the biggest population of African or African origin people outside Africa is apparently in Salvador. I don’t know how much that had to do with the prevalent support for the Germans by most of the locals in the crowd, against the Portuguese. Or maybe it was just because the Germans were perceived to be playing, and did play some good football on the day. I was just glad for the added company of several thousands leisurely enjoying the game and cheering as the goals went in.
Following the game back in the Pelourinho, it was a complete colourful party. Virtually the entire Fonte Nova crowd with its hoards of Germans descended into the central square for a gala time that extended way into the night. The Germans, notorious for the beer-drinking exploits, were refusing to stop taking in the local brew, while the beer sellers must’ve definitely broken all their sales records. So much beer was flowing that the prices went from 1 can for 4 Reals, down to 3 cans for 5 Reals!
Accompanying this were the local street-food delicacies of Acaraje and Churrasco being served up fresh by the big-sized local women all decked up in their iconic and stand-out Bahian attire. Conversations with fellow fans were being initiated about Germany’s emphatic performance combined with Portugal’s self-destruction, as we would queue up in one of these lines for the hot snacks. And all the while, there was the traditional Bahian rhythm drumming through the entire Pelourinho like an ever-present background music, which made not thumping the feet an impossibility even while standing.
The party was just beginning for all the fans there in colourful, unique, historical, and truly different Salvador. The German fans would be hopeful of many more parties ahead in the tournament, wishing their team progressing deep into the tournament, but would be hard-pressed to find a better locale.Published 20 Jun 2014, 17:36 IST