World Cup journey to Natal and Salvador: On the beach at São Miguel do Gostoso … Familiar stars … Mexico v. Cameroon … Baía de Todos os Santos … Germany v. Portugal … Ferry across the bay … Brazil v. Mexico … Sunset
Ever since I moved to Chile I'd been planning to go to Brazil for the world cup in 2014. To see a world cup game was a lifelong dream. Ticket sale was via a lottery, and I entered the draw requesting the maximum seven tickets. There was a pretty good chance of getting none, but I got three, for games in Natal, Belo Horizonte and Salvador. I'd planned my request badly, though, and there was no way I'd be able to get from Natal to Belo Horizonte for the second game, so I just went to Natal and Salvador.
I flew from Santiago to São Paulo. As the plane touched down, all the Chileans on board gave a huge cheer and a good loud "Chi-chi-chi! Le-le-le!" In the arrivals hall, a flight from Bogota had just landed, and Colombian and Chilean flags and colours were everywhere. I flew on to Natal, and then made my way to São Miguel do Gostoso, an hour or so north; all the accommodation in Natal had been booked up.
I'd left behind cold wintery weather in Santiago, but here I was not far from the equator and it was incredibly hot. I spent a couple of days chilling out in the tropical heat on the beach.
São Miguel do Gostoso is not far south of the equator, and when the night sky was clear I could see a lot of stars that I don't see from Chile. It seemed strange to me to see the Plough to the north, familiar from my native mid-northern latitudes, and at the same time in the same sky see the Southern Cross to the south.
There's not much transport between São Miguel do Gostoso and Natal. I was going to get the only bus of the day at 6am, but then luckily I met a friendly local who was also going to the game and was driving. He kindly offered me a lift, and we left at a civilized 9.30am and headed south.
It had been beautiful and hot and sunny for the last two days, but today it was grey and overcast, and soon it started raining. It got heavier and heavier, and by the time we reached Natal it was torrential. The streets were flooding and the traffic was heavy. But we were in plenty of time to make it to the game. It was Mexico v. Cameroon, the second game of the tournament, and I was incredibly excited to be going to a world cup game. Outside the stadium, I joined the crowds heading in, our spirits high despite the miserable weather. The other fans were mostly Mexican and Brazilian, with a smaller number of Cameroonians.
The brand new stadium didn't have a roof. This was a pity. But, I was at a world cup game and I was happy. The game was a good one, and even though Mexico only won by a single goal, they had two disallowed and Cameroon had one ruled out, so I felt like I'd seen plenty of goals. By half time, though, my part of the stadium was getting pretty empty as people left for shelter. By the end I was soaked to the skin, but happy to have stayed until the final whistle.
I got a bus from Natal to Salvador, and then a boat to Morro de São Paulo. The bus journey was 21 hours long, and it was fun to see a bit of Brazil as we left Rio Grande do Norte, passed through Paraíba, Pernambuco, Alagoas and Sergipe states and finally reached Bahía. In Salvador I got a taxi to the ferry terminal, and bought a ticket for a speedboat to Morro de São Paulo. I'd read that this was a notorious vomit run so I was a bit worried. I really thought I could do without being sick throughout the two hour crossing. But I'd hardly eaten anything since leaving Natal - the roadside cafes we'd stopped at hadn't had too many vegetarian options - so I thought I at least wouldn't have very much to throw up.
Before we left, the boat people gave us all plastic bags and tissues. This didn't look promising. But about five minutes after leaving Salvador, I was feeling fine. The boat was already bouncing crazily across the waves, and I couldn't see the horizon from where I was sat, but I felt fine. I thought it was a bit early to be counting my chickens, but then I looked around and saw another passenger already with his face deep in the bag, vomiting heartily. I felt bad for him, but a little bit relieved that I hadn't been the first to go down.
Also travelling was a group of gap-year French kids. They were pretending to be having no problems, laughing and joking, but before very long one of them was looking a bit queasy, and soon they too gave in to the chundering. One by one the others quietened down, the joking stopped, the colour drained from their faces, and eventually I gave away my sick bag to the group because they'd filled all theirs.
But miraculously I was still fine. Me and a family of locals were the only ones not using the bags, but they were all looking pretty unhappy. The longer the journey went on, the finer I felt, and schadenfreude improved my mood still further, so by the time we docked at Morro de São Paulo I was feeling smug and invincible. I leapt from the boat and swaggered into the village, leaving the weaker ones to stumble shakily up the hill in my wake.
I stayed a night in Morro de São Paulo and then headed back to Salvador for my second game. I was bracing myself for a renewed attempt to survive the chunderfest of the fast boat, but then it turned out I'd bought a ticket for the alternative route, by boat to the nearby mainland, road to Bom Despacho and then a slow large boat across the bay to Salvador from there. I didn't mind, it was nice not to have to retrace my path and go a different way, but the annoying thing was that this was a much longer journey. By the time I got to Salvador, I only had half an hour to get to the stadium. Luckily it wasn't far from the ferry terminal, and I got into the stadium with seconds to spare.
The atmosphere was electric in the Estadio Fonte Nova. Germany v. Portugal sounded like it would be a great game, and 50,000 people in a covered stadium make a huge amount of noise. It was something incredible to be a part of. But Germany quickly ruined it by being vastly better than Portugal. By half time they were 3-0 up and Portugal were down to ten men as well. So the atmosphere in the second half was very different, with a few grief-stricken Portuguese leaving and the ones who stayed not making a whole lot of noise. By the end, all the Germans were quite disgustingly happy with the 4-0 scoreline. It's difficult to support Germany, as an English fan, but then it's also difficult to support Portugal. Really I'd been hoping they'd both lose, so I was half-happy.
I headed back across the bay. The game finished too late to get any fast boats so the chunderfest wasn't even an option. I got the slow boat back over to Bom Despacho, a beautiful journey as the sun set. From there I got a bus to Valença, on a bus so air-conditioned that I was suffering with the cold. We got to Valença after the last boat had left for Morro. I found a place to stay, and got the boat back out to the island early the next morning.
I spend a couple of days on the island, enjoying the world cup atmosphere. It was pretty awesome, with fans from all over the world watching every game. There had been protests across Brazil about the costs of the world cup, and in São Miguel do Gostoso I'd sat in an almost empty bar to watch Brazil play Croatia in the opening game. But here, for Brazil's second game, they had set up a big screen in the town square, and huge crowds came to watch. The atmosphere seemed good.
But to everyone's shock and horror, Mexico failed to lose. Heroic goalkeeping meant that the game finished 0-0. Even into the dying seconds of the game, the locals were screaming and urging Brazil to score, and it seemed they couldn't believe that they wouldn't. But the final whistle went, and the atmosphere deflated in an instant. After the game there was live music and a party in the square but not many people stayed on for it.
Finally it was time for my world cup adventure to end. After a couple more days chilling out on Morro, enjoying relaxing on the beach and in the bars, I got a boat to Atracadouro, bus to Mar Grande and then one final ferry across the bay. I got a flight from Salvador to São Paulo, and from there back to the cold winter in Santiago. As we landed back in Chile, the fans on board gave another "Chi-chi-chi! Le-le-le!". Chile had beaten Australia, and then beaten Spain to send the champions out and book their own place in the knockout stages, but for us fans, the world cup was over.