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A tribute to Brazil 2014

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(Apologies for any grammatical errors, this was written in a bit of a rush to make the final…)

For me, this year’s World Cup has been the best ever. And not just because of the remarkable football we have seen on the pitch, from Spain’s early capitulation to Brazil’s late, but even more dramatic one.

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I was lucky enough to spend three weeks in June in Brazil, travelling between São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Manaus. My mate Chris (who I really hope blogs about this too, because his blog is fantastic) and I, as well as the ridiculously large number of friends we made along the way, watched football everywhere from Copacabana beach to a house of the banks of the Amazon river. And we experienced first-hand some of the reasons why everyone I know who has been to Brazil speaks so highly of the country and its people.

The combination of what is surely the best sporting event on eartth and what must be one of the most hospitable and lively countries in the world made for quite a trip.

Here are five reasons being at this World Cup was a truly amazing experience.

The hosts

I’ve chosen to put the hosts first because, for me, they made this tournament.

In every city and town we visited, local people wanted to help you and make sure you enjoyed the country. Men and women would stop and offer assistance if you looked like you needed directions, others would spend ten minutes trying to figure out where you were going if they didn’t know right away. On one occasion in São Paulo, a young man took a huge group of us on a 40 minute detour to find a bar we had arranged to meet some friends at but couldn’t find.

The most incredible people were the friends we made. In São Paulo, we were lucky enough to spend a lot of time with Rafael, Tamiris, Pablo and all their lovely friends. In Manaus, our friend Victor was tireless in his quest to show us the best the city had to offer. I knew none of them when I landed in Brazil, but they all did whatever they could to make sure we had a good time and we’ve stayed in touch since I got back to the UK.

I was lucky enough to watch two of Brazil’s matches – the opening ceremony and the Chile match in the round of 16 – with Brazilians in Sao Paulo. I was amazed at how quickly they welcomed us into their home and made us part of their group (and how much they loved Franz Ferdinand and Travis).

The parties

The most obvious example here is Copacabana. Every night, tens of thousands of people would gather on the beach to watch the football at the fan fest. After the games, fans and locals would gather on the road and continue the party into the wee small hours. You could buy alcohol from the numerous vendors selling beer and caipirinhas right along the street (all for decent prices, too).

In Manaus, every night (and I mean EVERY night) several hundred people would gather in the main square outside the Opera House to drink and mingle. Here, we met numerous local people who wanted to have a chat, find out where we were from and introduce us to their friends.

In São Paulo, the best nights out we had were in the bars and club of Vila Madalena and Augusta.  A perfect mix of football fans and local people soaking up the atmosphere. They were a real melting pot.

The landscapes

It seems a pretty obvious statement to make – Brazil has some of the most stunning landscapes in the world. But what struck me was how varied they were.

Chris the Redeemer

Beyond Rio’s tourist attractions, there’s so much to see in Brazil.

In Rio, you have some of the most famous landmarks in the world – Christ the Redeemer, Sugar Loaf Mountain, Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, Lapa to name a few. I found it a marked contrast to Sao Paulo, a huge, buzzing metropolitan city that feels more like central London than Brazil. São Paulo is the kind of city where you walk around all day, without seeing a tourist attraction or having any sort of plan, and still feel like you have done a lot.

Then there is the rainforest, which couldn’t be more different. Our three day trip into the Amazon was one of the most incredible experiences I’ve ever had. This place really as to be seen to be believed, with its seemingly endless rainforest and snaking rivers. To be in Rio on day and the Amazon the next is about as stark a contrast as you can get. 

The Amazon

The Amazon – hours of beautiful rainforest and river.

I’m sure that if you spoke to other people who have been in Brazil, they would tell you of numerous other places with unique features. Brazil is a massively varied country and wherever you go, there is something extraordinary to find.

Fans

I’ve always found the advertising slogans about uniting the world a bit cheesy. But it turns out they are true.

We met and watched matches with people from all over the planet during our trip. Every night, you would find a plethora of cultures and languages mixing on the streets and in the bars. Often you wouldn’t understand the language someone else was speaking, but somehow you could interact. A few words shared and you were friends for the night.

Two Scots, two Americans and a Brazilian at the Arena Amazonia in Manaus

Two Scots (Chris and I), two Americans and a Brazilian at the Arena Amazonia in Manaus

For me, the South American teams were the most passionate and lively – from the Brazilians I’ve already mentioned, to the thousands of Chile fans who descended on Rio with their campervans before their match with Spain. The Argentineans, too, created a remarkable atmosphere wherever they went.

There were others who gave them a run for their money. The Australians travelled in huge numbers and were in great spirits where they went. Much has been said about the way in which Americans have embraced this tournament and the fans who made the trip were brilliant too.

And it gave me the chance to reunite with some old pals. Chris and I hadn’t seen each other since he went travelling 18 months ago. And I had two fantastic nights in Rio with my best buddy from my postgrad, Matt.

The football

Hasn’t it just been great? From Van Persie’s diving header against Spain to James Rodríguez’s heroics, David Luiz’s unstoppable free kick to his subsequent humiliation at the hands of the Germans, we’ve had some wild scenes at this World Cup. I was lucky to watch some of those moments in venues including a house on the banks of the Amazon, Copacabana beach numerous random cafes and bars across the country and the homes of many Brazilians.

Some of my colleagues at the BBC have looked at the case for this being seen as the best World Cup ever. But for me the memories of those moments  mean there is not case to hear. This has been my favourite World Cup by a country mile.

 

Written by Nick Eardley

July 13, 2014 at 1:57 pm