Many fans arrived in Brazil for the World Cup expecting a six-week party with a heady mix of top quality football, tropical beaches and Caipirinha cocktails played out to the soundtrack of a funky Samba beat. And while there has been no shortage of sunshine, barbecued beef, beer and beach kickarounds, the more than half a million foreign visitors have discovered a nation more varied and complex than the picture postcard stereotypes.
Torrential rain, stifling humidity, traffic congestion, price gouging, petty crime and a local population sometimes indifferent or even hostile to the tournament have all been part of the experience for some.
From the long, sandy beaches of the north through the teeming metropolises of the south, to the venues in the interior, fans in the 12 host cities are having their preconceptions, both good and bad, challenged. Those who travelled to the beachside resort city of Natal anticipating sand, surf and sunshine, for example, instead had to contend with 48 hours of incessant torrential rain this week.
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American Jonathan Ahn, braving the drizzle with a group of friends on the way to the beach on the eve of his country’s clash with Ghana, said he had been surprised by the record rainfall but was determined to make the most of his trip. “I expected sunshine and warm water but it’s not going to stop us from having fun,” Ahn said.
First World problems, perhaps, and put into context by a landslide in the city’s Mae Luiza favela on Sunday that swept more than 25 homes into the Atlantic Ocean and left some 125 people barracked in school halls. That such incidents are still a common occurrences is a reminder that for all its economic growth over the last decade, Brazil has glaring inequalities and struggles to fund schools, hospitals and other basic services.
Many fans in Belo Horizonte in Brazil’s southeast witnessed rioting on the opening day of the tournament with astonishment and some fear. “These things are big, serious problems,” said Greek fan Themis Lampropolous. “They can’t just go away because of football. But you know Brazilians, they always fight and always complain, but then when the national team plays, suddenly they are all one again.”
Some fans have found the atmosphere in the impersonal Brasilia a little flat during the day but there is plenty going on at night in the capital if you know where to look, according to Swiss fan Stephane Capt, an accountant from Geneva. “The city only comes alive during the night, it’s dead during the day,” Capt told Reuters.
Despite having to battle the expected heat, fans in the other cities in the interior, Cuiaba and Manaus, would seem to be among those more pleasantly surprised by their experiences. “We are Aussies so we like the weather and we are also delighted with the people’s hospitality here,” said Sydney bricklayer David Fitzharris. “It’s our third WC and the most enjoyable one so far, we’ve planned it for about a year.”
Seeing is believing
Francisco Quesada, a school teacher from Santiago, came to Cuiaba to see Chile play world champions Spain on Friday. “This is a really nice city,” he said. “In Chile, we heard there were going to be lots of protests against the World Cup and crime, and really we have had a different and surprising experience here.”
There has been some crime committed against foreign fans, certainly, as experienced by Paris teacher Thomas Drouilleau — the leader of a party of 38 kids in Salvador for two weeks to take in France’s match against Switzerland on Friday. “We had one of our party have his cell phone stolen but we’ve found it all an incredible experience,” he said.
Fans in all of the host cities have been impressed by the reception they have received from the locals, even the legion of Argentines who poured into Rio de Janeiro for their opener against Bosnia on Sunday. Despite the fierce footballing rivalry between the two countries, the only complaint Cordoba banker Fernando Arganaraz had was the eye-watering 1,000 reais ($448.31) a day rent he was being charged for an apartment in Copacabana.
There have also been the usual problems of miscommunication — exacerbated by the paucity of English speakers in Brazil — as well as some chaotic organisation and inconveniences caused by heavy security around the stadiums. But time and again fans came back to the warm welcome they had received from Brazilians, even the followers of England whose reputation for violence has made them among the less popular tourists at previous World Cups.
“We had a football game with Brazilians on the street, we had a few too many beers though, so we lost,” Yorkshireman Harry Busby said. “People showed us around. Wouldn’t have happened the same back home, we’re not as friendly as they are.”