BY KURT WEBER
We arrive in Salvador, the former capital of Brazil, with anticipation. We don’t have time to go the next USA game before heading back home to Seattle for work – so we take one more detour to the city of Salvador. The sunshine is out – and today is game day for the Brazilian team.
Walking around Salvador’s old town, architecture inspired by the Portuguese – and rising high above the sea on a cliff wall. Colorful brick and stone buildings wind around narrow streets of cobblestone. Green and yellow flags drape across the streets, providing a canopy, reminiscent of Tibetan prayer flags. The Brazilians are no doubt, praying for a win today against Mexico.
We gather our belongings and walk to watch the game on one of the big screens in the central square. As we wind up the narrow hilly roads of Old Town, we can hear the drums and cheering beginning – an hour before game time. The fears of muggings and protests, inspired by the media leading up to the World Cup, started to seep into the back of our minds. Here we were – a group of Americans in a gorgeous old city – but without any other foreigners to speak of.
The hill started to rise, and we walked into the crowds, more and more dense to the point where we could only get thru single file. The drums became louder, the crowds dancing and screaming. We can no longer hear each other. I spin my small backpack around on my chest. Anna, my wife, is ahead of me. I’m trying to walk with my hands in my pockets, as I have about 200 Reais ($100) and my phone in my pocket.
The hill grows steeper and the street narrows even more. The drums and music grow louder. My hands feel another hand in my pocket, as I look around and see a blank stare from a Brazilian teenager looking at me. I push his hand away, and he doesn’t react. Instead he looks at me without anxiety – and we briskly move forward.
Tiffany, another Seattle fan in our group, yells from behind me. Her smartphone is in the hands of a different Brazilian teenager – and she pushes at his arm, jostling the phone free. It falls to the cobblestone and she snatches the phone from the street before the teenager can react.
We push forward again – trying to surge thru the crowd, but painfully aware that we are in the middle of thousands of celebrating fans, dancing Samba and drinking too much beer. We consider turning back down the hill, but realize that we’re in it too deep. We push forward and upwards.
At last, we arrive to the top of the hill, the street opening up into a larger square and other arterials for cafés and shops. We huddle together and realize that each of us had an attempted pickpocket, but no one had fortunately lost anything.
We slowly make our way to a cafe and sit down to watch the game on an outdoor street, with plenty of space. In retrospect, we had seen the dozens of police lining the streets of the square and celebration – but the police were there to prevent violence, and the thieves knew they were likely immune from both being caught and being punished.
We watch the Brazilians play a lackluster game against a tenacious Mexican team – and sincerely hope the Brazilians will tie or win – so the streets don’t turn ugly. Otherwise, I think most of our group of Americans would cheer on Mexico.
The game ends in a 0-0 draw, and the streets begin to clear and fans disperse. We walk back towards our apartment, the dozens of police still watching the now empty streets.