Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Our visit to Salvador, Bahia, begins; the United States takes on Belgium

Immediately after breakfast, we boarded the motor boat 8:30 PM that took us back to the van which transported us to the boat back across the Amazon.  On the way across we could not help laughing at the name on this ship (a small town in Denmark, apparently). 

The Maia Expeditions van met us at the airport and transported us to the airport.  We had a full day of flying ahead of us, with a 9:25 PM arrival in Salvador.  In theory, we might have had time to have some morning activities before leaving for the airport, in the end our departure time was inflexibly set for just after breakfast, so that Maia's  speedboat to be in place in time to meet the next set of incoming guests, we were delivered to the airport roughly three hours before our flight – other guests with whom we returned were taken to the airport FIVE hours before their flight.  And Manaus is not a well-appointed airport where it is pleasant to wait for a flight.

But this is not by any means the worst flight scenario we could have had.  Indeed, the 2:30 departure, with a change of planes in Brasilia, was the only flight we could have taken that provide for less than 20 hours from departure from Manaus to arrival in Salvador.  (I could have saved $200 per ticket by choosing one of those routings).  Whether this is a function of how far out of the way Manaus is, or generally bad flight schedules on Brazilian airlines, I don’t know.

On the flight leg from Brasilia to Salvador, we sat next to two Polish TV reporters; we talked mostly with the play-by-play reporter, but the color commentator turned out to be Marcin Żewłakow, the striker who scored Poland’s second (and winning) goal against the United States in the 2002 World Cup.

There were again free Brahma beer cans and free Coke  bottles available as a promotion at the airport.  We paid the official rate for two taxis to be sure that the five of us and all the luggage that Sam and Nafisa had brought along for their wedding (for which they were leaving  directly from Brazil) could make it to our hostel, Albergue Laranjerais.  As we arrived at the hostel, about 10:30 PM, I was struck by the significant number of tourist police and other police officials, seemingly on every corner.   It seemed we would be well-protected; I wondered whether this might just be overkill.

We deposited our bags and hurried out to find dinner before the kitchens closed down.  The streets near our hostel were still thronged by tourists and others sitting at little tables and eating or drinking.  I’d have like to sit down at a table at Bar Zulu down the street from our hotel, following Lonely Planet recommendation, but others in our party were hustled by a runner for L’Arcangelo, an Italian place across the street.  I found their pastas decidedly unimpressive.

I was reasonably pleased with the accommodations at Albergue Laranjerais; it was pretty good for a hostel, although by no means the best private rooms we have ever had at a hostel.  The beds were clean and comfortable, and the room and Joe shared with Sam and Nafisa had a small balcony.  They were able to get hot water for their showers but the hot water never worked for us.  Breakfast was reasonably good, and the staff were extremely friendly and accommodating, helping us make reservations and other arrangements.  There was free wi-fi, although as a practical matter the wi-fi in the rooms was often so weak as to be unuseable for remote access to my work desktop or, indeed, often for web mail; one had to be sitting in the lobby next to the two desktops made available for guest use to get a reliable signal.

After having breakfast that first morning, we headed out to look around before going to our first game in Salvador, the US Round of Sixteen game against Belgium.   The streets of the Pelhourinho, the historic neighborhood where the hostel was located, were highly decorated, especially with streamers in the Brazilian colors.

Because I was the only one of us who had remembered to bring a United States jersey, in anticipation of the possibility of seeing the US come in second in its group, meaning that it would play on July 1 in Salvador, we first headed down out of the Pelhourinho, the historic neighborhood where the hostel was located, to a local commercial district where, we had heard, there were ersatz US jerseys for sale cheap.  No such luck, but we encountered a fair amount of street art, such as these cartoons:

So, this is a real city, we recognized, not an artificial place like Brasilia.

We climbed back up to the Pelhourinho.  Again, the police presence was overhwelming, an office on every corner, and then some.  We passed our hostel, and then walked past Igreja San Francisco, a highly decorated church whose lavish decoration put it on our must-see list; but at that hour we could not see any way to enter.

From there, on into the main squares of the Pelhourinho neighborhood, the Cruzeiro São Francisco and Terreiro de Jesus, which was filled with little booths selling both beers and caiparinhas – we sampled their wares

 while looking in the shops lining the squares for red or red blue and white shirts that the others could wear at the game.  The best we could find was a jersey for a local bahia team that was red and blue with some white lines, but it was more than we wanted to pay.  In the end, two of us bought blue and red Bob Marley shirt.  I had a Carlos Bocanegra jersey that I had worn in South Africa, but for added flair I paid about six dollars for an ersatz home-made, handstitched  US flag; I thought it was endearing until I counted the stars (see below  a few photos down).

For lunch, we went to O Coliseu a fixed-price all-you-can-eat lunch buffet, focused on Bahian cuisine, going through a doorway on the square and then up a flight of steps.  This introduction to Bahian cuisine was delicious, and promised many good meals to come.  The round of sixteen game between Switzerland and Argentina was on the screen.

 We watched for about 60 minutes; the game was still scoreless when we left, but we wanted to get to the stadium early to cheer for the United States.

As we left our hostel, the US fans were far more in evidence, but there was a Belgian fan getting his face and, indeed, his entire head painted sitting on the steps of the hostel entrance.

The Arena was less than a half hour’s walk from our place; once the stadium was in view, but still over ten minutes’ walk to the first entrances, there were many checkpoints at which the police were screening out fans without tickets, or fans carrying bottles of water or cans of beer.  The friendly spirit of this overwhelming police presence is shown by the fact that one of them was willing to pose with us:

Just outside the stadium grounds, we posed with a Brazilian family that was anxious to be photographed with us; then we realized that their sign predicted a dire outcome for our team.

The Salvador stadium, like each of the other World Cup stadiums where we have attended games, was lovely

Here the stadium is bathed in colored lights as we were leaving the stadium

These young Belgian fans struck a happy pose before the game

The game began, and the United States was on the back foot from the beginning.  Unfortunately, the Belgian fans were far more effective cheering for their team that the US fans were.  Whatever happened to those 20,000 US fans whom we had heard were in Brazil?  Maybe it was just a function of where we were sitting – the cheap seats behind the goal right next to one of the main Belgian cheering sections.  It seemed to us that the Belgians had managed to sit together and were making a huge noise; the US fans seemed more dispersed and we could barely hear our fellow fans, though we did out best to cheer and sing and chant loudly.  But we heard the same comment from other fans who had been sitting in other parts of the stadium.

Thanks to Tim Howard’s heroic goal-keeping, the US held Belgium at bay throughout two halved in which Beldium dominated possession and took shot after shot.  The US had a fair chance to win before the game headed into the two extra-time periods, but Chris Wondowloski, who had made the team precisely because of his high workrate and excellent goal-poaching record, blew a gilt-edged opportunity to win the game in stoppage time right in front of us. In the first extra-time period, the ice was broken and the United States conceded two goals.  We had the pleasure of seeing Julian Green score right in front of us; but it was too little, too late.

Our seats were on the far side of the stadium from where we had come into the stadium area with the crowds from the Pelhourino a few hours before, so what with extra time taking us until 8 PM, it was after 9 PM before we managed to get back to our hotel.  The streets were already jammed with people eating at outside tables, and it took us more than a half-hour to pounce on tables as they cleared.  We had no success at all finding a table where all five of us could eat; the younger folks managed to sit down first at Mamma Bahia, and they were well into their meal by the time we were able to sit down.  I had a fine meal of Bahian cuisine, and there was a nice guitarist playing and singing 60's bossa nova standards; I knew a few of them, but woman in her forties or fifties, sitting alone at the next table, was singing along with everything.

The younger folks were ready to go back to the hostel before we were done with dinner; had we been walking with them, the problems that befell me, described in the next post, might well have been avoided.

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