“English doctor in three hours here”. The Brazilian nurse stared at Ben and I hopefully around his computer monitor, presenting the Portuguese to English translation, courtesy of Google. To us, that was a result, a few back and forth passes of the keyboard and the internet had bridged the language gap for us. Pity we didn’t have it at the first hospital we tried. A low but functional level of Spanish proved next to useless, word’s like ‘infection’, ‘mouth’, ‘doctor’ missing from my vocabulary. They wouldn’t of been much use there anyway; a helpful lady explaining in broken English that the hospital was for pregnant woman only. Another kind fellow who spoke English kindly pointed us in the direction of a hospital where Ben could get help so we went there. I then found myself communicating with a hospital receptionist in embarrassingly terrible Spanish, the only common tongue that we could both fumble our way through. Apparently and to our bewilderment, it seems no medical professionals in Salvador speak English, apart from one woman I’m assuming was urgently flown in from out of town just to quell the scene we were making at this hospital, but alas she would eventually give Ben the drugs he needed.
Salvador would keep on surprising us; a day out from the opening game, Mike, James, Ben wandered out to marvel at the industrial chaos that was to be a Fifa fan zone. They had joined me from Peru that morning and we couldn’t help but wonder if Brazil was really going to pull this off. Scaffolding littered the site, both constructed and prone on the ground, fluorescent workers buzzed around from trucks to the massive unfinished stage, above it the screen for the games. All around the sound of metal upon metal and a hurried air swarmed; were the world’s fears about Brazil not being ready for this event about to become reality? Thankfully, no, the next day, we donned out yellow jerseys and joined the mosh in front of Salvador’s iconic Barra lighthouse, craning out necks in the warm downpour and raising our cheap canned beer with new friends as the jubilation of Neymar’s first goal possessed us.
There is no doubt about it, Brazilians love their football and they love to party, but they have solid competitor in the Dutch. Rumors had circulated about a massive congregation of Dutch supporters in Salvador’s historical centre Pelourinho before their opening match against Spain, a rematch of last world cup’s final and we were blessed enough to have tickets. Horrendous traffic forced us out of our taxi so we walked the remainder of the way. Even in our half hungover state (the Brazil game was the day before, tough life I tell you), it was hard not to get invigorated by the cheers of locals as we made our way down the street. I don’t know much Portuguese but I can certainly shout back to ‘Hollanda!’. Part of the reason for the support may have been because of the orange paint which adorned our bodies, but also the locals in Salvador are just incredibly warm and friendly in general; countless time’s we’ve simply been approached and asked where we are from; we usually take a moment to realise we aren’t being sold a necklace or foot massage before engaging in a curious and enriching conversation.
Eventually on our walk we stepped down a quiet cobblestone street, only a beer cart vendor and a couple of locals in sight, and we wondered whether we were still going in the right direction. It was then that we heard a distant chanting. We glided towards the noise and looked down the adjacent street, that’s where we saw them; a magical parade of orange, hands raised, singing in a way only a good shower can encourage. Or alcohol. Alcohol will do it too. Within moments of merging with the party a fellow supporter passed me his Caipirinha and we bopped with infectious enthusiasm down the old colonial road to the Dutch folk anthems being blasted from the back of the double decker bus that led the crowd. Once inside the stadium the sight and riotous roar of 55,000 people all ready for their first world cup game yanked the corners of our faces into a mightily stupid grin. When a goal was scored, an eruption of collective joy echoed around the stadium, strangers hugging strangers, beers being spilled without care. At the games end we felt like celebrities, staying for almost an extra 20 minutes as Brazilians, Bolivians, Spanish and countless other people posed for photos with us, celebrating the pure, intoxicating euphoria of the moment.
With the other games rivaling the Dutch for atmosphere we hoped to maintain it watching Brazil v Mexico at the fan zone. Naively, we showed up with 45 minutes before it started, the result being confronted with the biggest line for any event I’ve ever seen. There must have been at least 60,000 people trying to cram into this relatively small fan zone, one that was only meant to supplement the main zone that was cancelled last minute. Stressing that we wouldn’t have anywhere to watch the game, we rushed to a bar by our hostel to see two Brazilians being shown the last free table, a large round one in the corner. The doorman could see our desperation but there was nothing he could do; they were packed. However, Google translate again would be our savior. I showed my phone’s screen asking if we could share a table with the Brazilians, and the doorman allowed me in to ask their permission. As I approached I readied my tongue, hoping we could communicate; “Falas Ingles?” I blurted. The blank stares that met me I assumed were for my god-awful pronunciation, so I repeated, the young guy parroting back in a Canadian accent “English? Yes we speak English”. And so a new friendship was born with the Brazilian impostors, bonding over beers, football and the unbelievable fireworks in Salvador which a middle aged man for some reason was detonating on the street outside the bar. Not only can you buy them off the street, sometimes from children, but some of them aren’t fireworks at all. They are bombs. It’s concerning how content I am now hearing almighty explosions in my near proximity, yet drop a firecracker at my feet as the kids here love to do and I’ll jump higher than Tim Cahill.
Post game we wandered to the fan zone to party some more; Nir and Jasmine the Canadians celebrated what I assume was the glory of their new company by climbing atop the Salvador sign. Jasmine eventually accepted a lift down by a passing local but Nir, being a respectable bloke, jumped off himself, bailing slightly but seeming okay. That was until someone noticed the pool of blood at his feet half a minute later which was pouring from his hand. The fact that he was close to fainting from blood loss as we rushed him to the makeshift medical hut was secondary to an even bigger shock; that the medical staff there spoke English, and that Nir could receive treatment without even being pregnant.