Is this the World Cup or Carnival?

Picture by Mateus Pereira/ Government of Bahia

A berimbau-shaped digital clock signals that there are little more than 100 days left before the beginning of the World Cup. The device is located by the Tororó Dyke and the Fonte Nova stadium (pictured above), two major tourist attractions of Salvador, the old capital of Brazil and the second most popular destination in the country amongst foreign tourists (after Rio de Janeiro). Salvador, which will host the football teams of Germany, Croatia and Switzerland, is also visited by Brazilian people looking for beautiful beaches, history, colonial architecture and strong local culture. The city offers vibrant music, exquisite culinary, both heavily influenced by Africans.

Strangely, Salvador is witnessing a very timid mood and atmosphere, given the proximity of the World Cup. The major works and improvements around the city aimed to be finished before the beginning of the tournament are severely delayed, and there are hardly any signs that such a major international event is about to take place.

The metro system – which started being built in 1999 and is yet to be inaugurated – has become a morbid tourist attraction in itself, a monument to corruption and political incompetence. It seems that the pilot journeys will take place in June, just as the World Cup set to begin.  It will be called the “assisted operation” period: a few irregular trains will circulate with a reduced number of passengers and no fare will be charged. Meanwhile, congestion reaches unprecedented levels, continuously challenging the patience of local citizens.

On the other hand, Salvador´s beaches have seen major improvements, and even president Dilma (who visits often while on vacation) has complimented the changes. But there are problem there, too, as only a stretch of the seafront was delivered on schedule in 2013. The improvements at Barra Beach, a very popular district amongst tourists, were severely delayed. Once again, local politicians and administrators have failed to deliver, leaving local citizens angry and disappointed.

The mood towards the World Cup in Salvador is lukewarm, despite the expectation to bring 70,000 tourists to the city. Perhaps Carnival is to blame. Perhaps baianos (local denizens) are too busy preparing for party, the biggest highlight in Salvador´s calendar every year, and which kicks off on Thursday.

The much-coveted “camarotes” (boxes from which the wealthy can watch the Carnival parade) are now conspicuous in the most important areas of the city. The carnival singers Ivete Sangalo and Cláudia Leitte (who will sing the World Cup opening ceremony) are yet to announce football-related activities during Carnival.

Judging by FIFA’s Confederations Cup, which took place last year, international football tournaments do not engross Salvador. The mood then was lukewarm, limited to very few decorated streets and a handful of football fans. The locals spent most of their energy and stamina protesting against corruption and the government shortcomings in education and healthcare instead, in events that received worldwide media coverage. The same could happen in the World Cup.

“The giant woke up”, said picketers referring to the often apathetic nation that suddenly engaged in unforeseen street demonstrations. They were angry for many reasons, and some protesters contrasted the harsh infrastructure woes of the country with the multi-billionaire, quickly-erected stadia for the World Cup. Perhaps this explains why people from Salvador are so indifferent towards the World Cup, and more excited about Carnival instead. The adage “if it´s this bad now, just imagine in the World Cup” (“Se está assim agora, imagina na Copa”) has become as widely circulated as cars in this traffic-suffocated city, and people have embraced it as an emblem of their frustration.

Tourists visiting Salvador during the World Cup should prolong their stay in order to explore the rich history, vibrant sunny beaches and mingle with the very hospitable locals of the first capital of Brazil.

They could also venture a bit further and visit of south coast of Bahia (the state of which Salvador is capital), uncovering the Discovery Coast (“Costa do Descobrimento”, where Brazil was first discovered by the Portuguese in the year 1500) or the Whale Coast (“Costa das Baleias”, where the Portuguese heritage blends with the indigenous culture). These are just a few examples, you can find out more by clicking here.

Salvador and the state of Bahia have a lot to offer tourists, just don´t rely on the locals celebrate the World Cup with you!

Translated by V Manoel
Anderson Sotero, whose surname means “Salvador/saviour” in Greek, was born and raised in the eponymous city . He works as a journalist and has written for the leading local newspapers, including A Tarde and Correio da Bahia.

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