Stepping through the arrivals gate in Manaus, I immediately got the sense that people were happy to see us. Manaus had been the most heavily criticized host city in the run-up to the World Cup, for its distance from the rest of the host cities, for the hot and humid climate, and for the ridiculousness of building an enormous stadium in a town without a first-division team. Even at the airport, it seemed like Manaus knew it had something to prove to the rest of the world, to show that it deserved to host these games.
Within five minutes of arriving, I'd been given a city guide and map, a free coke, seen a couple in Amazonian garb taking pictures with tourists, and found the driver Iguana Turismo had sent to pick me up (despite my tour leaving the following day). As we drove toward my hostel, even the cars and streets were decked out in green, yellow, and blue.
This guy wasn't parked - he was driving around like this. Line of sight, what?
I arrived in time to check in to my hostel and go wander around a bit before Brazil v Mexico kicked off. Local Hostel Manaus was in a great location - just down the street from the famous opera house. The square in front of the giant pink building had been commandeered as a FIFA Fan Fest. I didn't realize it at the time, but not only was this one of the most accessible fan fests in Brazil, it was also showing more games than any other.
I wandered around, snapping pictures. But it wasn't until the Mexican national anthem started playing that I realized what was going to happen next...
Along with the rest of the world, I've been enthralled with the way the Brazilians present their national anthem over the past several years. Apparently, it's been a tradition in Brazil for a while, but it's one this current team has really run with, starting at last year's Confederations Cup. And the Brazilian people responded in kind. As one person said about the opening match anthem...
Of course, I didn't have tickets to any Brazil games, and didn't expect to get to see this awesome display in person. Until Manaus!
Sunglasses hiding gringa tears.
I ended up watching the match in the cool shade of the hostel (my favorite 0-0 regular time draw since France v Italy in 1998). That evening I went out in search of food, and was happy to find tacacá being served at a stand in the square. I sat with a couple from Australia and watched Russia v South Korea on the giant fan fest screen.
Manaus was also frustrating at times - the map handed out at the airport turned out to be pretty awful in terms of actual directions. I got turned around a lot, but I also discovered the street market full of knock-off jerseys, the actual market full of fresh food and fun souvenirs, pretty parks and squares, and dilapidated buildings in faded colors.
I figured out how to take the bus, which saved me a ton of money. I finally had piranha - well, okay, pacu - after missing it in the Amazon!
I had my gross-out moment of the trip as well, almost stepping on a dead cat in a gutter on the way back from the bars after USA v Portugal, but that was just kinda part of Manaus for me. A little rough, sometimes gross, but real and thriving out on the edge of the jungle.
Someone on my twitter feed linked this article and I think it sums up a lot of what I felt about the city far more eloquently than I ever could. Of all the cities I visited, I really think Manaus won for their enthusiasm. They threw the best party!