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Official Review by Martin Wright, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
This article has been forthcoming for some time. It was very nearly ready to go prior to the start of the Confederations Cup this past June of 2013 when Brazil experienced the largest wave of street protests seen in this country in over two decades – setting everything on the back burner until I could determine which way things would go. As the protest movement loses some of its initial steam (though violent clashes still continue in places like Rio de Janeiro and Săo Paulo), I feel compelled to dispel some of the misconceptions about the holding of the FIFA World Cup, one of the world’s major athletic events, in this country.
Misconception #1: Brazilians are unwilling and/or incapable of hosting this event. Hogwash. Brazilians are famous for their parties, and for their welcoming attitude towards foreign visitors. The protest movements that have dominated headlines worldwide are often presented as being against the money spent to host the World Cup and the Olympics. However, the problem is not with the money spent; Brazilians knew when they were awarded these tournaments that they would have to spend money. The problems arise from the promises made, yet still unfulfilled. Bank on the Brazilians wanting to put on a world-class event – whether the government survives it or not is another affair.
Misconception #2: Brazilian cities are unsafe. Brazil’s major urban centers are as unsafe as Chicago, Baltimore, New York City, London, Madrid – basically any large cities in the world. Using common sense, avoiding areas where tourists shouldn’t go, and Brazilian cities are very much worth visiting.
Misconception #3: Brazil won’t be ready to host the World Cup. That depends on your definition of “ready”. Those tourists expecting German-standard infrastructure and organization, such as that demonstrated when that country hosted the tournament in 2006, will undoubtedly come away disappointed. However, the World Cup is about so much more than football – it is about getting to know the host nation and its people. In this regard, the World Cup in 2014 will be very much a Brazilian affair in every sense. If you come expecting to have to improvise to get to the famous beaches, the picturesque resorts, and, most importantly, to the stadia themselves, the World Cup in Brazil will undoubtedly leave you with a most rewarding experience at all levels.
In order to kick off what I hope to be a series of several reports on the host cities of the World Cup in 2014, I offer my home town of Manaus; set in the heart of the Amazon, perhaps no other city represents the Eco-Cup more – or the challenges faced in hosting this huge event.
Manaus – Local Flair, World View
Whether arriving by day or night makes little difference; for long periods as one gazes out the window of the plane (the only practical way to get to the city from the rest of the country), an inevitable sense of foreboding takes hold within. It seems, quite correctly, that Manaus – the capital of the state of Amazonas and the northernmost of the host cities for the FIFA World Cup in 2014 – is in the middle of nowhere. Located 2,849km (1,770 miles) from Rio de Janeiro, the stereotypical heart of Brazil, Manaus embodies the promise of Brazil’s future, the richness of Brazil’s diversity, and the enormous challenges the country faces.
Yet perhaps no other place embodies what this World Cup is all about – not only the ecological aspects promoted by the organizers of the event (the name of the official World Cup 2014 mascot, “Fuleco”, is a combination of “futebol” – Portuguese for “football” – and “ecology”), but the embracing of the country’s culture and people. Manaus brings it all together – Brazil’s pre-Columbian past, her colonial splendor, her growing pains, and her brilliant prospects for the future. And when analyzing Manaus for stadium lovers, three stadiums come to mind: The Vivaldo Lima Stadium (the past), Estadio Roberto Simonsen (the present), and the Amazon Arena (the future).
For the first part of this multi-part series on the World Cup, I present Manaus - and the Amazon capital’s struggles to host football’s biggest show.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
At the stadium, food quality has improved greatly over the years, but caution should still be taken. Observe where the Brazilians themselves eat, and follow the crowd. At Estadio Roberto Simonsen, try fried banana chips, Brazilian barbecue ("churrasco") sandwiches, or the famous "churros". Another safe bet is Pastelaria Paulista. In addition to the famous Brazilian "pastel" (fried phylo dough stuffed with a variety of fillings), the harumakis are among the best in town. Remember, however, that in national matches in Brazil alcohol is not served in the stadia (World Cup 2014 will be an exception to this rule).
From a distance, one would be forgiven for mistaking the Roberto Simonsen Stadium for being set in the English countryside. The squared ground, located in Manaus' working class Eastern Zone, is based on an English design and offers protection from the elements for most of the 5,000 supporters the ground officially holds. The pitch is very close to the stands, creating the "Cauldron Effect" for visiting teams, and in Brazil Cup ("Copa do Brasil") matches, the atmosphere borders on amazing. During the Amazonas State Tournament, however, crowds can be a bit sparse, and the experience for the foreign fan often left wanting.
Manaus's Eastern Zone ("Zona Leste") is a notoriously poor area, marked by crowded slums ("favelas") and chaotic traffic patterns. The police maintain a very strong presence during matches, but outside the ground fans should stay in the well-lit, main thoroughfares and avoid dark side streets and alleys.
For the culinary aficionado, Manaus is a veritable haven of unexplored delights. From the exotic fish found in the rivers of the Amazon Basin to the uncountable tropical fruits, Manaus offers inherent links to its indigenous past and its history of migrants from the world over. For local specialties, try Banzeiro in the Nossa Senhora das Graças neighborhood. The restaurant features gourmet interpretations of traditional Amazonian dishes prepared with indigenous species from the Great River. It is located just 100m from the Amazon Park, an empty sandlot which, when it was the home of Manaus' original stadium, witnessed some of the greatest footballing glories of the Golden Age of the city's two most traditional clubs, Nacional FC and Rio Negro.
For a more economical approach, try Açaí - an open-air café/bar located in the commercial Vieralves neighborhood. Bearing the name of the famous palm fruit, the restaurant offers traditional Amazonian dishes at a reasonable price - and the best açaí dishes in town.
Finally, for the tourist at heart, try Moronguetá - a traditional fish restaurant located at the ferry docks crossing the Amazon River, which offers a spectacular view of the famous Meeting of the Waters at the confluence of the Negro and Amazon Rivers while enjoying a cold one and feasting on the Amazonian people's favorite delicacy - grilled Tambaqui.
Manaus is often overlooked by football fans as a destination - both here in Brazil and abroad. Years of mismanagement have left many local clubs weak, with waning fan bases (although this trend is changing, thanks in large part to social media campaigns). Many fans follow clubs from Rio de Janeiro or Săo Paulo; however, during matches involving more famous clubs from other states, the Amazon fans are as rabid as any others and are fiercely proud of their state - as witnessed recently in the 2013 Brazil Cup ("Copa do Brasil") matches when clubs such as Coritiba, Ponte Preta, and Atlético Mineiro came to town.
With limited parking, hopelessly chaotic public transportation, and street names differing depending on who you ask, getting to the Estadio Roberto Simonsen presents a challenge for even the most seasoned traveler - particularly if you do not speak any Portuguese. If driving, look for signs pointing in the direction of "UFAM" - the Federal University of Amazonas. Upon arriving at a large interchange called "Bola do Coroado", take the road passing next to the BR gas station (Avenida Cosme Ferreira - though it is not labeled). If attempting to take the bus system (highly discouraged for foreigners - often precarious, overcrowded, and full of pick-pockets), ask locals for buses going to "T-5" ("tay-cinco"). However, your best bet is to get a cab in front of the hotel, asking the staff to help explain your destination.
With Manaus gearing up for the World Cup in 2014, however, a lion's share of the local matches are held in two new or renovated facilities: the nearly-completed, ultra-modern Amazon Arena (Arena da Amazônia); and the recently-renovated home of Săo Raimundo FC, Estadio Ismael Benigno (known locally as "a Colina" - the Hill - and will serve as a training center for the World Cup). Both of those improved stadiums will be more easily accessible to fans, and the challenges of navigating the often chaotic traffic system of the Amazon's largest city will be somewhat alleviated.
It isn't every day you can say you've been to the Amazon. In addition to the natural beauty of the region, with the once-in-a-lifetime excursions available, watching football in the middle of the world's largest rainforest is a unique experience, differing greatly from the more conventional venues of Rio de Janeiro or Săo Paulo.
For those who live here, there doesn't seem to be much else to do besides going to football, eating out, or walking through the malls. However, to the visitor in the Amazon, in addition to the countless jungle hotels and tour companies offering their services at affordable rates (the more famous ones are Ariaú Jungle Tower, Jungle Palace, and Eco Park), a quick visit to the bustling downtown area demonstrates the whole of the Amazon come together - the urban sprawl, the diversity of life, the rich past, and the promising future.
Finally, though infrastructure in the Amazon means that accessing other areas is an exercise in patience, it is worth the effort. Visit the waterfalls in Presidente Figueiredo, or swim with the pink river dolphins in Novo Airăo - all accessible by interurban buses by improved highways. Finally, don't forget to take in football - and lots of it. Try visiting the Estadio Roberto Simonsen - "SESI" - for a glimpse of Manaus' past, then take a ten-minute trip to the Amazon Arena, for a glimpse of the future, all in the heart of the Amazon Rainforest.
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R. Libertador, 102
Manaus, AM 69057
+55 92 3234-1621
Rua Acre, 98
Manaus, AM 69053
R. Jaith Chaves, 30 Vila da Felicidade
Manaus, AM 69075
+55 92 3615-3362
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