Jason Corroto and Kim Oxenham were two of the thousands of soccer fans lucky enough to secure tickets to this year’s World Cup. Although their home team of Australia qualified for the tournament, they decided to follow Cameroon’s journey instead, traveling across Brazil – from the back alleys of favelas to the packed Estádio Nacional de Brasília – and supporting the team from match to match. Although Cameroon did not advance past the first round, Jason and Kim were pleased with their decision to root for ‘Les Lions Indomptables’, cherishing their unique, “off the beaten path” World Cup experience.
[Interview with Kim Oxenham; photos by Jason Corroto]
What made you decide to travel to Brazil for the World Cup? Have you always been soccer fans?
Football (soccer) is a truly global game and the World Cup is the ultimate sporting experience. The fact that Brazil was hosting only intensified our desire to be a part of the action. The world’s biggest sporting event would be held in a country where people live and breathe the sport; what a crazy, wonderful experience it was sure to be! Jason and I both love travel and always welcome a good excuse to head abroad. This was too amazing an opportunity to pass up.
Why did you decide to support Cameroon rather than your “hometown” team of Australia?
While we love getting behind our own country and supporting them against the world’s best, this time we yearned for a unique World Cup experience; an experience that would take us on a different route, to different regions of the country and to stadiums brimming with different fans. We wanted an experience that would not only be about “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oy, Oy, Oy”.
To that end, we decided to adopt new team, an unlikely team, as our own for the tournament. We settled on Cameroon, a country of twenty-two million people in west-central Africa. They had just secured their World Cup qualification with a 4-1 win against Tunisia, and though our knowledge of their native French was limited, we was agreed that they were as good a choice as any. Surely, we’d have plenty of time to learn a few chants. Les Lions Indomptables [The Indomitable Lions] it was!
Describe the feeling of being in the stadium.
The first word that comes to mind is “colour”. Fans of the two competing teams mix with Brazilians, as well as others from every corner of the globe, and everyone sings and chants in excitement. The whistle announcing the start of match prompts a massive roar from the crowd; from there, emotions ebb and flow with the events on the field. A goal brings joy for some but despair for others. If the game mellows, a Mexican wave keeps the crowd buzzing. The energy is incredible, palpable, unlike anything else I have ever experienced.
Where did you travel to as you followed Cameroon’s World Cup journey?
Cameroon’s World Cup draw had them playing in three vastly different regions of the country, paving the way for exploration of Brazil’s diverse landscapes and regional cultures. We visited the endless sweeping dunes surrounding the city of Natal on the north coast, flying over the mammoth Amazon rainforest and into the city of Manaus. We were overwhelmed by the vastness and openness of the land there. A two-hour boat ride up the Amazon River took us away from the World Cup crowds and into nature. Here, we experienced the opposite feeling – it felt like we were enclosed in a tight space, confined to our canoes as flooded mangroves towered above us. A three-hour hike into the rainforest further intensified this feeling. The dorm beds we had been sleeping in in the cities were replaced with hammocks, and the hostel shower replaced by a natural waterfall (that we shared with a snake).
Any trip to Brazil would not be complete without a visit to colorful tourist beaches of Rio De Janeiro. Brazilian beauties shared the sand with fans from around the globe juggling footballs as far as the eye could see. We also explored the Brazilian coast, including the picturesque island of Ilha Grande and the chilled out beach town of Praia Da Pipa. Both proved to be perfect spots to enjoy a fresh coconut and a caipirinha or two.
What moment will you remember forever?
We will always remember the events of June 23rd, when Brazil played Cameroon at the Estadio Nacional in Brasilia. The stadium – a modern day coliseum – was filled with seventy thousand Brazilians, a few hundred Cameroonians … and us. The roar of the crowd as they rose to belt out their national anthem absolutely took our breath away; it so clearly highlighted the pride the locals feel for their country and love they have for their team.
In complete contrast, an equally memorable experience was that of lying in a hammock in the middle of the Amazon rainforest. We had taken a two-hour boat ride up-river and gone on a three-hour trek through dense jungle. When we finally reached our destination, we hung the hammock and just stared at the green canopy above while listening to the sounds of the jungle around us. It was music to the ears. Pure bliss.