Obrigado to Brazil's World Cup!
After 9,000 miles covering a wonderful World Cup I find myself writing this in a hotel room overlooking the spectacular shark-infested waters of Recife on Brazil's northeast coast.
No one in our roving ESPN team will be taking a dip.
In any case they are all catching up on sleep after two weeks of 3 a.m. alarm calls to get to the next venue. The football makes it all worthwhile but trying to get through 24 hours when your only word of Portuguese is "Obrigado" (thank you) is not easy. But the locals think we are very polite and smile sympathetically.
We drink lots of milky coffee called cafe con leite and have developed an unhealthy liking for the Brazilian cheesy treat called Pao de Queijo (cheese bread). We are even getting to know that Recife should be pronounced "heh-cee-fee" and that the apparently simple-to-say Brazil striker Fred is called "Fredge" in some local dialects and "Fredi" in others. Confused? Me too.
Tourist trips to Sugarloaf Mountain and the like are out until the later stages when there are a few rest days. There were many stark warnings about crime before we arrived including one cheery little memo pointing out the 15 murders a day in Salvador. Best to stay wary and not go out alone at night, but so far this correspondent has seen no sign of trouble.
The big demonstrations which marred the 2013 Confederations Cup all over Brazil have not really been a feature so far this year. Perhaps the tear gas and stun grenades used ruthlessly on a few protesters on the opening day outside the Sao Paulo stadium have dissuaded others from trying. But the mood could change if Brazil make an early exit. Until that happens, the party mood continues.
Half of Brazil seems to be wearing a Neymar No. 10 shirt on match day and every goal by the host nation is greeted by fireworks lighting the sky. But the cliched view of Brazil as a fun-loving nation of ball-jugglers and beautiful beach dwellers is wide of the mark. There is widespread concern about the soaring price of staging this tournament and the upcoming 2016 Olympics when there is a crying need for better schools, hospitals and transport.
That creaking infrastructure is reflected in crowded chaotic airports which have many cancelled flights, though to be fair the local airlines are making every effort to get fans and media people where they need to be.
Easily the most exotic location is Manaus, a city of 2 million souls in the middle of the Amazon rain forest and four hours flying from everywhere else. We did some filming on the Amazon river, which is three miles wide, and we were told that it does have deadly anaconda snakes lurking beneath its surface in places. The locals think nothing of swimming there, but I guess they know where not to go.
This sweltering dripping hothouse of a town also bizarrely has a store which sells only bananas -- some 80,000 of them. And an Opera House built to attract the famous Italian Caruso -- who never did show up. Playing World Cup football there was clearly a decision made by people with more concern about boosting tourism and trade rather than the health of the players.
Walking for five minutes there leaves you in a lather of sweat, so imagine as players getting through 90 minutes at top pace. I think my co-commentator Taylor Twellman and I lost 10 pounds just talking about it!
Elsewhere, though nothing is easy, Brazil is passing a big test which many predicted it would fail. And the football has been little short of spectacular, exactly the tournament the World Cup needed after some disappointing editions.
Bold, pacy, attacking play seems to be in vogue, and those unable to produce it like deposed champions Spain are falling by the wayside. The results are suggesting that gap between the old superpowers and the one-time also-rans is closing, as proven by the astonishing displays of Costa Rica. Factor in the heroic effort Iran put in to very nearly foil Argentina, this World Cup has been very competitive.
History says South American teams dominate in South America, and that pattern is emerging here with Lionel Messi and Neymar in particular living up to the hype. Imagine if both sides could meet in an explosive Brazil vs. Argentina final? Only Luis Suarez has spoiled the show from South American sides. The third bite, with his previous suspensions and punishments considered, has to be considered his worst action. He must be thrown out of the World Cup and ordered to get treatment. One USA fan seriously suggested he should play in a muzzle.
Meanwhile for the rest of us, on with this fantastic football festival for which we say "obrigado," ... if only because we know no other words!