Carnival is a continent-wide celebration that starts on a Saturday and ends on Fat Tuesday. The most famous Carnival celebrations are in Brazil, with Rio de Janeiro and Salvador de Bahia being the top cities to spend these crazy four days. We chose Rio to spend our Carnival as my Mum wanted to experience it for her 60th Birthday. And boy was it crazy!!
As with everything, there´s always a story, and unfortunately ours was because of accommodation. The house that we had rented, which was meant to be just outside of Rio, turned out to be 2.5 hours away on the bus! Arghh! Fortunately, the location of the house was lovely, on top of a hill with expansive views of curving beaches, the ocean and lagoons, which made my parents happy. Also my brother, Justin and I found a hostel, miraculously, that was in the city, which we stayed at for a few nights so we could get into the vibe of Carnival.
Our first experience was collecting our tickets for Sambodromo. I have never seen such a colourful ticket office, with streamers, and masks and women dressed up in typical Carnival gear. My Dad and Andrew got right in and had a photo taken with one of the women. You could feel the excitement in the room, ready for the following days of craziness.
I had thought that Carnival was mainly about the Sambodromo, and that the costumes were mainly for the women, who wore head dresses full of feathers and very skimpy clothing. However this is not the case. The streets of Rio are filled with different ´Blocos´, which are block parties or beach parties entertained by bands on huge floats. There are probably about 20 of these that happen each day. People mostly dress up, but the costume tended to just be a hat or a wig, or a mask. To get an idea of what its like, imagine Bay to Breakers throughout the whole of San Francisco for four days straight. It was a PARTY! We went to a couple of Blocos, and a huge beach party down on Ipanema. If I was to come back again (which I proberly will, if anyones interested) I would research latest Brazilian songs and dances because sometimes it felt like you were an observer, when the crowd started dancing around randomly. However we just got a few more caiphirinas and beers down our neck and carried on dancing.
Also in Rio there are different balls you can go to. We went to the Samba Ball at Scala, which meant a night of dancing for 6 hours again and we didn’t get home till 5 am. We saw three different bands and then the costumed ladies came on at the end to show us their moves. It was so colorful and a night suited for all, even for the older lady that seemed to take a liking to Andrew, and Manuel who kept buying Justin drinks. I think my mask might have scared people away.
As much as the block parties are crazy, and the balls are fun, Sambodromo takes the cake and is something everyone should experience at least once in their life. The dancers and bands parade themselves down the purpose built avenue and bleachers to dancing and singing crowds. The parades start at around 10pm and go until 5am, with each band having an hour to show off their music, different costumes and floats. The music was lively, the costumes were incredible and the floats were unbelievable! If this was done in the western world it just wouldn´t be the same since everyone would be worried about waste. Here they just go all out and you will never see anything so indulgent in your life. If you go, the first parade will be the best, just because of this, however, even as amazing as it is, after the third or fourth parade it does begin to get a little samey. We chose to leave after the fourth so as not to ruin the thrill of it all.
Even though the city offers Carnival, we couldn´t forget about seeing the other sites it had to offer. We headed up to the Christ Redeemer statue and took in the gorgeous views over the city, the surrounding mountains, islands and ocean, drank from coconuts in Ipanema beach, climbed up the mosaic stairs in Lapa, admired the artistic grafity adorning concrete walls and imagined what it would be like to live in one of the beautiful mansions in Santa Teresa during Rio´s hay day. I would have to say that Rio is my favourite city in South America and cannot wait to go back. However now to the beach!