Well sort of, but that is Rio’s dark reputation 😉 The first big goal for 2016 was Carnival in Rio. We looked at the challenge and decided there were only 2 keys things to do, and then left the rest up to fate:
1) – Make AirBnb reservation 6 months in advance (took a while to find a place that only accepted people who bought their “package” option such as hostels $R1500 seemed fair for 2 people for 6 days in private room
2) Bus overnight bus tickets 2 months in advance to skip sold out scenarios, there and back $R320
Little background – “Carnival day” is actually Ash Wednesday and even though it’s not an official holiday in Brazil, people don’t go to work on Monday and Tuesday with Wednesday as a half-day. That’s not to say people only party on those days, oh no… The festivities start almost 3 weekends before and end the weekend after, with street parties, dress up and lots (and LOTS) of beer. I’m only talking about the Rio – São Paulo region of Brazil, though; I’ve heard that Carnival in the northeast of the country is one big, non-stop, crazy party for the whole month, weekends be damned. I wouldn’t know about that, but I do know about how really fun and fabulous carnival is in Rio, with photos to prove it 🙂
The official samba school parades though only went on for 4 days Fri-Monday, with the championships the following weekend when most people have already bounced.
Just my bloody rotten luck that I got a bad ankle sprain the week we go to Rio; the week before running and jumping to music played from moving trucks, the week before walking and dancing every relentlessly sunny day. So we didn’t go to every street party that we would have, but we got out there and had bunches of fun! Kiernan and I stayed in Rio for a week, in the neighborhood of Flamengo; our AirBnB host was really nice and super helpful! We shared an apartment with a British couple and Marlene herself (the host). Luckily the apartment was close to a metro station and a supermarket with a wonderful bakery… Anyway, the Wednesday we got there, we took kind of easy. I pretty much stayed in bed with my feet up and an ice pack commuting between me and the freezer, except when we went out for lunch. We also grabbed some Metro cards for about $R10 and loaded them up. This act alone saved us literally hours of line waiting which is something we learned our lesson on in Sao Paulo.
Day 2 commenced with a street party on Copacabana beach; and when I say “commenced”, I mean it’s 10am and beer vendors are in full swing, selling their product as fast as they can give out change. Thank god I carried sunblock everywhere even the Brazilians were hiding in the shade at times. I was slathering it on 3-5 times a days and still managed to get some redness. Anyways beachfront every single vendor at every single street party had the same brands – one ok Pilsen brand called Antarctica and one hybrid of Kool-Aid and beer with hints of vodka mixed-drinks… fuck knows, but it’s popular. And water, of course. You have to stay hydrated to be able to do a full week’s worth of drinking and not fall into a coma… Dressing up is super popular during carnival and while there are some costumes that are sold outside every metro station and therefore fill up all of the empty spaces in a street party, there were also some really creative ones! We saw some guys dressed up mosquitoes with their diseases written on their chests “dengue”, “zika” and “chikugunya” respectively… that’s not in bad taste, is it? There were a tribe of cavemen grunting and shouting “OOgah!” one morning on the metro and a well-dressed Audrey Hepburn with her pearls and her cigarette. The fill-in-the-gap costumes were mostly Hawaiian flower necklaces (leis), gypsies, animal ears, brides, indians with face paint, pirates and cops. With her ankles swollen like an obese patron of Burger King we decided to fortify Marelise with ankle guards and alcohol to keep her on the move throughout the week.
It seems like there were a bunch of official, listed street parties (aka blocos) in every neighborhood, though the streets always seem to be full anyway. We usually checked the online guides the day before to check which ones looked interesting, how each they were to reach by metro and so on. But honestly it was really touch and go picking good ones when there’s not much info on the type of music, reputation of that music group or neighborhood, so we tried everything. The parties in the southern zone usually end on the beach, where you can go as long as you can stand up… seriously, after a day of drinking and partying that can be a challenge. There are definitely some after-hours blocos, too. We ran into one two blocks from where we were staying and it was interesting… People were walking up and down streets playing different musical instruments, with banners saying “follow the white horse”. This was definitely one of those parties that are every bit on the line of sensual, erotic and really whatever you want it to be, and the only thing that decides which side of that line you’re on is you. Many people were dressed up as parts of nature (branches, leaves, forests), in fact a lot of them looked like they had just escaped from Oberon and Titania’s faerie court. Though dancing and kissing is an amazingly common sight during carnival, here is was ramped up. Oh yeah, about the kissing – unlike most Westerners, Brazilians typically kiss many people at a party (not just during carnival), within sight of past and future lip-lockers with no fear of diminishing their chances of future snogs. People just aren’t super hung up about that. That does absolutely not mean getting laid is easy from locals and visitors alike, but it’s not strange to share and share alike the saliva you were just given by a complete stranger. The rule is simple you touch an elbow, ask politely or use a pick up line, snog a minute or two then move on mission accomplished. But… during carnival, of course, this is even more prevalent. Condom commercials were everywhere.
Anyway, we went out to about 2-3 street parties a day; some of them were a lot of fun – somehow the ones on the beach were just inexplicably, undeniably better. Some of them seemed very much like a PG-version, or rather aimed at “fun for the whole family” type of people… which we (thank the little baby Jesus) do not count ourselves as just yet. Anyway, between party-hopping and resting my darned feet, we were also looking forward to going to the Sambadrome on Monday (our AirBnb host hooked us up with some extra tickets her friend had bought!), but more on that in part 2 just because there were so many photos.
Beside partaking in this orgy of music and beer we tried out a few cool lunch cafes, sightseeing, and actually read a lot when we wanted to relax. When you dance in the morning and then at night later, taking a 2 hour reading break hardly seemed liked party pooping to me. A nice cold coconut water to sip on, beautiful view and sun, didn’t mind if we did. We also hitched downtown to check out some of the older sights. On day 3 or so we made our way to the infamous Royal Palace of Rio de Janeiro that Marelise had read a lot about recently in a book about Brazil’s history. It was pretty easy to find considering it was surprisingly small for a palace. It had a simple layout squared around an open courtyard, and although it was a political center for a couple of centuries it serve now just as a cultural center. The first floor had some interesting interactive displays detailing Brazil’s history chronologically with a series of pictures, paintings, letters and depictions of daily life in the old times. We didn’t feel very tempted to sit at the bistro or check out the gift shops, and instead explored the galleries on the upper floor with an exhibition of steel chains exploring space and depth, cheap looking glass-work, and so on. I did spot a cool little bat family hanging upside the stairway though!
We also discovered a place called the The Royal Portuguese Reading Room, seemingly simplistic from the outside, inside is a gorgeous gothic-renaissance style library where I imagined perusing and reading for hours. Unfortunately it’s under renovation for the next few months. We were able to look around a bit but most areas were roped off or covered with ginormous plastic sheets. Oh well another time I’m sure.
As you can surely see we had an amazing time, and were completely overwhelmed by how much better the Carnical in Rio experience was than we imagined, it definitely lives up to its much popularized expectations. I also wanted to mention that Rio is oft publicized for violence and mugging. Although I’m sure the police were out in full force, using common logic, avoiding dark creepy places at night, and keeping cash and phone in a zip pouch under my shirt, we escaped completely unscathed. actually I didn’t see any purse snatching either, so you don’t have to believe everything you hear I guess. After an amazing six days we reluctantly but exhaustedly packed up on the following Wednesday, and due to a stupendously late bus grabbed a cab to the bus station for our midnight ride back to concrete jungle Sao Paulo.