Samba-dy Say Carnival?
For as long as I can remember,
the mention of the word “Brazil” has brought to mind beautiful people, exotic
beaches, palm trees, coconuts and colourful street parties, the most famous of
being of course, the Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. Well, we couldn’t miss out on
the world’s greatest party and so we packed our feathers and sequins and hopped
on a plane to Copacabana, just in time for the start of the greatest show on
The streets throughout Rio were already showing signs of the buzz that was to come – roadblocks everywhere preparing for the incoming “blocos” (that’s the Brazilian word for street party), people wandering around in some colourful, questionable and risqué costumes (that’s basically drag for the boys and as little as possible for the girls), and the anticipation in the air was getting us all excited! Our plan was to attend a few blocos around the Ipanema/Copacabana areas, before attending the main parade at the Sambodrome (the true essence of carnival involves parades by competing Samba schools). I procured some cute carnival accessories so I could blend in with the crowds (carnival look number one was a Carmen Miranda style fruit headband, and carnival look number two was a feathery headpiece complete with some face jewels, wooo!). And off we went, ready to experience the madness, the music and the non-stop dancing!
So… it didn’t quite pan out that way. The blocos turned out to be one giant raucous crowd of drunk people, doing very little other than drinking and shouting on the street – the parades were short and underwhelming and we basically spent the majority of the time trying to not get trampled on, or trample on others. We swigged a few beers and caipirinhas, wandered the length of Ipanema beach trying to find the party, before resorting to pulling up a couple of deck chairs and lounging on the soft sand, witnessing the chaos unfold around us. This was prime people-watching domain and we were in our element! Although not quite the crazy samba street party we expected.
The Sambodrome on the other hand definitely did NOT disappoint! We were lucky enough to get tickets for the final day of the special samba school performances (the best day) and we took our seats in a long specially-built stadium amongst literally thousands and thousands of spectators, all geared up and ready to watch the spectacle. We were absolutely awestruck by the sheer number of performers in each samba school, the carefully coordinated and elaborate costumes on display, and the ornate and surreal floats that paraded down that runway, encouraging everyone to sing and dance along to the loud samba beat. The event started at around 9pm and went on all through the night until 7am (we were sadly unable to stay awake that long but managed until 4am before we had to drag ourselves across the other side of town back to our apartment). We were still buzzing from the energy of that show though, and I still can’t quite seem to pick my jaw up off the floor – the experience was simply unforgettable!
All in all, although the whole carnival experience wasn’t quite what we had expected (where on earth those expectations came from in the first place I have no idea), I am so glad we were able to be in the wonderful city of Rio for the festivities. Rio at any time of year is such a cool, fun and buzzing city with something for everyone, and I would definitely go back again, although maybe not for Carnival.
In stark contrast to the slick beachside resorts of Copacabana, Rio also has a different side to it, as it is home to the largest favela (shanty town) in all of South America. We paid a visit to the Rocinha favela, which is home to over 100,000 people. We were a bit dubious at first, having heard countless horror stories about tourists being shot and robbed and having watched the movie “City of God”, however our concerns were deeply unfounded as the area was in fact a thriving community with hopes for and signs of development and change, and we really enjoyed seeing the other side to the city. They welcome tourists with open arms, the locals are extremely friendly and willing to answer all your questions, and it really is only the 1% that ruin it for the rest of them. So don’t be afraid, a visit to a favela should be at the top of your list when in Rio (although take a reputable guided tour).
Our next stop was the beautiful island of Florianopolis (“Floripa” to the locals), and this island is known for its beaches and awesome surfing (if you’re into that kind of thing). It was a welcome break from the madness of carnival, as the vibe was far more chilled and allowed us to recover from the craziness of the previous week. We stayed in a gorgeous little fishing village called Barra de Lagoa, which was so pretty and sat just off a beautiful blue lagoon. We spent our days exploring beaches (if you’re ever in that part of the world, Mole Beach and Joaquina Beach are divine), eating fresh seafood and generally soaking up the Brazilian beach vibes (we plan on doing a lot of this during our time in Brazil). The main centre of Florianopolis has a gorgeous market area and some pretty colonial style buildings (one of my main loves is this style of architecture) so if you have some time to spare in this town then it is definitely worth an explore. The weather let us down a bit during our stay here so we don’t have much else to report, but Floripa is a beautiful part of Brazil that should be on your to-do list.
We’ll be spending a few more weeks in Brazil so watch this space to find out all about our adventures at Iguazu falls, Bahia State and the Amazon Jungle…. Eeek!
The Resignated Survivors
Highlight of the Week: Witnessing the extravagant, amazing, extraordinary spectacle at the Sambodrome.
Other Notable Things: no trip to Rio is complete without a visit to Christ the Redeemer, Sugarloaf Mountain (the views over Guanabara bay are literally the best) and of course the famous steps at Lapa (Snoop Dogg and Pharrell fame, duh!). Also Brazilians love a buffet restaurant, and we were fortunate enough to try one of the best churrascarias in town – delicious all you can eat dishes, and freshly grilled meats and seafood brought straight to your table.
Lessons learnt: thou shalt not take valuables to the carnival…thou shalt not take valuables to the carnival… say it with me folks… Obviously we didn’t but this is more a lesson for all of you amateurs out there. Also cheese is a big deal in Brazilian gastronomy, you will inevitably get cheese in everything you order, intentionally or not. One of the most popular snacks sold by beach vendors is grilled cheese on a stick. There’s also deep-fried cheese, cheese wrapped in pastry, cheese covered in breadcrumbs, cream cheese… they should rename Christ the Redeemer “Big Cheesus”.
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