Rio a few days before the Carnival so that we could get our bearings, and because we guessed that we wouldn´t see much of the daylight hours during Carnival! During our 'sightseeing days' we went up Sugar Loaf mountain for amazing views over Rio, went to see local football team Flamengo play at the awesome Maracana stadium and did plenty of walking around the city and beaches sampling salgados (street food snacks) and some of the many juice bars. These are amazing places with all types of fruit (many of which are only found in Brazil), all of which can be juiced and blended in any conceivable mix. One of the most popular is Ácai´- a berry found in the Amazon with brilliant health properties. We ordered a special juice blend of this with other tropical fruits and were shocked to receive a bowl of a thick, gloopy purple substance complete with spoon! Apparently, this is normal for acai blends and so we tucked in with gusto - hmmm definitely an aquired taste!
It was a bit cloudy
and drizzly most of the time we were there but on the one really clear day we took the funicular train up to Christ the Redeemer (the massive statue that looks down over the city). It seemed like half of Rio had the same idea as us given the amount of people up there fighting to take photos, but the views over the city were fantastic and definitely worthwhile. We followed up our excursion, with some more sun and hanging out with the beautiful people at Copacabana beach. Now here´s a challenge for you - try going to Copacabana and not getting the Barry Manilow song stuck in your head - absolutely impossible!
Carnival started for real, blocos (street parties) took place in different parts of the city with sound systems, stages and parades where everyone could join in. These tended to go on from mid-afternoon until late evening (useful for us as we were getting up around mid-afternoon!). Fancy dress and accessories were not obligatory but definitely encouraged, so we set about purchasing suitable masks etc.
We were staying in a very sociable hostel, so at night around 20 of us usually went out together. We ventured into some samba clubs in Lapa and a couple of beach parties at Copacabana and Ipanema. Ipanema certainly lived up to its reputation as the place where it all happens in Rio. On our first night out there, we found ourselves in the last hour of Rio´s biggest gay bloco. As we got off the bus, we were greeted by tonnes of men dressed up in elaborate drag and fighting through the crowds was a bit of an experience, especially for the men in our group!
By far, the best night however was seeing the official procession in the Sambodrome (a 60,000 seated purpose built arena) on the final day of Carnival. Each samba school had 90 minutes to parade through the arena and impress the crowds and judges. Each school
had a particular theme and their floats were unbelievable and incredibly elaborate. The first show started at eight in the evening and went on until six in the morning! It was an amazing atmosphere with the audience really pepped up and cheering for their favourite school. Everyone spent the whole time on their feet dancing
and we can´t imagine how the dancers kept going so energetically for the whole time!
After the carnival we decided to leave the bustle of Rio and head towards the more peaceful Costa Verde (Green Coast) and on towards Iguazu Falls at the Brazil / Argentina boarder.