The Craziness of Carnival

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Flag of Brazil  , State of Rio de Janeiro,
Tuesday, February 14, 2012

So having spent 10 days at Rio de Janeiro there were a number of things that stood out as highlights, making it my most favourite city that I have travelled to. Therefore rather than do a day-by-day blow I figured that it would be appropriate to discuss the different highlights individually.

Carnival / Parties

It would be a faux pas to write about Rio de Janeiro during Carnival without making reference to the party atmosphere! Our first party that we attended was on a boat that toured the harbour of Rio de Janeiro (one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World) for which we paid approx $40 and received an all you can eat BBQ and all you can drink beer and caipirinhas. To make things more enjoyable, the boat anchored just off a small island and gave us the opportunity to jump in and go for a swim. Once again, I don't think the health and safety powers back home would allow a company to provide you with an all you can drink service and then stop off to let it’s patrons go swimming in open water! So naturally, I made the most of this opportunity! From this point on, Rio de Janeiro was the party capital of the world. The next five days and nights all rolled into the one! Wherever and whenever you went out in Rio there was no avoiding the thousands of people that lined the streets in costume and were chanting out the tune "chu cha, cha chu chu cha!" The best thing about all of this was for the whole time that we were in the thick of the action, neither Jaclyn nor I saw one ounce of violence! If you were to consider that many drunk people back home all congregated in a block party, or a “Blocco” as they were referred to in Portugese, it would definitely have been a recipe for disaster. Who said that Rio was a dangerous city? The one bad thing about all of this was for the duration of the trip was that the streets smelled of urine and vomit. Furthermore, it didn’t rain the whole time that we were in Rio, yet from time to time you would find yourself stepping in mysterious puddles in just your thongs…hmm!

Sambadrome

This is the big event that the Western world associates with Carnival and Rio de Janeiro. If you do a Google search of Rio you are guaranteed to get pictures of big Brazillian booties wearing feather costumes, with very little to cover the private regions. I think that might be why I enjoyed it so much! Like many other backpackers, we purchased the cheaper tickets and as such we were right up in the bleachers section… The very back row! Luckily for me, the video camera that I took along had a great zoom function, so I was able to get a great close up look at what was going on! You can only imagine the photos and videos that I was taking. Actually you know what, stuff it; you don’t have to imagine I will put some visual stimulus up for you! I can’t promise that there are too many videos of the parade as a whole however!

Hang gliding

I had never been hang gliding before, so given that I was in Rio de Janeiro overlooking the forest, the city and the sandy golden beaches and not to mention Christ the Redeemer and the favelas built into the mountains in the background, I figured that there probably wouldn’t be a better place in the world to have my first hang gliding experience. Whilst it was over too quickly, it was an exhilarating experience that begun at 512m above sea level and ended up on the sandy shores of the beach below.

The Beaches

If Rio de Janeiro isn’t known for its’ parties during carnival, then it is definitely known for it’s beaches. You can watch video clip after video clip from numerous music artists and see the kind of thong, whoops I mean “thing” that the beaches of Rio have to offer! Getting into the spirit of things, I chose to don on a nice little yellow up the bum number and strut my stuff in an attempt to get into the spirit of carnival and to provide some much needed eye candy for everyone else on the beach. The beaches were always covered in a sea of red umbrellas and they were placed that close together that it made it difficult to navigate your way to the waters edge without trampling on someone’s’ tanned behind! Actually I guess when you think about it, that’s not to bad a thing really!

Sunrise and a special moment

The best time of the day to visit the beach was for sunrise. I managed to do it twice! The first time was after the Sambadrome, which went from 9pm and finished at 6am the next morning. So after little sleep I wasn’t in the best frame of mind to take it all in, however, inspired, I was up and about at 6am the next morning. Now I had heard a lot of bad things about visiting a beach at night and bringing along valuables such as a camera, however, I chose to risk it and hope for the best. Sure enough as I reached the beach and started walking towards the waters edge a Brazilian man in his 20’s approached me. He started talking to me in Portuguese and was constantly invading my personal space and coming very close to my pockets. I said “Si” a couple of times (It means “yes” and is one of the only words I know in Portuguese) in a bid to play it cool and not get robbed of my camera and kidneys. He then said “Poquito” amongst some other words (which I knew in Spanish meant little), so I replied with “Si, Poquito Portuguese”. The next thing I knew his hands were placed on either side of my head and he was leaning in with his lips puckered up only centimetres away from mine… My heart had been racing for a while now, but obviously not for the same reason as his had. The only thing that I could think of was that he had taken “Si, Poquito” as “yes, you can give me a little kiss”. Luckily for me he didn’t go in for the kill with all tongues blazing. This fortunately gave me enough time to say “no” and push him away… The poor guy, he seemed shocked by it all… How could a gringo like me have led him on like that? So he went off on his own way and I went on to watch the sunrise, just like in the movies!

City tour

On about our third day in Rio we did a city tour in a bid to get as many of the touristy things done before Carnival fever set in and we were not in the state to do anything. This took us to Christ the Redeemer, the Lapa Steps and Sugarloaf. It was a fantastic experience to see Christ the Redeemer up close in all of its glory. Perched on top of the highest hill overlooking the harbour, it was a great view of what Rio de Janeiro had to offer, however, of course there were hundreds of tourists about and it was a bit difficult to take in the serenity of it all. The Lapa Steps were an interesting site to visit. They were created by an artist who was a bored on one particular day and decided to tile the steps of his neighbourhood, without obtaining permission from any officials. It has now turned into a 125meter long walkway with over 2000 tiles collected from over 60 countries around the world. Sugarloaf Mountain was also a beautiful experience. To get to the top of the 396m granite peak we took two glass cable cars, which soared over the water below. It also had a beautiful view of the city and Christ the Redeemer, however, there weren’t quite as many tourists, which added to the beauty of it all. In fact, we enjoyed it so much that we decided to go back later in the week and watch the sunset from there and the city light up at night, a worthwhile experience if you ever get the chance.

Favelas

After managing to avoid being mugged for the previous nine days I decided to try my luck and go on a fevela tour. The fevelas are basically the shantytowns where the poorer people live. Some are run by druglords, some are run by Ex-Milatary gone bad and others are run by the police. They are networks of houses built apon houses built apon houses, which were all built into the side of the hill. In the Fevala that we went to, there were over 69000 people living there, all within the space of less than 1 square kilometer. The purpose of this tour was obviously not to go and take photos of poor people, but it was to explore the rabbit warren of footpaths and buildings within their local community. Throughout the tour we stopped off and took in the view of the town from the top of the mountain, we met local artists and watched children perform samba drumming and dancing. We also tried cakes at the local bakery and we purchased handicrafts from some of the local women.  It turned out to be a much more worth while experience than I had originally expected and once again I recommend it to anyone who decides to visit Rio, just make sure you go to one that is run by the police!

Soccer Match

Brazil: The soccer or 'Futbol’ capital of the world. We would not have been doing ourselves any favours should we not have gone to see a match. The one that we went to was just a small match between two ‘more local’ clubs. After having seen how fanatic these fans were though, I would love to be there for the world cup come 2014. For such a small match, there were drummers, people dressed up and people dancing in the grandstands. Furthermore, the chants didn’t stop for the entire match. I could only imagine what the larger games would be like! There was also definitely a strong police presence inside and outside of the ground. At one point while we were waiting to go in to the ground, something happened down the street. At which point a police car quickly reversed right pass us with four police guards pointing their large machine guns out the window and right at us. However, this was probably the most unnerving experience that we had in all of Brazil!
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