After some days studying hard, there’s nothing better to unwind than a good party: Carnival in Rio. The first thing you should know is that it’s very expensive and you need to book months in advance. All the accommodation options are jam-packed, and they force you to book a “pacote” or Carnival package for a minimum of 5-7 nights at a price which is 4 times the usual rate. That’s before mentioning tickets to the Sambodromo or what you’re likely to spend in alcohol while partying non-stop for a week. Nevertheless, it makes an unforgettable experience, one of the best parties ever.
My Carnival experience started with a fright. As soon as I finished the last exam on Friday morning, I went to the bus station and asked for a ticket for Rio. I should’ve bought it in advance, but with the exams I didn’t find the time. I was told that until Saturday night (arriving Sunday), all the buses were full. In such case, I’d lose two prepaid (and crazily expensive) hostel nights. Thank goodness I finally found some people who were making a killing out of this: they transported people in their vans for slightly more than the bus ticket. After a few hours in the van, another incident: an accident occurred in the highway, added to all the traffic jam to get into Rio the day the Carnival started. We spent several hours stopped in the middle of the highway, with everybody out of their cars.
Finally, I arrived at the hostel at 2:30 am. There was nobody in the dorm, but just a moment later, Diego (a Brazilian from upstate Rio) showed up. He asked me if I was going out that night and 10 minutes later we were in Lapa, the heart of Rio’s party on Fridays. We saw the great party atmosphere, ordered a few caipirinhas and partied for the next 5 days.
The atmosphere in Rio is great. There are parties spread all over the city all day long, and at the same time people just living their normal lives. Walking down the street, you are equally likely to see a group of youngsters dressed as a butterfly and drinking beer or a woman walking her dog. There are dedicated areas where you can find music and drinking, like this one in Santa Teresa.
Every neighbourhood has its own activities, particularly blocos and bandas. In the blocos, people and music go down the street, or just stay at some fixed point in the neighbourhood. Some of them have thousands of followers and some others are small parties oriented towards families. The bandas have more musicians who play the trumpet and other instruments. The most popular is Banda de Ipanema, which parades along the beachfront.
As Brazilians are very spontaneous, there was also improvised dancing in the street, with people coming and going.
But the most characteristic are the escolas de samba. They prepare their floats and their performances months in advance.
The final in the Sambodromo (purpose-built stadium) is the high point. The parade sometimes goes on until 6 am, with the spectators standing and dancing for hours. I didn’t buy a ticket for the Sambodromo, because I’d already spent so much money, but went to the entrance to see the floats parading towards the Sambodromo. There were probably more people watching from outside than inside the stadium. However, from what I saw, being inside must be great. It is also popular among tourists to sign up with one of the escolas de samba and parade through the Sambodromo. If you do that, you need to buy the escola’s costume.
After 5 days in Rio, I travelled to Ouro Preto for a couple of days (see next post), but I was back in Rio on Saturday for the grand finale: the monobloco. Although it is no longer Carnival officially, the monobloco is in fact the end of the Carnival, next Sunday, before many Brazilians return to work on Monday. It starts at 8 am and keeps going all morning at Rio’s centre, attracting about half a million people.
PS: no, I’m not gonna add pictures of me in Carnival costume, so don’t ask, LOL.