Published: March 2nd 2009February 24th 2009
The People´s Carnival
So, we left Rio the day before carnival and every single person we met seemed to think we were mad, especially when we said that no, we weren´t going to Salvador instead, but would in fact be in Manaus. "Of all the places", "Oh my god", "Their carnival is crap" were among the comments we got, but along we went anyway as the ticking travel clock keeps us heading ever northwards towards Mexico.
You can see from our Brazil blog what we thought about the rest of Manaus, but here's a quick resume of carnival in Manaus.
They call it the people's carnival because unlike places like Rio or Salvador it is free to go along to the parades from the samba schools. These are the images of carnival broadcast around the world and most commonly associated with carnival, though in reality it is only one part of the whole week long party.
The idea is that all the samba schools from the area parade through the specially built "Sambodoromo" with their floats, drummers and dancers doing their best to impress the judges in an attempt to win the coveted crown of "best samba
school". There are various categories which get judged, but the main ones are the quality of dancing from the couple that heads up each school, the dancing skills of the "Queen of the Drums" (the scantilly clad woman who sambas her way along the route with impossibly fast foot, leg and bottom movements), the skill of the drummers and the overall effect of the brightly coloured costumes of all the samba school members who follow behind the floats.
The Sambodromo itself deserves a mention. Imagine a 100m race track with stadium seating built up on each side of it. Double or even triple the length and add a few metres to the height of stadium seating you were imagining and that is your average sambodromo. We suppose that for the rest of the year it is used for music events and of course practising the carnival parade.
So, along we went to the Manaus carnival with our expectations set at very low and our money secreted in places you would definitely not feel during an attempted pick-pocket...and we had a brilliant time. We went with an Italian girl we met back in Bonito and some Argentineans she met
on the way to Manaus.
When we got to the Sambodromo it looked like the whole of the city was there, but the atmosphere was amazing, friendly and very non-threatening. We followed the hoardes past impossibly cheap beer stalls and into the sambodromo, where we somehow managed to get right near the front of the crowds to watch the procession from ground level.
The floats were amazing. They are not on a par with those of Rio of course, there is a lot less money to spend and we're sure the most professional samba dancers all head for Rio. But given those constraints we were amazed at the floats going past us. You can hopefully see from the pictures that there were some brilliant, if a little wobbly-looking creations. We also noticed that unlike Rio, the dancers were not all necessarily stick thin with the requisite fake breasts and impossibly toned bottoms. In fact we spotted quite a few male samba ´queens´. One in particular was quite a large chap, sporting a beautiful lime green dress and feathers in his hair. As we were standing quite near the end of the parade he was looking quite knackerd by
now and possibly even suffering from an ankle injury. For some reason though, just as he passed us something spurred him into action and he flew into a flurry of over-the-top samba moves and some rather suggestive posturing from his little platform. The crowds went wild as we collapsed in fits of giggles.
Soon afterwards a camera crew came past and started interviewing some very well made-up locals to our right. The journalist was asking them their thoughts on the carnival and then which school they supported. He then started moving along the crowd asking people which school they supported. To her horror Tracey noticed the journo had spotted her and had a wicked twinkle in his eye and with that the mic was in her face as he asked her "que escuela?" She didn´t have a clue what any of the schools were called so she improvised with a "The one that´s just coming" in a few words of mangled Portuguese. He didn´t stop there though and questioned her about where she was from and if she liked Manaus before eventually moving on!
We decided to escape the lower levels and get a view from the stands
On Air Grilling
Tracey gets interviewed for Brazillian TV by the grey haired chap
instead, so we squeezed our way through the growing crowds to make it to the seating. On the way we noticed the dancers who had already been through the parade were all just throwing their outfits on the ground so there were piles of hats and feathers all over the place, which meant a good chance for some impromptu fancy dress from us of course!
Up on the stands we had an amazing view as the schools and their dancers and floats just kept on coming. David was befriended by a few blokes who looked like they may have come up river from a logging station or something and were certainly making the most of their time off work. They were drinking some horrible looking pink mixture from a coke bottle which David was duly offered. He bravely/foolishly took a big swig and instantly regretted it as the liquid burned all the way down his throat and into his stomach. Luckily Tracey managed to resist the offer of a taste and second time round Dave employed the 'taking a swig without opening your lips' tactic!
And that was carnival. Well, one day of it. The next day the
View Of The Sambodromo
From the top of one stadium block
party continued with men dressing as women and plenty of outdoor music on offer before the remaining samba schools took part in a parade the following day. By day three there were a lot of people looking a little worse for wear and we leave you with a comment from a blood-shot-eyed local guy staying in our hostel to sum up the approach to Carnival-Manaus style.
"I am not going home during carnival, my girlfriend will be cross. For carnival we all leave our wives and girlfriends for 5 days and party...then we go home and it is all back to normal again." Classic!
There are more photos below