Carnaval 2006 - How the professionals do it

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March 3rd 2006
Published: March 3rd 2006
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Hello Everyone!

Carnival, spelled Carnaval in Portuguese, has ended which is a little sad, but at the same time is probably best for our bodies, we need some rest! We started our celebrations on Friday, Feb. 24th, and didn’t stop until about 4:00pm Wednesday, Mar. 1st. We did get some sleep in between, but I am sure we won’t be getting up as earlier as we have been. Fortunately, we had no problems with thievery, well someone did make off with a small, very small bottle of our sun block (which by the way is very expensive here!), but other than that no problems at all! We witnessed one or two people getting billy-clubbed by the police, here if you cause problems it’s a beating first, questions later, but other than that it was a great, fun, and safe time for us!

We did some research on the origins of Carnaval and it seems that there are a few stories that float around dealing with Ancient Greek orgies and Roman Catholics going berserker before the 40 days of Lent. It is said that Catholics in Italy hundreds and hundreds of years ago would hold a wild costume party the day before Lent, and since Catholics are not supposed to eat meat during Lent they called the festival canevale - which means “to put away the meat” -. Like all good things it eventually spread across Europe and eventually around the world. It seems as though there isn’t an exact history of Carnaval, but one thing we know is it’s a great time of the year!

Friday night we headed to Recife Antigo or Old Town Recife where it was like an introduction night to Carnaval because there weren’t many people out, but you still got a feel of what you would be dealing with. The streets were filled with people, music coming from every direction, confetti flying all around, and vendors selling beverages and food. Some of the time when you wanted to purchase an item you ended up bartering with the person. Usually you can buy a beer or a soda for R$1.50, but you will first hear people asking for R$2 (R$3 if you’re obviously a foreigner) and you just have to say no, walk away and usually they will reduce it down. If they don’t reduce it down, you only have to walk about 10 steps to the next vendor that will. So Friday night we were able to enjoy some live Brazilian music in the streets and dance the night away! Well, not the whole night because the next day was Galo da Madrugada or Rooster of the Dawn, the world’s largest block party (guess it’s in Guinness Book of World Records) and we were getting up early to avoid the mass crowds.

The main area of the world’s largest block party is located in Recife Antigo on top of a bridge around a gigantic papier-mâché rooster. I guess when the party is in full swing the bridge actually bounces and sways, not sure how safe that is, but we weren’t going to be celebrating there. Being a block party there are many multiple parties all around the area and you purchase a t-shirt for the block you are going to be on. Tia Ana works at a Law Firm and one of her bosses’ clients own a gas station in the area and he had it all blocked off for one of these parties. We were hooked up a t-shirt for free which were white with a Rooster on the front that said Galo VIP and we also didn’t have to worry about the big crowds because only a certain number of people were allowed into the fenced of area…Woohoo!

I am very happy that we were able to celebrate Galo da Madrugada where we did because there was plenty of shade! It was very, very hot this day, actually it was hot everyday of Carnaval, and I am sure we would have all passed out from the heat if we were in the sun all day. We arrived and met up with quite a few people that we knew so there was a group of about 12 of us dancing the day away. There were three live bands that were great and played all the famous Carnaval songs, while at the same time there was a parade going down the street with bands on top of the floats with many dancers. Whenever a float passed by, the band would pause their music while everyone turned their attention to the street. As soon as the float had passed they’d start back up where they left off, it was non-stop! We woke up this day around 7am so we only lasted until about 5pm, but we had a great time. We headed home for some food, took showers, some people took naps, but Samuel cranked up the stereo and we continued celebrating at the house until around 10 or so at night. The next day we woke up early again and heading to Olinda!

Carnaval is a time where people can dress up however they want to and have a little fun in costumes, or fantasy as they call it here. We too wanted to partake in the dressing up so today the boys had matching Captain America t-shirts while Heather and Tia Ana had costumes they were saving for other days. Recife is about 5 km away from Olinda, but because of the crowds, we only drove about half way between the towns to a shopping mall where we could park for R$2.50 a day and from there we took a bus (on a side note: this also reduced the chance of us having more car troubles…hehe). We arrived in Olinda around 9am, walked around the streets…well not really walked but crawled because the streets were packed with people…and found a spot on the side of the road in the shade where we could stand and enjoy the passing music. There was also a restaurant by us where I quickly made friends with one of the workers because they had bathrooms that he allowed us to use for free. Unfortunate but convenient, men usually just go around the corner and pee on the side of the street, but it isn’t as easy for the ladies and you usually have to pay one buck to pee somewhere so they were glad that I bonded with this gentleman.

One thing that Olinda’s Carnival is famous for is all the big puppets they have that roam the streets with the musicians. The puppets are usually molded to look like someone famous, whether it be the President of Brazil or an actor on a Soap Opera, but they look as though they are made with great precision and they are fun to watch pass by (the picture above is an example). We danced and sang our hearts out, saw some great costumes like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a guy fully decked out in Captain America outfit, and many others. Late in the afternoon everyone had had their fill of dancing so we headed home and decided to have a little barbeque. It was a short barbeque though because everyone was either falling asleep and/or a bit too intoxicated to even realize that we were having a barbeque (Felipe danced with the dog). After Heather and I cleaned everything up, we hit the hay because the next day was another early to rise!

Ah, back to Olinda, another day, another costume, another bottle of sun block… The guys had Thundercat T-shirts on today while Heather and Tia Ana dressed up as Sailors. The same seamstress that made the clothes for us guys when we dress as women made Heather and Ana some outfits. Felipe didn’t join us today because he was a bit under the weather with the start of a cold, so it was Rafael and his roommate Isaac’s day to drink it up. We ended up spending the morning hours at the same location as yesterday and the guy at the restaurant remembered me so we had no troubles using their facilities again. We saw some great costumes today including Elvis, Michael Jackson with a security guard, and my favorite was He-man with She-ra and Skeletor! The sun was still out in full force so all the guys except me and Michel purchase jumbo sombreros which seemed like a good idea, but when they were dancing in the streets it wasn’t too pleasant to have a hat brim always hitting you. As for myself, I just purchased a smaller straw hat and was glad I did because it’s become harder to protect your scalp when you don’t have as much hair!

Around 3pm, Rafael and Isaac were down for the count, but after a little relax and release, we were back on the streets having a great time. If you happen to have read our blog from Christmas you might remember the scary picture of a gay Santa on my lap. Well, he/she was at Carnaval in Olinda, this time dressed as a clown and we bumped into him/her and he/she remembered us as the Americans. After a few photos with our little friend, I threw Rafael on my back and started to head towards the bus stop. Fortunately he gained a second wind so I only had to carry him a little ways. Back at the house we were joined by a few more people where we turned on some tunes and just sort of relaxed a bit for the night. Tomorrow’s Day Five!!!

Five days of straight partying, the last time I did this was, hmm I don’t think ever! Today for costumes the guys had matching shirts for a music group called Banda de Pente, which is a Carnaval band that takes combs with a piece of plastic attached and when you hum on the plastic is sounds like a horn. It’s a bit hard to explain, so next time you see me ask me to demonstrate my musical talents. The ladies were supposed to be going as Cleopatra, but the day before as Sailors the outfits had a gold trim and the material seemed to melt off and the total outfit of Cleopatra was made of this material so Samuel wouldn’t allow Ana to wear the costume. As for me, Heather was wearing shorts and a tank-top underneath so if the material did melt away there was no problem! Heather, being the trooper that she is, decided she would be brave and be the only person in costume today, that’s my girl!

First thing we did today was meet up with the Band of Combs and hummed out a few tunes. One of Ana’s bosses at work is a main member of the band and we have met him on a few occasions and he was nice enough to supply all of us with combs and plastic so we could join the precession through the streets. After 20 minutes of humming away, we found ourselves back in front of the same restaurant with the same guy there that remembered us, score - we had bathrooms again! Today was the Parade of 100 Puppets which was a cool site to see. It was the same puppets that I mentioned earlier, but 100 of them in a row going down the street. I grabbed Heather, threw her on my shoulders, handed her the camera and we were able to capture some great shots.

Later in the day everyone was extremely exhausted and ended up seeking refuge in the restaurant, well almost everyone. Michel, Heather and I kept going until our feet couldn’t take anymore; we won’t see this stuff every year! It seemed like the last days were catching up with everyone so we said goodbye to everyone at the restaurant and headed back to Samuel’s pad where everyone, with the exception of us hard-corers, took long naps. As for us non-nappers, we threw on some dance music in the player, took down the hammocks and had ourselves a little dance party. I think you start to realize how tired you are when you think it is around Midnight you look at a clock and realize that it is only 8pm. Well everyone woke up, we cooked some pizza and called it a night. Tomorrow was the last day of Carnaval!!!

Day six - Number of survivors: 2 Names: Ben and Heather Location: Olinda, Pernambuco. We woke up to realize there were no survivors; no one was going to make it to the last day of Carnival but us foreigners. Today we dressed up as those two famous travelers, Ben and Heather, but getting to Olinda didn’t turn out to be that easy. We told grandma that we were going to grab a taxi, but she said we should arrange a ride with Tia Ana. So we waited and waited and our ride showed up, ending up eating lunch first, then finally got a ride halfway where we caught a bus and made it to Olinda around 12:30pm. Think the taxi would have been a bit easier, but oh well we were finally there! Once in Olinda, we realized that it wasn’t only our party that didn’t survive, but most of the population of Brazil. There were probably only about 20% of the people in town today that were there yesterday. We walked around the city for a few hours, checked out some of the local shops, but didn’t stay to long because of the lack of dancers and lack of music. We found one precession that was going through the streets, but we decided around 4pm we would head home and join the non-survivors for some rest.

There it is, Carnaval - great time with many great people and a lot of entertainment. To be completely honest, I didn’t think that it was going to be that great of a time because of all the people and crowds, but if I could I would come back here every year for these 5-6 days of fun filled times. We are only in Recife for another 2 days and it sounds like there is going to be a little more fun for us. Our flight is at 4am on Saturday morning so we have to be at the airport around 2:30am so they have planned a going away party for us on Friday night with a live band and lots of friends that we have made here. Should be a fun time! We are really going to miss it here in Recife, it was been a great time and would do it again in a heart beat!

Love Ben and Heather

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3rd March 2006

Wow! What a crowd. Great colors - great costumes! Cleopatra is my favorite. The president of Pernambuco looks a little stiff... but happy. Anchors aweigh! See you soon!
3rd March 2006

Muito bom! Amei!!!

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