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Published: February 14th 2016
Obviously, Rio de Janeiro is an iconic city for many reasons. There’s Christ the Redeemer, Sugar Loaf Mountain, football and, of course, Carnival. We didn’t plan to be here for carnival – it kind of happened by fluke – but we’re so glad it did!
So, we landed and soon realised the extent of the madness that is Rio in carnival time. The taxi driver was getting more and more irate as every road he wanted to go down seemed to be shut – and we were panicking as the meter was going up! Anyway, we arrived at our AirBnB place to find a lovely little studio flat in the middle of Lapa, samba town, and our host Alex waiting for us. It soon became obvious that Alex was in the carnival spirit himself and, as he gave us a tour of the area, dodging the dressed up/half naked revellers, he was a little bit tipsy himself! Anyway, later that night we headed 5 minutes down the road to the Arches of Lapa, where a stage had been set up and a huge number of very drunk people were dancing. When we arrived, the band were setting up and not
much was happening but as soon as the live music started, the crowd were going crazy and the music was great!
The next day was officially the last day of carnival (turns out this means absolutely nothing!) and we headed up a steep, steep hill in the heat to Santa Teresa. En route, we encountered many little street parties, with people dressed up and dancing in the streets to PA systems that people had set up outside their houses, selling beers. Very enterprising! When we arrived at Largo ads Guimaraes, the main square, there were about a thousand people dancing in the street so we joined in, impressed by the costumes. Our favourite was Noah and his ark, with about 6 people walking along inside a boat! The atmosphere was fantastic and very infectious. We also tried a tapioca, my food highlight of South America! It’s like a cross between a pizza and a pancake, made with tapioca flour and filled with cheese. Delicious. Eventually the ‘block’ of people started to move, dancing along the street as an enormous group and we joined in for a while before going back, thinking we probably needed a cocktails to really get
into the carnival spirit!
After a few beers/Caipirinhas (my new favourite drink) back at the flat, we headed out to Gloria, a place about two minutes from ours where we had been informed there would be a parade. We weren’t really sure what to expect from this, but it exceeded our expectations in every way! As we arrived, the Banda da Gloria was playing. The music was awesome and everyone was standing around them and dancing. After about half an hour of this, the people started moving and soon we were all dancing down the street in front of the band, everyone singing together (we felt bad for not knowing the words) and laughing along, the atmosphere was amazing! Tom also got hit on by two gay men which was hilarious – he had to be informed by a lovely Brazilian girl of what was going on! We managed to catch a much larger version of one of these parade ‘blocks’ on Saturday morning by the Arches of Lapa which was very cool – there must have been about 5,000 people getting involved, along with people on stilts, about a hundred dancers and the band with three singers on
the top of a truck.
Anyway, so the official end of Carnival, on Shrove Tuesday… That is, until Saturday, when every year, the Winner’s Parade takes place in the Sambadrome. Having said that, every day that we’ve been in this crazy city we have seen bands playing, people singing and scantily clad locals dancing!
So Saturday. We had found out a few months ago from our AirBnB hosts that there are two types of carnival in Rio, the first is what we had already experienced on the streets, and the second is the glitz and glamour of the Sambadrome, which we were told we had to experience once in our lives. On two nights during carnival, 12 samba schools compete for the Gold title. This is something which the whole city gets behind and people buy shirts to show support for their samba school and everything. During the Winner’s Parade, the six top schools perform. The results have already been announced, on Shrove Tuesday, so in theory the atmosphere isn’t quite the same as the competition has already closed… but we still thought it was pretty incredible!
I’m not sure how much I can actually say about
the Winner’s Parade, words can’t really do justice to it… and nor can our amateur photography! The Sambadrome is like a really long, thin stadium and each samba school has around 5,000 people involved in their parade, as well as five or six enormous floats. The parade starts with everyone in the stands singing the school’s anthem, and this song is played for the entire hour that it takes for the whole school to dance to the other end. The variety in each school’s parade is mind-blowing, as well as the costumes, energy and money that must go into each performance. The event started at 9pm and went on until about 6am! I was struggling by the end! When it came to the winning school’s turn, the crowd went absolutely wild and it seemed like every single person knew their anthem off by heart. They were called Mangueira and apparently come from a favela, there were a lot of very emotional people around us.
Our night at the Sambadrome was one of the highlights of our whole trip, and there were moments where I felt a bit like I needed to pinch myself to check that I was really
there/an event like this actually happens in the world! Rio’s carnival traditions are certainly unlike anything else I have ever seen (except Bridgwater Carnival – seriously, you should go) and it really has been an incredible once in a lifetime experience!
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