Thursday, 16 February 2012

The biggest party on Earth*

Tomorrow, the biggest party on earth, the Rio Carnival kicks off.

This time last year I was sitting in a bar on a street corner (curiously christened Corner Bar, by us, over the course of the week) with my mate Kim sipping probably my 15th Caipirinha and wondering if the rocket-fuel strength would eventually numb the pain of my ridiculous sunburn. 
So original
I was at Carnival and it was going to ROCK!

Major Brazilian food group
Day one had consisted of arriving late at night, complaining about our room, moving twice, sleeping for about twenty minutes, jumping up, seeing sunshine, grabbing our bikinis and heading straight to Copacabana beach for general guidebook reading, Brazilian flag sarong purchasing, beach seller shooing, copious Caipirinha drinking and then almost psychotic levels of Haviana flip flop purchasing (we realised we had no cash or cards on us to enable to purchase the seven pairs each we attempted to) en route home to get ready for our welcome meeting (“stay off the beach after dark, don’t lose your Sambadrome ticket, it’s like gold dust, speaking of which BUY GLITTER!”) and our “getting to know everyone else on the tour” buffet dinner.   
It rained a lot!

On that day we also got so sunburnt I can even describe the pain or hideousness it caused. So I won’t!

Our third Amigo, Michaela, arrived later that night whilst we were asleep (one of the only times we actually slept whilst the mood was out!) and we found our little group complete.  
amazing what you can find on the streets of Rio
Over the coming days our time was a blur of visiting Sugar Loaf Mountain in the pouring rain and seeing nothing but clouds; dancing amidst complete carnage and madness under the Lapa arches (more rocket fuel caipirinhas helped) in samba clubs, in roadside cafes, in the back of taxis and barefoot in puddles in the street; snatching a three-second glimpse of Christ the Redeemer as the clouds cleared at the top of Corcovado Mountain, and cracking up as we, as the complete originals that we are, yelled “JESUS CHRIST” at the top of our voices (and for the rest of the trip at every opportune moment); taking an opinion-changing trip in to the Favelas to meet a group of young artists and their global phenomenon miniature Favela (we refused to do the “human zoo” style tours); more street dancing as we found the first of many street parties; feeling completely bemused by some rather mediocre football after buying the wrong tickets (a.k.a. duped!),  but loving the local fans’ enthusiasm and chants; getting dressed up in bits and pieces of discarded costumes from the official carnival route so we looked, erm, colourful as we walked the red carpet at the Gay Gala Ball – the biggest and craziest of all the carnival balls and, in fact, probably ever; consuming nothing for days save for Tangfastics and M&Ms from home, chips whilst standing in the street and breakfast at 8am on our way home from some street party or other, oh and the strongest caipirinhas ever tasted; being flabbergasted at the sheer fancy dress brilliance displayed by every person in Rio (even commuters) over the Carnival weekend; watching street dancers perform Capoeira in the streets by Ipanema Beach, seeing our new friends on the TV in our room as they performed in the carnival dressed as peacocks (the single biggest regret of my life is not paying the extra $500 to join in!); looking at the Rio skyline from Guanabara Bay on a big group boat trip; and finally, attending the main night at the Sambadrome.

Ticket to the craziest party you'll ever go to!
The Sambadrome. Blew. My. Mind.
Feeling the samba vibe!

I think we got there at 9pm and the party started at about midnight as the Premier League of the country’s samba schools sent their entries down the half-mile strip.
There are a number of schools that compete over the course of the weekend and each school has their own time to parade and their supporters, much like football fans, know what time they’ll come on and arrive in the school’s colours and cheer and dance and sing along to the school’s chosen song for the strict 45 minutes (I think) that they have to make their way along the strip. Fireworks would announce the moment that the first dancer from the school had entered the strip and then the same tune plays until the last dancer leaves. And they sing and play it all live! Wowzers! Each school has to have a number of different components in their parade, there are strict section boundaries, dancing areas and choreographic requirements, there are specified roles for each dancer, singer (even for the tourists who pay to partake – you can’t let the side down!) and float. The dance, song, costume choice and story all have to gel as part of one over arching theme. There’s just so much more to it than dancing down the road and I wish I’d read up on it before I got there… for a person like me, who LOVES tradition and history, it was just mesmerising to watch, and hear, and FEEL!
Life regret: not taking part in Carnival
I can’t even put in to words the energy in that structure. For seven hours straight the three of us stood (and sometimes sat) on the concrete steps at the end of the strip and samba’d our hearts out. We watched the sun set and rise over the surrounding hills, we watched Cristo Redentor appear in the distance as the sun went down and his illuminations switched on, we ate questionable burgers, we pilfered some crazy head gear, we got soaked as it started to rain, but my word did we have the times of our lives.
When I flew home (alone, the other two amigos stayed on for a few extra days) I truly felt like I’d been on a life changing trip. Not least because I felt like I’d never be able to summon those energy levels again, or that I’d ever recover from the extreme exhaustion that I felt (not to mention the three respiratory infections I contracted in the aftermath).

Our Havianas at home on Copocabana
I still look back in sheer disbelief at how lucky I was to experience such a thing. Sometimes I pinch myself as I’m sure that it was all a dream, but I know that it wasn’t.
The feathers and glitter I keep finding in my flat are the first clue that it was most definitely real.
And the shivers that run down my spine when I hear, and feel, that samba beat remind me that even my wildest dreams couldn’t top that reality.
Completely C-Rio-azy!!
Check out my pictures here
* except for my birthday, oh and my wedding, obvs!

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