the week-long fiesta in Brazil...
07.02.2013 - 13.02.2013
The smell of sweat mixed with the rush of colors as thousands crammed into a small aisle, all dressed in various costumes that would shame Halloween, with the sounds of cheering and chanting of different samba songs filling the air. And that was just at the airport.
I knew from the start of my trip that my Carnival experience was going to be one of the highlights of South America, but until I experienced it, I had no idea how spectacular it was going to be. Let’s rewind to how I actually got there.
So my friend Zane and I originally booked this trip together, organizing our parade tickets and accommodation almost 9 months in advance, without looking into actually making the trip to the continent. And maybe it was a little presumptuous of us to plan so far in advance, or maybe it was after a drunken night out, and it was bad luck she couldn’t come in the end, but at least I made it. While I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my solo trek through my sixth continent, I did wish I had company for this festive event. My other friend Luis even tried to take over her bookings, but had to back out just one week before due to visa issues.
So there I was, already having crossed the border to Brazil from Bolivia, everything in Rio had been booked and paid for, and yet I was still hesitant to go alone. Then I met a girl in my hostel that made the suggestion to not only go to Carnival in Brazil, but to dance in the parade as well. It took me just a split second to make the decision: Yes!
And so just two days before Carnival weekend, I ordered an official costume for the Sambodromo parade for one of the schools, and made plans to go with a then complete stranger, now a good friend. You only live once right?
Across the next 6 days, Carnival was a blur of fiestas, costumed dress-up street parties, late nights on the beach, and alcohol… Lots of alcohol. I know that the origin of Carnival is supposed to be the last frolic of fornication and sin before the period of Lent until Easter, but now I think maybe it’s the other way around. Maybe the reason why people fast and refrain from eating meat, drinking alcohol and having sex for the 40 days of Lent is because they overdid it during Carnival and are forced into a vegetative state of detoxification. Just a theory…
In terms of my parade experience, it did turn out to be spectacular. After a long wait at the costume department, as our costumes never made it on such short notice and we had to hang around to see what they could spare, we finally got our outfits. It wasn’t what we had ordered or expected, but they were loud, gaudy, and looked great next to the float. The assembly of paraders in itself was amazing, as we were all huddled around in our respective matching outfits waiting for our section to go on, camera snap-happy and buzzing from the anticipation of what was to come.
Dancing in the parade really was an experience to remember, with the busy frenzy of sights and sounds of Carnival echoing in your head, combined with the task of trying to learn the allocated song and routine just moments before, with of course the added complication of doing it all in a one-size-fits-all costume complete with a 20lb headpiece. And even with the sweat trickling down my face in 30 ͦC heat, at that moment I wouldn’t have traded places with anyone.
Of course it was not until watching the parade from the grandstands the following day that I understood what all the spectators were cheering for. The line-up of dancers in full costumes with monstrous floats being pushed down the lane way, with the crowds chanting the chosen song for the allocated school was also a great experience.
When my friends ask me what I enjoyed most about Carnival, I’m stumped for an answer. All the moments from last week were unique in their own special way. Whether it was looking up at the Christ the Redeemer statue, shimmying in costume down the Sambodromo, watching the parade itself, or sharing a kiss with a friend at sunset on Ipanema, I’m sure Rio’s Carnival will remain one of my most cherished memories of South America.