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Kat & Andrew's Worldwide Adventures

Rio de Janeiro & Carnival

BRAZIL | Friday, 2 March 2012 | Views [2263]

After our last (yes, I said LAST! YAY!) night bus in South America from Florianopolis to Rio De Janeiro in Brazil, we met up with my friend Casey who had come over from New Zealand at our hostel in the suburb of Botofogo. We had booked a 4 person dorm months ago and it was still a ridiculous $60 US EACH per night!!! However, people who had left booking accommodation for the Carnival period to the last minute were paying $100+ for a 14 bed dorm… so we didn’t do all that badly. It’s still painful paying hotel prices for a hostel though, especially as the bed mattress’s were like those hard thick mats you get in gym class at school, the room was the size of a closet (I had hoped to unpack for a while, yeah right!), and the gender split showers didn’t have cubicles, it was all open for everyone to get friendly…  On the plus side, we had air conditioning at night which was fantastic given every day was hitting around the 33-35 degree Celsius mark. Very hot but thankfully not too humid, so it was bearable.

We took it easy for the rest of the day. Casey and I enjoyed catching up. We must’ve seemed like complete nanas to our young gorgeous Swedish roommate. She successfully went out 9 out of 11 nights, usually coming back around sunrise, once not even coming back at all until night fall. She was a trooper! On the odd occasion that she did come back at the reasonable hour of around 4am, she snored and kept us awake. Our room was right next to the reception and the bar though so the constant party kept us up a lot anyway. Especially an annoying young British group partying it up on mummy and daddy’s money!

10 days in Rio:

DAY ONE (13th Feb): The obligatory supermarket shopping to keep costs down…. Then we went on a Favela Tour. I felt a bit bad gawking at the way these people live their lives like they were some kind of zoo animals, but on the most part they were curious and happy to see us. The money from tourists that go on the tours through their neighborhood goes back into the community. It started off with each of us jumping on the back of a motorbike (moto-taxi) with a helmet that was 10 sizes too large and hanging onto the driver as he wound his way up a steep and curvy street, taking over any vehicle in his way and constantly beeping on his horn. Having survived that excitement, we walked with our guide and a group of fellow tourists through concrete buildings with tin roofs all piled up on one another and crumbling. They were all so tightly packed together that there were no roads, only little pathways covered in rubbish and in parts, even sewage. Bullet holes lined the walls, policemen pushed past with machine guns, children ran around in bare feet with no adult supervision, teenage boys drummed on tin cans, sick looking animals scavenged for food, graffiti marked the broken walls and a tangle of wires lead from building to building from people trying to leach free phone lines, power and internet.

We saw those who looked extremely wasted and forlorn, and those that were in business suits; one extreme to the other. 69,000 people lived in this particular favela, whole family’s sometimes sharing only one room - it’s the biggest favela in South America. Through the open doors of these decrepit shacks, we saw people enjoying plasma TVs, laptops and large stereos. It was bizarre! The whole place is so corrupt but slowly, they are being cleaned up which is why it is now safe for tourists to have a nosy. If you ventured there yourself however, you most likely would not enjoy the outcome…

It is very eye opening seeing the way some people are forced to live their lives. Some of them are content, but on the most part, they are suffering. If one house collapses, many would die, not to mention the drug crime, rape and unhygienic conditions. A lot of them don’t bother working in the city, even though it’s only a small car distance away. For them, it can take up to an hour to walk out of the alleyways to an actual road, and most of them can’t afford the public transport every day, let alone owning a car. Many of them work in the favela’s themselves in little cramped shops and supermarkets that are set up in many cubby holes.

In other countries such as Peru, we saw people living in little make shift shacks without running water or power, living off their farming and animals. Yet they are happy, they are living the simple life and it’s normal to them. They’re not all living on top of one another, it can be miles before the next families land. They still struggle, yes, and beg from tourists… but in Rio its quite western, so these people can see wealth every day and they know what they’re missing out on.

DAY TWO (14th Feb): Decided to tackle the major tourist sites before the craziness of Carnival really kicked in. We got a local bus to the train that lugs tourists up the 710m tall Corcovado mountain (meaning ‘hunchback’) to the famous Christ the Redeemer Statue – now dubbed one of the 7 manmade wonders of the world - only to discover that we were arriving at the same time as bus loads of tour groups… we had to wait an hour and a half to get on the train along with what it seemed like, an astronomical amount of middle aged Europeans. The view from the top over the city was incredible and we got some very god like pictures of the statue being shined on majestically by the sun, but we stayed all of 15 min and got the hell out of there due to the masses of pushing and shoving happy snappers.

The statue is said to be the 5th largest of Jesus in the world and stands 39.6m tall. It was sculpted by a Frenchman which took 9 years and was erected in 1931.

DAY THREE (15th Feb): Walked 20 min to the 1299m high oval shaped mountain called sugarloaf sticking out by the harbor and got the cable car up. Once again we suffered the attack of the tour groups (I wonder how busy it would normally be without the attraction of Carnival..) but there was a lot more space to enjoy the view at the top so we actually sat down and experienced the beauty there. Rio is a huge city and with being a huge city there is overpopulation, shoddy looking buildings and rubbish, but it is still the most stunning city I’ve seen from above. The odd shaped rolling hills are covered with lush tropical jungle, the city is surrounded by brilliant sparkling blue water edged with miles of golden sand and the weather, more often than not, awards clear blue skies and spectacular sunshine. Even from a distance, the groups of favela’s crawling up the hills look quaint.  The cable car was originally made in 1912 and rebuilt in 1972 and 2008.

I was also rapt to see the cutest little monkeys play fighting, completely unaware of the curious tourists hustling to get photos of the adorable creatures.

DAY FOUR (16th Feb): Casey, Andrew and I caught the metro into town to collect our Carnival tickets. It was an interesting system consisting of us being given a collection time and date and once we arrived, we were given a number and waited. Our number was called and we were directed to a room set up like a class room where we once again waited our turn. I guess given the fact that around 60,000 people per night go to the Sambadrome to enjoy the show, they have to a good way of processing everyone! Carnival in Rio attracted 4.9 million people in 2011, 400,000 of which were foreigners. Phew!

Afterwards we decided to check out the suburb of Santa Teresa. We knew that it was included in day tours of Rio so we went to check out why. After we walked up hill for over an hour we never really found what it is they went to see… It’s a pretty suburb with cobbled streets that used to have a cable car running up it until recently when a bad accident stopped the service, but it wasn’t a particularly interesting place. If we had stumbled upon it on our own we would’ve though – ‘oh what a nice area’, but because we went in search of something excellent, we were a little discouraged. We ventured into the centre city and got caught up in the crazy bustle of work life. The population of Rio is roughly 6.3 million people so you can imagine how busy it would be! Due to the heat, every building is equipped with air conditioning units, so walking along the sidewalks you would get the tell tale drips of water from the side of the buildings landing on you.

That night our friend Jeff that we met on the Inca Trail in Peru, and Alex and Anna that we met in Argentina and travelled with for 2 weeks, arrived. We had managed to convince them to come join us in the Carnival festivities and they had booked into the same hostel. Had a few drinks as a catch up. Yay!

DAY FIVE (17th Feb): Andrew and I went on a mission to the downtown airport to buy flights to Salvador for the 29th. We had tried booking it online but it is required that you have a Brazilian ID so we were unable too. We managed to secure some flights that weren’t quite a cheap as online but much cheaper than a travel agent. We had decided that another 20 hours on a bus was not necessary, especially as it would’ve cost the same as our flight. Definitely over long hauls now!!

Met up with the other 4 members of the dream team and we headed to Copacabana Beach to enjoy the sun. Lots of people watching – ahem, buff men in tiny speedos and women wearing g-string bikinis – and discussing which of the women’s cup sizes were natural or surgically assisted whilst we drank out of coconuts…  The beach was busier than any beach I had seen to date, but it was to get much much worse! It was still a working day for many of the city’s occupants but for Carnival they are awarded 2 public holidays tapped on to their soon to come weekend. Also met some very good looking Brazilians who were in the Carnival show at the Sambadrome as well. 

That night the 6 of us put on a bit of sparkle, drunk more than a few capriahnas (which basically consisted of straight white rum, ice, lime and far too much sugar to be good for you!!) – with more loaded into what looked like a large plastic fuel container strapped with rope over Alex’s shoulder – and headed into the suburb of Lapa which on a Friday night is meant to be the place to be. We were herded by a newly acquired American friend called Nate and we happily followed him through the party filled streets with the occasionally head count to make sure no one was lost in the process. We had a system where you would throw up the moa (holding your arm high above your head with your hand shaped as a moa’s head searching above the crowd – learnt from my West Auckland friends) and surprisingly it always worked to find each other! The streets were literally filled with thousands of people dancing, talking and drinking. You could buy booze from one of the many vendors on the street with their makeshift coolers on wheels packed with ice – this would never be allowed back home! Most people were in costume, some extremely impressive, and it made us wish we had gotten more involved in the swing of things. Men seemed to have a fascination with dressing as women… I swear a majority of them were in dresses and it’s supposed to be a very macho population!

The night was hilariously entertaining with the singles having a how-many-locals-can-you-kiss competition, Anna breaking a rather big brazilian muscled man’s cooler lid and Alex doing pushups as apology (don’t know how this made sense but it seemed too at the time!), talking to randoms, getting cuddles from a big group of men dressed as pink fairies, Nate and Alex trying to outdo some very professional gymnasts and having a drumming session with some people playing on buckets and tin cans. The atmosphere was electric and such a crazy thing to experience. I don’t remember seeing any police, they seem to just leave you too it. There was one moment where things got a little heated between some people and there were a few fights, but on the whole, I was surprised at how safe I felt. The metro wasn’t running 24 hours at this point but we managed to get a ride back to the hostel with some people in a van that was charging their service for a small fee.

DAY SIX (18th Feb): Casey, Andrew and I went to Ipanema Beach for a few hours. Being a weekend it was nuts, our towels and umbrella were virtually touching other peoples… You couldn’t even see the sand over the sea of umbrellas, it was ridiculous. It’s weird trying to sunbathe with absolutely no personal space. People are walking over you trying to sell you sarongs, food, drink, jewellery etc. On the plus side they weren’t as pushy as those selling things on the beach in Mexico. I didn’t swim at Copacabana beach as the waves broke very close to the beach and it was a bit too powerful and intense for me, but I swam at Ipanema. The water was ice cold that brought on shivers, but it was very refreshing. The water was very sneaky, it would rush in further than expected and claimed people’s towels and books that had been too close, it almost crept up on us at one point, Casey’s towel was a victim!

That morning after 3 hours sleep, Jeff, Alex and Anna met up with some of Jeff’s local friends to attend a Bloco street party. Alex and Anna came back but night fall came and Jeff was still MIA. A bloco is a moving van and band with blasting music that goes down a street or around a block and people follow it. There are 10-50 blocos a day over roughly a 3 week period surrounding carnival in suburbs all over Rio and it’s free to join in. A small one went past our hostel so Casey and I ran down and grooved with it for half an hour down the road.

DAY SEVEN (19th Feb): Due to Alex and Anna arriving in Rio at a later date than us, they had a lot of sightseeing and organizing catching up to do (with Jeff still MIA) so the 3 of us went to the markets in Ipanema. It’s the first time Andrew and I have actually spent money on gifts during our whole trip. Now that we’ve only got a few weeks to go, we won’t have to cart things around for long. We walked along the decorated footpaths by the beach marveling at the thousands of people packed onto the sand and the buff men working out to impress the ladies. We saw a big group of people screaming up at a hotel balcony and discovered that Jennifer Lopez was waving down at them! Very cool to see her, but I’ve never understood the whole craziness that people erupt into when seeing someone famous.

Back at the hostel we had a few drinks with Alex and Anna before the 3 of us went out to the Sambadrome for the big Carnival show. Anna and Alex had booked to go the following night but Jeff was meant to come with us (although he was seated in another section) but he still hadn’t turned up. Up until this point we figured he had been spending time with a lady (which turns out he had) but we began to get worried when he skipped the show as tickets weren’t cheap.

The Sambadrome was massive and we were sitting in the allocated seating section right at the end. It was nice not having to push and shove for a spot in amongst the thousands of people crammed into the stands, but the downside was, we were at ground level and didn’t get the looking down on the show perspective that the stands got. I had to stand on my chair to even see the costumed people that weren’t on the big floats, and even then I could only see their hats, which was disappointing, but the floats we could see fine and we were pretty close to them. The detail and effort put into the floats and costumes were spectacular and very very impressive. I expected it to be a little more samba dancing focused but costumes were so large and elaborate, they couldn’t really dance.

The night we attended had 7 schools performing, each school took roughly an hour and a half and they all selected one song each which was on repeat for the entire time they were performing which got a bit annoying! Since we were at the end, it took a good half an hour from the beginning of each school for them to reach us. The atmosphere was incredible and it really blew me away to see how music and dancing is so ingrained into the Brazilian culture. All the spectators were going nuts and getting into the groove, even the men, it’s normal for them to dance as they are raised that way, even the most macho of men. Finding an aussie or kiwi bloke that dances unashamed and flamboyantly is a rare thing!

We only lasted watching 4 of the schools, we left around 3.30am, but it continued on until 7am! On the metro back to the hostel, loads of people who were in the show were ditching their large costumes in the bin or on the streets. Would’ve been awesome to claim some but they’re so damn big!!

DAY EIGHT (20th Feb): Met up with John who we had met in Buenos Aires, and some of his friends and went out for lunch. Later that afternoon Jeff finally turned up! Turned out that while he was having some time alone with his lady friend, they had been watched by a dodgy looking character. They went to leave and Jeff had accidently left his money belt behind, he went back to get it and saw the man with it so Jeff chased after him! Got into a bit of a scuffle, chipped his 2 front teeth, cut open his nose, numerous bruises – but he got his stuff back! He had gone to the police to make a report and that was why he had missed Carnival.  He ended up buying another ticket and went with Alex and Anna. Thank god he’s ok!! We had a few drinks with them before they headed off to the Sambadrome.

DAY NINE (21st Feb): The 6 of us in the dream team got all sparkled up and headed out to a day bloco by Flamengo Beach. Loads of costumed people mulled around and all the drink vendors were setting up shop on the sidelines. We followed the crowd to find where the music was and stumbled into a 10,000 people strong party moving down the street! We got swept up right in the middle of it and were squashed shoulder to shoulder with big smiling party people grooving to the beat. It was extremely fun; id never experienced anything like it, until it turned into a bit of a mosh pit. The van was right behind us and there were people pushing forwards as it kept moving resulting in it getting very very intense. Andrew and I ended up pushing our way out (I’m only little after all!!) and getting up onto a bridge and watching the craziness pass underneath us. Around the slow moving van was security with ropes making sure the performing stilt walkers and those playing instruments ahead of the van weren’t caught up in the mess.

Met up with the rest of the group back at the hostel and debated whether we wanted to keep drinking and go out to hit the nightlife but after all that excitement we had had enough. Jeff went out to see his lady friend and Casey joined Nate at a beach party in Ipanema.

DAY TEN (22nd Feb): Casey and I headed into the city to find the Lapa Steps that we had looked for that day in Santa Teresa but couldn’t find. Turns out we had passed it only one street away, doh! They are covered in beautiful tiles hand painted to represent things from all over the world. It was very beautiful to see but unfortunately they were covered in puke, broken bottles and rubbish due to the current festivities…

That afternoon completed some last minute chores as it was our last day in Rio, applied for some jobs for NZ online and did a phone interview with flight centre on skype. Unfortunately due to a shoddy internet connection at the hostel, the call dropped off as we were coming to the end of our conversation. Argh, hopefully it doesn’t ruin my chances!

Afterwards the dream team got together for one final celebration; we went out to dinner at a churrascaria. It was like the restaurant Wildfire in NZ – all you can eat meat. You have a card that has green on one side and red on the other, if you want the meat to keep coming, you leave it with the green facing up. It was like a game and very fun; these eager men with different types of meat on skewers would run up to you and cut off big chunks onto your plate. The boys looked like it was Christmas and took full advantage of what was on offer! There was also an all you can eat buffet which I got a bit carried away on. Ahhh so good!! We left feeling the most full we had felt in a long time - if we were wearing belts we would’ve had to undo a few notches…! Sat at an outdoor bar afterwards and enjoyed watching the locals scream and yell at a football game that was on TV, and then sadly we said our goodbyes.

We had had an absolute crazy time in Rio filled with great company, loads of excitement and epic entertainment. We had seen the must see sights, enjoyed the mind blowing views over Rio, explored the conditions of the favelas, sampled the overpopulated famous beaches with songs written about them, watched the impressive show that is carnival and gotten in amongst the insane party scene and blocos.

There were so many balls, parties and concerts that were on offer, it was overwhelming how much choice you had for entertainment. Carnival is one of the biggest festivals in the world and is celebrated all over South America, with the most populated attendance going to Rio, Sao Paulo and Salvador in Brazil – a must do experience. We couldn’t have asked for a better time!


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