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Gringos in Paradise – Our Carnaval experience

BRAZIL | Friday, 16 March 2012 | Views [3424]

Alien lady at Carnaval Parade in Floripa

Alien lady at Carnaval Parade in Floripa

A year ago, if someone mentioned ‘Carnival’ (spelt Carnaval in Portuguese) to me images like flamboyant parades, massive floats, scantily clad Brazilian women and Rio de Janeiro would immediately spring to mind. While all these images are quite accurate, there is so much more to Carnaval than this.

Historically, the ‘Carnaval’ of Brazil is an annual festival held forty-six days before Easter, or during ‘Lent’. On certain days of Lent, Catholics traditionally abstained from the consumption of meat, hence the term "Carnaval". Carnaval has roots in a pagan festival called ‘Saturnalia’, which was adopted by Christianity and became a farewell to bad things in preparation for Christ's death and resurrection. This, to me, sounds like more like a religious discipline to practice repentance. However over the centuries the theme has obviously shifted from a sacrificial fasting to more of a celebratory ‘bender’ for the entire population (which is much more fun let’s admit).  Locals would tell us that the meaning of Carnaval is ‘the last great party before Easter/Lent’, and let me tell you, the Brazilians do not disappoint.
Let me throw some stats at you: it is said that the week of Carnaval accounts for 80% of Brazil’s annual consumption of Beer, 70% of the annual tourism intake and the highest government annual output of free Condoms nationwide (in an attempt to prevent the spread of AIDS). In fact the entire country practically shuts down for the week to celebrate – with the exception of any Carnaval related workers, industries, hospitality and malls.

Prior to leaving Australia we had already made up our minds as to where in Brazil we were to be spending Carnaval. While the grand spectacle that is Rio was tempting, we had heard through a few friends who had been to Rio for Carnaval that it was just that, a spectacle, rather than an interactive celebration. At the advice of our friends we decided to spend Carnaval in Florianopolis, or ‘Floripa’ as the locals call it. We even booked our accommodation before we left home expecting a mad frenzy of tourists battling for what beds were available in town.

Floripa is a small scale metropolis situated on a large island just off the coast of the Brazilian mainland. It is made up of the main city of around 1 million people, and many smaller coastal towns scattered across the island. We stayed, and spent the majority of our time in the town of Lagoa – about 40mins outside of the main city. The beautifully quaint town of Lagoa is littered with Café’s, Pubs, retail outlets, handicraft stores and restaurants. It also has its own small bus terminal which made it quite easy for us to get around Floripa and enjoy all of what the island, and Carnaval, had to offer.

Perhaps the number one reason, aside from Carnaval, for visitors from around Brazil and the rest of the globe to visit Floripa would be its beaches. To be exact, there are forty two world class beaches all around Floripa to the north and the south. Apparently there is even a famous nude beach on the island, but unfortunately (or fortunately – I’m not too sure) we did not make it there. We did however manage to spend two amazing days lazing in the sun on a couple of incredible beaches in the south of Floripa; Pantano do Sul a really long beach which begins in a funky little sea shanty town of the same name and spreads across most of the south of the island, and Lagoinha do Leste. The day we spent at Lagoinha do Leste beach was one of my absolute favourites on our entire trip. First of all, it is by no means an easy task getting to Lagoinha do Leste. It’s a 90 minute climb and descent over a mountain, made even more difficult by the fact that ‘someone’ (not naming any names… Chloe) told us that it was super easy and could be done in Thongs, even if you were carrying your Guitar. Yeah, not so much, haha. But we did make it, and am so glad we did, because you are greeted with a pristine and almost deserted bowl shaped Beach, surrounded by mountains and covered in white sand: a true paradise. We spent the day there with our hostel made friends Leah, Noora and previously mentioned (and despite incorrect Thong advice – still friend) Chloe J, playing music, eating fruit, swimming in a tropical yet surprisingly cold south Atlantic Ocean and generally thanking the gods for how lucky we were (especially me, on a beach in Brazil with four hotties – Winning!) Later on we were to also spend the night in the south of the Floripa Island, but I’ll talk about that later.

 Oh, and another thing you immediately notice about Brazilian beaches is that bathing suit material seems to have become a scarce commodity in this country. What’s more confusing, is that it is actually quite insulting to wear nothing at all on public beaches. We found that sometimes the difference between polite and insulting was a fine line, or should I say a fine string. And this is not only restricted to women’s attire, the general consensus is that budgie-smugglers are an OK thing to wear. Just please dude, for the love of god, keep them pulled up OVER your butt cheeks!

On another and less emotionally scarring note, our hostel too was pretty awesome. We had our own private room with ensuite, there was a Bar, Pool table and Jacuzzi out the back, and it came with a wicked breakfast (which unfortunately we only made it to 50% of the time as we would regularly sleep in past breakfast time courtesy of Carnaval festivities the night before). You wouldn’t say the hostel is known for a ‘party’ atmosphere, it’s more of a place to regenerate and relax, which was perfect for us. Still we made some great friends here from all over the globe; Finland, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Switzerland and Australia and regularly had company during the nights festivities. We all quickly fell in love with the resident barwoman’s Caipirinha’s (Brazil’s national drink), and would enjoy many said cocktails before venturing out for the evenings happenings.

There seemed to be something new happening every night throughout the week and all over the island, not only restricted to the city centre. Our first night of partying took us up north to a massive outdoor dance music complex, where we shook it all night to the sounds of Swedish House Mafia and Fergie. Well, Swedish House Mafia were amazing, but Fergie was more like Karaoke where a DJ would spin her songs and she would occasionally sing over them – most of the time she just spent shouting random “what”s, “sing it”s and “Whoo”s at the crowd L.

Our more ‘traditional’ experience with Carnaval happened on our second night, when we ventured into the City Centre to watch the Floripa Carnaval Parade. When I say ‘watch’ I don’t mean sit in the Grandstand and watch the official Parade go past, I mean more get in and watch the Parade. 
Firstly, I should explain what the Parade’s are all about. The Parade’s are made up of various Samba schools (gigantic in numbers) competing in a huge costume, dance and music-off. Each school presents a different theme, usually revolving around historical happenings or some sort of cultural or political movement, which they present through their costumes, dance, music and floats (or the “carros alegóricos”) - huge vehicles decorated according to the theme and constructed specifically for the parade.
Now, before and after the schools actually make their way down the official ‘parade strip’, they all mill around dancing, singing and drinking (still in full costume) in the back streets behind the Grandstands and that’s where we were. There is traditional music playing loudly from the back of pick-up truck PA systems and there is a real party atmosphere about it. Imagine if you will, a giant parade ‘before and after party’. This generally starts around 11pm and continues right through until daybreak. So cool.

The night after we visited Lagoinha do Leste beach, we decided to stick around in the nearby town of Pantano do Sul after seeing the huge beach-front stage the locals had setup on the shore. As the five of us sat down for an amazing seafood dinner, we listened to local bands pumps out some awesome traditional style tunes over the beach. As the night wore on, we watched as the crowd grew bigger and bigger until you could no longer see any sand between the people. It was enough sit-down, thigh-slap dancing for us by then, we paid our cheque and hurried out onto the beach to join all the locals. It was such a wicked night and a perfect end to our day on Lagoinha do Leste beach.

Our final night of Carnaval we decided to stay local. We were pretty worn down by all the partying, and simply couldn’t fathom heading out into the city for more. The idea of just having a few cheeky beverages in Lagoa town then having a (relatively) early night was just too appealing. Little did we know what we were getting ourselves into…
It seemed that Lagoa had saved its traditional street party for the last night! In the local park there was a huge crowd gathered around a tribe of 100 or so dancers, drummers and assorted musicians all singing and dancing to traditional local and national songs. It was infectious and we could not hold back. The rhythm and beat of the drums were resonating through our bodies and the dancing was so that it looked like too much fun. We were hooked for the evening. Dancing until our legs could not hold us anymore. Then suddenly, it fell silent. No applause, no cheering, nothing. We looked at each other thinking ‘What the…” Then some of the performers began a slow rhythmic build up. Then the rest of the tribe gradually joined in, then the crowd, then us. The sound was almost deafening and lasted for ages, yet was so intense – like when a rock band extends their final song of a gig to an almighty climax. It all finished on a beat and the crowd erupted in jubilation. It seemed to be the final expulsion of energy, the final farewell to bad things for the year. Looking around as the feeling calmed down, it was clear that everyone, not just us, were ready for some long and well earned rest.

As much as we wanted some long and well earned rest, it was on the road again. Peru was calling us. So it was onto another overnight bus to Sao Paulo, then a flight to Colombia, then finally a flight to Lima (all in the name of saving $$ of course J). Hopefully we could get our recovery there…

Lastly, I thought I’d just mention a few ‘Things to note when in Brazil’:
1. If you are a female, simply acknowledging a Brazilian man with a grin is to them like saying ‘Yes, I would love to have sex with you. In fact, you don’t even need to find a room, we can do it right here.”
2. While the local population frequently walk around pretty much starkers, do not think for a minute that the lack of sunburn will also apply to you.
3.  An umbrella is not good protection for beach wind. In fact it usually results in an embarrassing yet hilarious race between man and rain dispersing device blowing down the beach.
And finally, 4. You will generally get a nicer reception from the locals once they establish that you are in fact Kangaroo-Gringo, not Yankee-Gringo.

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