Real Samba Skills – the Rio de Janeiro Carneval

Carneval is crazy. I mean just full-on, no holds barred, anyone can do what they want mental. I’ve been here for five nights now, and it has been exhausting. Every day, there are different neighbourhoods which have an allocated time to have a street party, so during the day you go around to about two of them (if you can handle going to one in the morning). Everyone is in fancy dress (or just shirtless like me since it’s so hot), and is dancing to Samba music and drinking beer in the streets.

You start talking to random people, especially if they like your costume, and everyone is very friendly and happy. On my first day, I ended up “speaking” with this group of five brazillian guys for about an hour, which involved me speaking english, them speaking Portuguese, and them giving me this horrendous drink which I think was Cachaca. Next day I was out with a Brazillian friend and met some other people. But it is taking it’s toll, drinking all day, getting dehydrated and dancing, and then going to bed late and waking up early because its so hot. Our hostel is nice, but it’s on top of a huge hill so that doesn’t help the sweating either.

Last night we went to the Sambadrome, which is the big parade procession of the main Samba schools, and it was absolutely crazy. We arrived at 8pm, the show started at 9pm, and within half an hour we had the first dancers in front of us. But it’s not a dance contest, it’s a “flair” contest, based on the people, their dance routine, the extravagence of the costumes and most of all, the unbelievable floats. These floats are four storeys tall, animated and have about 30 people dancing on them dressed up in whatever “theme” it is. So we had jungle floats, a Thundercats-style robot, cavemen, scenes from the history of brazil, and my favorite, a full size dragon which moved it’s head and wings and breathed smoke! It was freaking crazy. And these will each be followed by about five groups of 300-500 people in matching costumes with huge feathers, gold, glitter. This went on for one and a half hour, and the music is exactly the same song, with the same lyrics, which doesn’t stop, it’s just a really long loop. After the one and a half hours, the first section finished. And we found out that was only ONE SCHOOL! All of those people, costumes and floats just represent one group. Some schools have more than 20,000 people participate in the parade for them! We managed to stay for the first three out of six schools, which were apparently the best, but then we were so tired and overawed that we needed to go back, this was about 2am, and we were exhausted. And on the way back, you see the costumes just thrown onto the ground, being collected in bin bags by random people. The girls I was with took one which was a zepellin, and had fun trying to get that into the hostel lift…

While in general the festival is amazing, there are also some dark sides you see. I haven’t had anything stolen, but other people have. The whole city smells of urine. You see some of the homeless people in the street sleeping and bathing in terrible conditions. And the lowlight was early one morning on the way to a street party, I saw a man and woman have a domestic argument in the street and he proceeded to hit her.

Tonight is the last night, and so we’re all off to Ipanema beach, where the biggest party of the whole festival takes place. Then tomorrow some of us are off to another little island.

Videos coming soon, I promise

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