Day 5 (Sambadrome)
Trip Start Feb 13, 2007
61Trip End Apr 13, 2007
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I spoke to Lance (hostel owner) about getting sambadrome tickets and he said he wasnt sure they were selling, and to go to the sambadrome (pronounced sam-boh-droh-mo if you dont want glairs from portuguese people) and buy there was asking for trouble (touts)
At 18:30 he gave us a glimmer of hope, he had heard they were selling tickets at the samba office in impanema just 2 blocks away.
We bolted there through throngs of party-goers who packed the street, the mad party that is carnival started today
Get there, ask for tickets, they are scarce, grandstand tickets are left, but that's crappy, too far from the action, no reserved seats, but 100 reals only for grandstand, reserved seats sold out,almost nabbed 2 in sector 5 at 220 reals each but they had just gone
Then the incredible happened, using the killer combination of wit and extreme politeness, the biggest smile ever and occasional "did I mention I was from afrique du sud" I had this lovely Brazilian lady scrambling to get me better than grandstand, and she delivered sector 2 executive boxes at 830 reals pp in a 12 people box (choke), I went no too much, she spoke to her boss and price dropped to 540 reals, more hesitance from me, and it was 540 reals for 2, I gleefully accepted and gave over all my money, she gave me a tip that the box has a waiter, and I can give him money and he will keep the drinks flowing, better than having to keep walking myself as the drinks bar is far-ish away from my box
It was now after 7pm and the show started at 8pm, we charged off again by metro to the sambadrome, got there and to our empty,locked box,after some asking around we got the box next door to let us in so we could climb over into our adjoining box, were we sat alone with the best view ever, the waiter from next door came to speak to me, said he would get me a beer, I gave him 10 reals, he kept bringing and I got the hint, so gave him 30 and that was it for the night, neverending beers,cooldrinks,fruit baskets,finger snacks,coffee,did I mention beer..
Our box was perfectly situated, midway up the length of the track, also boxes had three levels, ground,close to parade but can't see left/right for far cos too low down, upper, good visibility left and right for as far as you can see, but have to look down the whole time - and middle, our box, with the best of both, and what I would say was the perfect viewing height
Two elderly couples arrived, one american and one brazilian, very nice,both spoke english, explained carnival to us cos they were well informed on how everything works, then another 4 people, husband wife daughter and gran, all brazilians, they had just performed in the first samba school parade, and were now watching...
The waiter came back, and they got the full story in portugese, the box next door was on an unlimited package, so the waiter was filtering off their stock and sending it our way, he was the waiter for both boxes so no-one realised or complained, the end result...every time we looked his way we got a beer, for the next 10 hours, for Sylvia and I, for only a london tenner, good deal
This was the first night of carnival,and that night is called the access night, 10 samba schools from the 2nd tier fight for top spot and automatic admittance to next years top tier at carnival
The top tier performs over night 2 and 3, this year that was sunday and monday, and whoever comes last goes down to be replaced by the winner of our night
How does the performance work - the schools each pick a theme, it is okayed by the carnival committee,somebody writes them an original brazilian song to reflect their theme, they design costumes, dances etc, everyone learns the song off-by-heart, then they perform down the "main avenue" of the sambadrome
This whole process may start in august for a top samba school, and require 1500 people min
The crowd dances and sings on the spot, its poor form to sit, and I can honestly say that from the excitement and awesomeness of the costumes - you find it difficult to keep still, there is a time limit from start to finish of 50 mins, and the sheer volume of people that pour past you in that time is incredible, laced with big floats that have been carefully built around the theme, and every now and then a gap for just one special dancer/performer, normally a scantily clad brazilian beauty
The best part is that they perform for you, they continuously look into the boxes and seats for encouragement, and loud appreciation and dancing and waving normally gets a bow, a smile, an extra special dance - I can't explain how many times they look directly into your eyes and smile at you, if you think they just walk down the avenue you are wrong, the extra special ones in special costumes that sometimes cost up to 10,000 dollars, that are barely covered and have exquisite bodies - when they look you in the eye and give you a killer smile you go week at the knees
We left after the last performance, at about 06:45, not tired at all, getting hugs from all our new Brazilian friends, from our waiter as well (about 50 beers later-thanks mate you rule)
It is one of the grandest experiences of my life, and it has changed my understanding and appreciation of the brazilian culture and the reasons behind carnival - I can recommend this whole heartedly, and can only advise to go big, it is worth whatever you pay - in the immortal words of Arnie - "I'll be back" - I have to, one day, some day
We leave Rio in mere hours now and I am so so sad, yet so fulfilled at the same time...