Trip Start Jul 21, 2009
Trip End Apr 28, 2010

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Flag of Brazil  , State of Rio de Janeiro,
Thursday, February 11, 2010

It is HOT in Rio!

No really -- it is literally quite hot, with temps climbing over 100 every day, and high humidity, too.  Yesterday I saw a thermometer in the shade that said 106.  (A bit of internet research confirms that we hit a record high of 110 at some point).  And, of course, itīs also Carnaval-hot, too.  After talking and planning and thinking about it for months and months, we finally made it to Rio for Carnaval.  The party has been something quite different than any other party -- John described it as 1/3 Mardi Gras in New Orleans, 1/3 State Street Halloween in Madison and 1/3 Spring Break.  At any rate, this week doesnīt follow a logical chronological pattern, so weīre going to go by neighborhoods instead.

Favela Periera da Silva

This is our neighborhood for the week.  After a very loong bus ride from Salvador (almost 30 hours, counting delays), we arrived two hours after our hostel transfer was supposed to pick us up, and had to find our hostel for the first time on our own.  A favela is the Portuguese phrase, essentially, for a slum.  Unlike many other favelas, this neighborhood is definately poor, a bit ramshackle, but actually felt (and is) quite safe.  Itīs set on a hill, with one entrance each at the top and bottom.  There are no streets, just hundreds of stairs and inclined cement paths.  Finding our way at first was a bit confusing, and getting in and out is a bit inconvenient, but it was a great way to add a bit of a workout to our trip.  And the real bonus?  The views.  From our window, we can see Sugarloaf Mountain, the bay, and the city in general.  Itīs beautiful.

Largo de Machado and Cosmo Vehlo

Leaving our neighborhood by the bottom enterance, you arrive eventually at Largo de Machado, a nice square (and, more usefully, a metro station).  When we arrived on Thursday, we used this as our base to head to the Cosmo Vehlo neighborhood, where the Christ the Redeemer statue is.  We took the red cable car up a very large hill, which was a longer than expected and very scenic trip through a national forest, with glimpses of city views on the way.  At the top, we climbed a bunch more steps to finally arrive at the statue.  The statue is very tall, and can be seen from almost anywhere in the city, and sure enough, it was a nice statue.  But better still were the views -- watching every tourist try to take the same picture from the same spot was entertaining, and looking out over the city was fantastic.  

Back at the square (Largo de Machado), we spent a few scattered hours browsing through the street stalls and people watching.  One aspect of Carnaval here in Rio are the costumes -- everyone has one.  And if you donīt have a costume, you at least need some sort of accessory:  a wig, a funny hat, a wobbly headband, a lei, a boa, or something.  Around this square, you can buy any of these things, and far more, so we picked up a few things while we were here.  Because of the metro station, this also made a great place to sit in the shade and watch people come and go to different parties while wearing very interesting outfits (guys, if youīve ever wanted to ride public transportation wearing only an adult diaper and tennis shoes, this is apparently the place).  

Santa Teresa

If you leave our neighborhood by the top enterance, you find yourself in Santa Teresa.  Aside from passing through, we didnīt spend too much time in this area.  It is, though, a beautiful neighborhood, with old buildings and tree lined streets, and a bonde (tram or street car) running through the neighborhood and down the hill to the center.  We rode this once -- it was packed, so we stood on the outside, holding on tight and squeezing in when we passed tight corners.  It was fun!

Moving down the hill from Santa Teresa, you reach the district of Lapa.  Any other weekend of the year, this would be the main going-out district of Rio, and for John and I, this became the center of our Carnaval festivities.  At the center of the area are the Arches of Lapa -- a historical aquaduct that makes a beautiful backdrop for live music every night.  Off in one direction is the Mem de Sa, a busy street with lots of bars and a great street party every night, whereas in the other direction is the Municipal Theatre, where there are free balls every night and a general party in a square.  With three parties in a row, this was our base for several nights of Carnaval, and our ending point almost every single night (thereīs a bus there back to our place).  In addition to the live music by the arches and the bars, the street party and the dances, there were also many blocos in this area.  Several nights, we joined in, and went up and down the streets of this neighborhood listening to music and dancing in the streets.  

Overall, the feel in this neighborhood was much more "local" -- enterprising vendors were out with coolers, selling beer (less than $1 for a standard sized can), and other enterprising individuals were collecting the empty cans, which can be returned for money.  Although there were a few costumes in this area, people were primarily in casual dress with a few fun accessories, and there were several families and small children there, even late into the night.  


A bit further still is the actual downtown, or center of Rio.  On Thursday, after visiting the Christ Redeemer, we headed down to this area to check out a pre-Carnaval bloco.  Like most blocos, they were playing the same song over and over (and over and over again), but this one was quite catchy, and we heard it several other times throughout the week.  

We returned to this area on Friday in an attempt to check out the official Carnaval kick-off ceremony, where the mayor crowns the King of Carnaval and hands over the keys to the cities.  The bad news is the guidebook was very, very wrong about the time and place.  The good news is that we got to spend the afternoon sight-seeing in the area, and we did eventually make it to the ceremony (it was at the Sambadrome).


Although this isnīt really a neighborhood, the Sambadrome is an important center for Carnaval.  Our first visit was on Friday, when we went down to see the crowning of the King of Carnaval.  The ceremony, which was followed by a childrenīs samba parade, was quite uneventful, but it was a good chance to preview the Sambadrome itself and get a feel for what to expect.

On Sunday, we returned with Iain and Lisa for one of the biggest events of Carnaval -- the Samba Parade.  Each year, the top 12 samba schools compete in a massive parade.  The Sambadrome itself is essentally a long narrow stadium with seats for watching the parade.  Each school has an hour and twenty minutes to dance down the stadium, bringing along thousands of drummers, dancers, singers and several floats.  The parade starts at 9 pm and continues until almost 6 or 7 the following morning.  And thatīs just the first six schools -- the next six follow the same schedule on Monday night.  
In each school, there are thousands of people parading (singing and dancing in sync to the same song over and over again).  The costumes and the floats are along a theme, and all very very elaborate.  The costumes vary from large, heavy hot costumes that can be seen from far away to itty bitty pieces of strategically placed fabric accented by massive amounts of feathers, and they really were fantastic to see.


Away from the center are the main beaches of Rio, with Copacabana clearly being the most famous.  We headed down there on Saturday to walk the boardwalk and watch all of the people on the crowded beach.  Sure enough, the swimsuits are minimalist, although not perhaps as much so as I had expected.  Overall, the white sand stretched for miles and the distance from the boardwalk to the water was much wider than we had expected.


Continuing along the beach from Copacabana, and rounding a bit of a corner, is the beach and the neighborhood of Ipanema.  Although perhaps not as famous, this beach is currently the trendier and more popular one in Rio.  We headed here to walk the beach and people-watch on Monday.  After walking up the boardwalk and down the shore, we attempted to lay out a bit and get some sun.  That plan, however, lasted all of five or ten minutes.  Like Copacabana, this beach is super super crowded (you get covered with sand as people walk over you to get somewhere).  More importantly, though, was something quite odd -- it was just too HOT to lay out at the beach.  I donīt think Iīve ever said that before, but it was quite true.

Tuesday evening we returned to this area to check out the Bloco de Ipanema, one of the more famous blocos of Carnaval.  We followed the massive crowd up the street along the beach, and back through the main bar and restaurant district of this neighborhood, then stuck around for a bit of music and dancing on the streets and the main square.  The vibe here was definately different than that in the center -- there were more tourists, but also far more elaborate costumes, and greater numbers of costumes.  There were also many many guys in drag, which was quite interesting, and a far more openly gay population.  


Again, this isnīt really a neighborhood.  Itīs a soccer stadium, in fact -- one of the bigger and more famous ones in the world.  We headed here on Saturday to check out a soccer game between two Rio teams, Vasco and Fluminense.  They were playing each other in one semi-final for the Guanabara Cup.  We sat in the Vasco section, which turned out to be the more enthusiastic set of fans.  Although the stadium holds a similar number of people to the Azteca stadium in Mexico City, it looked smaller, and it wasnīt full (perhaps only 50 or 60,000 people?).  But the crowd was enthusiastic, the atmosphere was good, and it was a fun game.  Even moreso, it ended in a tie, which was resolved with a shootout.  After 5 kicks each, the teams were still tied (5 to 5), and it went into a second round, where Vasco finally won.

On Wednesday, we returned to the stadium for part two of the semi-final round:  Botafogo vs. Flamengo.  The stadium was notably more full and more energetic than we had seen on Saturday, with perhaps 60 to 70,000 fans.  We were sitting in the Flamengo section, which was packed full of enthusiastic supporters.  Over on the other side of the stadium, Botafogo drew a decent but clearly smaller audience.  Towards the end of an exciting game, which was tied 1-1, Botafogo scored to advance to the finals.

So that, in a nutshell, was Carnaval.  Also worth noting is that somewhere in there (Fat Tuesday, to be exact) was Johnīs birthday, which makes this the biggest birthday party, perhaps, that heīs ever had!  Overall, Carnaval lived up to the expectations of one of the biggest and best parties in the world.  Although words canīt quite start to describe a party, Iīll add pictures eventually, and maybe youīll get an overall feel.  


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Dad on

Woo Hoo !!!!

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