Moving on the floor now babe ...

Trip Start Oct 29, 2011
Trip End Jun 01, 2012

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Flag of Brazil  , State of Rio de Janeiro,
Wednesday, February 22, 2012

... you're a bird of paradise
Cherry ice cream smile I suppose it's very nice
With a step to your left and a flick to the right
You catch that mirror way out west
You know you're something special and you look like you're the best

So onto the final chapter of my South American adventure and I was off to Rio for the Carnival. So a little bit about the city. Rio de Janeiro means River of January, commonly referred to simply as Rio is the capital city of the State of Rio de Janeiro, the second largest city of Brazil, boasting approximately 6.3 million people within the city proper, making it the 26th largest city the world.  When I was in Ecuador for my Avenue of the Volcanoes trip I'd met Jim and he was always going to be in Rio for carnival so we’d planned to come here together. Then Jim’s friend Vanessa who he worked on the same ship with was coming out here as well and then Bree and Elissa were also going to be here. So from it being just me it’s turned into a bit of a party.

So a little about carnival. With the combination of the parade, the balls, and the street carnivals, Rio’s carnival is said to be the greatest show on Earth. As the Rio de Janeiro handbook states, "The Rio carnival is probably the most famous party in the world."

The Carnival in Rio de Janeiro is a world famous festival held before Lent every year and considered the biggest carnival in the world with two million people per day on the streets. The first festivals of Rio date back to 1723. It lasts for four days ending on Shrove (or fat as it’s more locally known) Tuesday.  The main event is if the carnival parades which take place every night in the Sambadrome.  It is filled with people and floats from various samba schools. A samba school can either be an actual school or just a collaboration of local neighbours that want to attend carnival.nThe purpose of carnival is for samba schools to compete with fellow rival schools; this competition is the climax of the whole carnival festival. Each school chooses a theme to try and portray in their entry. The samba schools work to build the best floats and costumes to represent their themes, and to include the best music they can from their band called the bateria. There are many parts to each school's entry including the six to eight floats and thousands of participants. The participants are both members of the school but also they can be the general public, who pay for a costume and to take part. Each samba school will take 1 ½ hours to get through the sambadome.

As well as the parades taking place in the Sambadrome there are balls are being held in the Copacabana Palace and beach. There are also many street festivals and block parties that are very common during carnival and are highly populated by the locals.

So I arrived in the evening from Parary and headed to the hostel. Jim and I had booked it back in November because everything in Rio gets booked up really early for carnival. They also really increase the prices. We had to pay $90 per night for a room in a shared dorm. We were staying in a hostel in Lapa which is pretty much in the centre of Rio (how much in the centre of things I hadn’t quite realised). So we were sharing a room with two others and there wasn’t enough room to swing a cat. Fortunately I was sharing a room with three guys who didn’t seem to have much stuff as I had managed to take up most of the room with just my stuff. Elissa and Bree were staying in Copacabana for a night before they moved up to Lapa and Jim and Vanessa weren’t arriving until late so I was left to my own devices for an evening. I was a bit lost for about 10 minutes but I ended up starting chatting to a couple of lads from Adelaide and it was one of their’s (Nick) birthdays. So they very kindly let me have a beer and the evening kicked off. The hostel was really friendly so everyone staying there just came to the communal area where there was also  a bar (beers and caipirinhas obviously) and started to mingle. It was just night the first night at university again. There were a lot of Aussies (everyone seemed to be from Melbourne) and a couple of Americans and the odd Brit. One Brit in particular was Sophie who had last summer graduated with a degree in sociology from LSE and then come travelling to South America. She’d come to Rio for a week months previously, but then ended up getting a job in the hostel and has never left. There were a number of people on their own too so again there was this lovely travellers camaraderie going on where everyone was really friendly and involving everyone. I even ended up heading out for some food with 6 others as none of us had eaten and we just took it upon ourselves to go and find some food together. Jim and Vanessa arrived around midnight to find me seemingly having made friends with everyone in the hostel and having managed to remember everyone’s names (it’s that teacher thing again). I was pretty impressed with myself because I was holding my own with all the cool kids. I had finally encountered the backpackers who were all under 30 after four months.  The great thing was that then the younger ones all headed out and the hostel was all quiet I could get some sleep. You see it’s all well and good pretending to be a teenager again but then you the over 30 thing kicks in and you just need to go and get and some sleep.

On the following day Jim and I woke at a reasonable hour and headed down for breakfast. It was hilarious as there were several people passed out in the communal area. Although some were managing to get cracking on the beers again at only 9am (respect). So headed down to Vanessa’s hotel and we decided to head to Sugarloaf Mountain (in Portuguese, Pão de Açúcar). The peak is  situated at the mouth of Guanabara Bay on a peninsula that sticks out into the Atlantic Ocean. Rising 396 metres (1,299 ft) above the harbor, its name is said to refer to its resemblance to the traditional shape of concentrated refined loaf sugar.The mountain is only one of several monolithic morros (hills) of granite and quartz that rise straight from the water's edge around Rio de Janeiro and it was formed over 600 million years ago. From Vanessa’s window it didn’t look too far away so we decided to take a walk down there along the beach at Botofogo. It was a little further than we had imagined (particularly in 33°C heat). So to reach the summit, passengers take two cable cars. The first ascends to the shorter Morro da Urca, 220 meters high. The second car ascends to Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf). From the top of both peaks you get incredible views of the whole city and then across to the statue of Christ the Redeemer. Whilst we were up there we decided as we were in Rio is was obviously time for a caipirinha.

Then following our little trip up sugarloaf we decided tohead down to Rio’s most famous beach at Copacabana. It’s a 4 km long  and is named after  the Virgen de Copacabana, the patron saint of Bolivia. Yes I know it’s hard to believe but it isn’t named after a song by Barry Manilow.  So we all ran onto the beach and into the sea (well Jim less so – it wasn’t quite in keeping with his cool Steve Irwin look) so we could say we had been on the beach and in the sea at Copacabana (music and passion were always the passion at the Copa – apologies but I would never be forgiven by my Mum, Auntie Marg and Jackie – probably my three most avid blog readers if I didn’t give it a mention). We (well Jim less so) were also very pleasantly surprised to note the lack of stunning Brazillian women in barely there bikinis. The men were as expected but the women were not as expected. Feeling much better about oneself now after the Aussies on the beach episode in Paraty.

It was then Friday night and that means Lapa night. So we started with a few drinks in the hostel bar with all my new friends. Elissa and Bree had now moved up to Lapa as well so they came along as well – it must have been home from home as 75% of people in there were from Melbourne. We headed out at midnight (yes – I know madness but when in Rio ...) and didn’t get far as the streets were so busy. It seemed like the entirety of Rio had made it’s way to Lapa for a huge street party. Everywhere there were people selling drinks and food and it was a complete mixture of both Brazilians and tourists – so I’d say about 60% Brazilians, 35% from Melbourne and 5% from the rest of the world. We ended up near to the famous Lapa aqueduct and at one stage it was just me and Australia (joking apart they were all very lovely). Jim and Vanessa had already headed off, but another group from another hostel appeared and I finally found some Brits. The only issue was crime. In such crowds pick-pocketing is a real issue. I had gone done the route of stuffing a limited amount of cash into my bra and taking out nothing else. Several others had wallets, cameras and mobile phones stolen. Everyone you met seemed to have had something taken. Sadly it’s a reflection of the level of poverty and how difficult it is to try and somehow survive in some of the areas of Rio. On occasions like these the street kids from the favelas come and attempt to make some money from the rich tourists who are totally inebriated and easy targets. Crime is never acceptable but when you see how these people have to live just because of what they have been born into you realise that it's just not that simple.

The following day we continued in our efforts to both do the touristy thing during the day as well as partying into the early hours. I was pretty impressed I had managed two nights in row but I must admit by Saturday my age was starting to catch up with me. However, we still had more sights to see so we headed off to see probably the most famous sight of all in Rio – the statue of Christ the Redeemer. Christ the Redeemer or in Portuguese - Cristo Redentor, is considered  to be the largest Art Deco statue in the world and the 5th largest statue of Jesus in the world (apparently the world’s highest statue of Christ is in Świebodzin in Poland and was completed in 2010 – there’s one for the pub quiz then Mum). Anyway the one in Rio  is 39.6 metres (130 ft) tall, including its 9.5 metres (31 ft) pedestal, and it’s 30 metres (98 ft) wide. It weighs 635 tonnes , and is located at the peak of the 700-metre (2,300 ft) Corcovado mountain in the Tijuca Forest National Park overlooking the city. A symbol of Brazilian Christianity, the statue has become an icon for Rio de Janeiro and Brazil. It is made of reinforced concrete and soapstone, and was constructed between 1922 and 1931.

By the time we’d got to the evening we were pretty shattered so we decided to start acting our age and go to Vanessa’s hotel for a meal and a nice bottle of wine. However, before this I had to go and see Elissa and Bree. They were going to be taking part in the actual sambadrome parade on the Staurday night and I wanted to see their costumes. They looked amazing dressed as cup cakes (unfortunately they hadn’t seen Priscilla Queen of the Desert the Musical – so the fun of seeing Aussies in cup cake outfits was a bit lost on them - 'someone left a cake out in the rain' from Macauthur Park). After the meal we went to Vanessa’s room and did attempt to watch them go through on the TV but their samba school didn’t go through until 1.30am and it was just a bit too late for me !! So the plan was to get some sleep – except my fellow hostelmates had other ideas. They decided that tonight’s party would be in the hostel. It all finally quietened down at about 4am. This is fine for all of them because they would be sleeping all day. The problem for me is that I have this inbuilt wakey wakey mechanism that I seemed to gain when I hit 30. It means as soon as it gets to 8am I’m wide awake.  At least I had a quiet breakfast whilst everyone else slept.

Sunday – and we decided to go and visit the Botanical Gardens and Ipanema. Ipanema is a beach in Rio but it’s obviously famous for the song  - 'The Girl from Ipanema’ (apparently it won the Grammy for best song in 1965). Anyway I have done a but of research and there is actually ‘a girl’ that it’s about. The song was inspired by Heloísa Eneida Menezes Paes Pinto (now Helô Pinheiro), a seventeen-year-old girl living on Montenegro Street in Ipanema. Daily, she would stroll past the popular Veloso bar-café, not just to the beach ("each day when she walks to the sea"), but in the everyday course of her life. She would sometimes enter the bar to buy cigarettes for her mother and leave to the sound of wolf-whistles. In the winter of 1962, the composers watched the girl pass by the bar, and it is easy to imagine why they noticed her—Helô was a 173-cm (five-foot eight-inch) brunette, and she attracted the attention of many of the bar patrons. Since the song became popular, she has become a celebrity (her picture’s on t’interweb if you are interested).  Anyway we didn’t see her, but there was lots of people on the beach and lots of people partying in the street (there is nowhere you can in Rio where people aren’t partying – well except near to Vanessa’s hotel). So the main event on Sunday was the Sambadrome. We’d booked tickets for this months ago and it was going to be the highlight of carnival. The sambadrome Marquês de Sapucaí in Rio consists of a 700 m stretch of the Marquês de Sapucaí street converted into a permanent parade ground with grandstands  built on either side for spectators. Its capacity is 90,000. It will be used in the 2016 Olympics for the archery and as the finishing section for the marathon.

As per everything in Brazil the party doesn’t kick off until 9pm. We had only booked tickets in the non-allocated seating area (they cost enough!) so when we got there the only space we could find to sit in was on the top. This meant that we couldn’t see everything brilliantly on the ground but we were right in the thick of it in terms of the party at the top. There I met the lovely Mark and Joanne who were from Glasgow, then there were the Argentinian girls that I befriended (I think it was in the toilets). Everyone was super friendly and with the aid of a few caipirinhas we partied through the night and I tumbled into the hostel at 7am. At least I had finally achieved proper gringo status - missing breakfast and emerging at lunchtime.  

So Monday was a bit of a washout but on our final day we did something that you must do in Rio – go paraliding so we jumped off one of the big hills (with a parachute). The initial plan was to go handgliding but the wind changed so paraglading was deemed a better option. Also we had watched the paraliders and handgliders come into land on the beach and the paragliding seemed much more of a gentler option. The handgliders seemed to be landing at a very fast rate of knots. So we were driven up Pedra Bonita, a beautiful mountain located in the São Conrado area of Rio. On the side of the mountain is a ramp where the handgliders run off and underneath is an area for the paragliders to launch themselves off. I was flying in tandem with a guy called Pedro who seemed to know what he was doing (25 years experience seemed good enough for me). The flight lasted about 7 minutes and you fly over the Sao Conrado area and the beach and get some pretty close-up views of the most famous favela (shanty town)  of Rio called Rocina. Those who did GCSE geography from the old syllabus will remember this one. I love the way I managed to combine extreme sports with geography case studies. It was a little bit hairy getting off the mountain (trying to persuade your legs to run of the end of hill is not that easy) but after that it was stunning. The only other scary bit was the landing but Pedro did a magnificent job, landing us perfectly on the grassy area next to the beach. That night we did what all thirty somethings should do with their last night in Rio on the last night of Carnival – go for a nice meal in a quiet little restaurant. We nearly managed to end up clubbing in a night club in Botofogo as I’d befriended a lovely Brazillian called Amanda when we were trying to get a taxi. They just wouldn’t let us in without I.D. Would love to say it’s because we looked so young but they just needed I.D. to ensure you paid your tab at the bar. We hadn’t brought out any I.D. as we didn’t want it to get stolen though. So it was our final night in the hostel. Fortunately after several nights of sleep deprivation it seemd that our fellow hostelmates had conceeded defeat on the party 24/7 thing and we actually managed to get some sleep from about 1am.

So on Wednesday morning I merrily made my way back to the bus station and my final long distance bus journey. I was heading back to Sao Paulo – to Helen’s. I was so excited because I was heading back ther apartment, with cups of tea, a comfy double bed and no noise. From there it was a flight to Miami and a few weeks in the US visiting my Dad and Mary and my friend Tracy in Houston.

So Rio .... it really is one of the most stunning cities in the world and I am sure that when it’s not carnival it’s an incredible place to visit. It’s just 6 nights in the party hostel in the middle of the party centre of Rio was just a little bit much for little old me.  Still it was an unforgetable experience !!

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Mum on

Rio looks amazing. I've got medals for Latin American dancing, so I am sure I would have fitted it, and if I didn't I could always have had a drink! By the way, it is 'music and passion were always the fashion' . I would hve thought you would have known that, the many times you have heard it. Lots of Love

Elissa on

Hi Liz,

So many good memories!! So funny seeing all those pics of Bree & I in the cupcake costumes. Very jealous that you are still travelling whilst I'm into my third week of work already...and not a thing has changed. Really great to meet you OS and hope to catch up one day somewhere in the world...keep in touch. I'll send you a proper email soon but just wanted to say love the blog!!!
Keep having fun and sharing your tales xo

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