World’s biggest party & we lug heavy stuff

Trip Start Dec 21, 2009
Trip End Jul 17, 2010

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Flag of Brazil  , State of Rio de Janeiro,
Friday, February 12, 2010

We were having lunch one day when Sue-Ly, the social worker at the day care centre invited us down to the beach to watch her samba school practice for Carnival (bear in mind this conversation was entirely in Portuguese – so it took us a while to work out what we were actually going to!). We had nothing else to do and thought it would be more entertaining than sitting in the dark waiting for the power to come on. This would be one of those chance events that would lead to much, much more down the track.

Firstly a bit of background about Carnaval. Every year in the 4 days before Ash Wednesday, Brazil is thrown into party mode before the solemnity of lent is supposed to take over. The 4 days of partying madness is called Carnaval. There are also plenty of events in the weeks preceding Carnaval which all add to the festivities. Each part of Brazil has different ways of celebrating Carnaval. In Rio, street parties are in abundance (at any time of the day) and the Samba School Parade is the jewel in the Carnaval crown. Samba schools get ready for the parade year round by composing and practicing their music and drumming, making and designing costumes as well as raising funds and sponsorship to pay for the whole thing. The big day culminates in a parade down a purpose built stadium 1 mile in length called the Sambadromo. This is not a temporary structure, it's there for keeps. There is even a Samba town where the floats and costumes are made year round. The judges judge the schools on a whole bunch of criteria and the winners are announced shortly after. Different neighbourhoods support different samba schools. Supporting your samba school here is like supporting your football club. The schools have a rich history and the pride of winning the Samba parade lasts for a long time. The top schools get to come back and perform in a victory parade a week later while the school that comes in last is relegated to the level below and whole the winner of the lower level gains promotion into the upper "league". In case you hadn’t guessed, the samba parade is a serious affair.

In the weeks preceding Carnival, the samba schools of Rio hold practice sessions to get their dancing and singing ready for the big show. Whole blocks are closed off by police at night, the whole neighbourhood comes along to watch and sing along. Everyone musters at the practice road (normally by some beach) and then some random minutes pass by before everyone gets going (to put it kindly, Brazillians will not beat a country like Germany in the punctuality stakes). Armed with a purpose built truck with booming speakers and a drum section (the Batteria) that could drown out a jet plane and you have a recipe for a serious party.

Back to the story at hand. So we went along to the beach and sung along with the samba school (everyone is given lyrics to the song) before Sue-Ly saw us and dragged us into the practice with the rest of the school. We had such a blast and gave the locals something to laugh at as we worked on our Samba skills for nearly an hour. Dancing down the street with the locals and feeling the thunderous beat of the batteria was totally awesome. At the end, we were dripping in sweat, slightly exhausted but on a complete high. The next day, Sue-Ly asked us if we wanted to be a part of the parade with Rocinha’s samba school. Sue-Ly is one of the warmest ladies you will ever meet. As soon as you meet her, you know that she was made for social work. She infected us with her enthusiasm for the Samba school and it didn’t take us long to agree. Before we knew it, we were handing over our clothing measurements and shoe sizes for our costumes to be made. We were going to be Ritual Lunars. You’ll see our costumes in the next blog entry. The theme for our Samba school was centred around the Amazon. We collected our costumes and carried them up after one of our practice sessions. The costumes are AWESOME!

Life continued for us at the favela. Work at the day care, jiu jitsu at night and now Carnaval practice with the Rocinha samba school. The days flew by and before we knew it, we were into our last week working there. During our stint there, a couple of times I went down to the markets to help the ladies to carry the fresh fruit and veges up to the day care. Once we did a massive shop for stuff like rice, beans and veges so that we could get a bulk discount. The problem with that was that we had to cart the stuff up to the day care, the very same walk that nearly claimed us when we first got there. In the past they have had to pay guys at the bottom to help them carry it up which essentially negated any discounts gained by buying in bulk.

Nic and I wanted to leave a gift for the day care centre that was a little more personal than just money so we decided that every afternoon for our last week, we would buy non perishable food at the markets and cart them up to the house. During our lunch breaks, we would walk down to the markets with empty backpacks and march back up with kilos and kilos of food. Rice, beans, UHT milk, bleach, popcorn kernals, kitchen utensils, scourers, we bought it all. If it was heavy and they needed it, we bought it. Had you told me that we would be doing this on the first day we were here (when we nearly perished on the climb that would never end), we would have laughed hysterically in your face (that’s if I had the breath or energy to do so) then passed out.

On our last day there, we organised with Paulo to borrow his keys to the day care and we carted all the stuff down to the school at 5.30am, in time to surprise the ladies when they arrived to start the day. Even at 5.30 in the morning and walking downhill, you break a serious sweat. We also wrote them a note that we used Google Translator to change from English into Portugese. The combination of the gift and the note made them all extremely happy. For the afternoon, we also organised chocolate cake for the kids to have. All in all, it was a successful surprise. We thought we were the only ones that had a surprise up our sleeves but the ladies of the day care had other ideas. They put together books of art that the kids had done and got the kids to give it to us just before we left. There were a few tears shed from Nic and I must admit, I nearly let one or two go myself. Nearly. Those books meant the world to us and we will never forget the time we spent living and working at Roupa Suja.

We left Roupa Suja that evening with our bulky bags, walking down much fitter and happier than when we came (if that was possible) and made our way to our hotel to meet the rest of the Dragoman group for Carnaval week. But first, we had a meeting with a couple of Goldsteins who were flying in from Argentina. Our dear friends Ilan and Carmen were flying in and we were going to be spending Carnaval together. It was something that we were talking about for the longest time and it was finally happening. To celebrate the occasion, we went to a kilo restaurant for dinner. Kilo restaurants are awesome. They’re like a better version of a buffet. The variety is better, the quality of the food is better and you only pay for what you put on your plate by weight. So big eaters and small eaters don’t have to pay the same price like at a buffet (which tries to find a happy breakeven point somewhere in between). The best part is that there is no bill splitting for big groups, everyone takes their receipt with the weight of the food and any drinks consumed and pays for themselves. An awesome concept. After retiring to the hotel for a couple of quiet beers, we packed it in for what would be a massive day to follow.

In our next blog, we pack more into one day that we ever thought possible and start sleeping during the day so that we can party well into the morning.
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Avi & Bec on

HAPPY BIRTHDAY COLIN! What an amazing way to spen your 30th birthday. Keep having a blast and make evey second count :-)

Satya on

Happy 30th Birthday mate.... Looks like you are brushing up your Jiu -jitsu Skills...

travellingtans on

Thanks for the birthday wishes. Saj, if by brushing up on my jiu jitsu skills, you mean getting my butt kicked every night then I certainly did that. :-)

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