One packed week and some serious partying

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

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Flag of Brazil  , State of Rio de Janeiro,
Thursday, February 18, 2010

We woke up to a great buffet breakfast and then headed out to see one of the 7 modern wonders of the world, Christ the Redeemer. It's one of the iconic images of Rio, a large statue of Jesus Christ (of bible fame) with his arms and hands open. Pictures of him usually include the city, mountains and beaches surrounding the big guy on top of his perch. We caught the train up there with the masses and had a great time. The weather was still damn hot which leads me to the theory that the statue of JC has his arms open with the express purpose of airing his arm pits from the insane humidity during this time of the year. I’m sure that the weather was hot enough to make a stone statue sweat.

After our photo op with Jesus Christ, the next port of call was the world famous Maracana Stadium to watch the semi finals of the Rio de Janeiro Cup (called the Carioca Cup). Getting there was a challenge, we were going there in the afternoon, in a train packed with humans and the temperature soaring. Despite the harsh conditions, the mood was pretty good and after a while, you just went along with the fact that the sweat on your skin didn’t completely belong to you. The Maracana Stadium sits over 82,000 fans currently, but its famous for the clubs that play there in fierce local derbies, as well as hosting a World Cup final game in 1950 that had the attendance of over 210,000 (officially, it was under 200,000 like official records really matter in Brazil). On this day, the Maracana was going to play host to a game between Vasco Da Gama and Fluminense. The game was great and the atmosphere was super, going to a penalty shootout with Vasco winning in the end. Easily one of the best penalty shootouts I have witnessed.

As soon as the game was done, we high-tailed it out of there to get back to our hotel because we had to get over to Rocinha to collect our costumes and join our Samba school in the big parade. If that last sentence has you puzzled, then please go through our two previous blog posts before going any further. I don’t mean to dole out recommended reading but in this case, it’s kinda important.

So where were we? Oh yeah, getting a cab over to Rocinha so we could keep this party going. The four of us (Nic, Ilan, Carmen and I) caught a cab over to Rocinha while we briefed the Goldsteins about what to expect. Right on cue, as soon as we got out of the cab, we had a lady pointing a huge machine gun at us as a joke. We ignored her and kept walking, there wasn’t much else to do really. We made our way through the maze of Rocinha at night (a trip I had done many times after jiu jitsu training) and got to the house. After a quick tour and a few minutes to admire the views from the rooftop, we had our costumes in hand and were off to the Rocinha samba school across the road to catch the bus to the Sambadrome. We got to the Sambadrome just after midnight and we were due to go on at 3.30am (that was not a typo, the day hadn’t ended yet). We hung out backstage with the floats and the rest of our samba school and the atmosphere was happy with the expectant mood of the big parade. There was little doubt that this was the big show. I would recommend anyone to try and go backstage to see the detailed work that goes into these floats and the costumes. If you bring your flash, you get the chance to wonder around the floats and take some pictures of the floats up close. If you think they look good from afar, they look even better up close.

Our big moment came and the Goldsteins bought some tickets from a scalper to watch us from the stands. A little after 3.30am, Rocinha Samba School was on the move and the singing  and drumming began. We turned the corner, singing in Portugese when BAM, the Sambadrome hit us. 1.5kms of well lit samba stadium with thousands of people there to cheer us on. We Samba’d down the drome for nearly and hour and a half and loved every minute of it. It gives me butterflies just re-living the moment. Now I know why people do this year in and year out. There are people of all ages here. I was dancing next to a lady who hadn’t missed a Carnaval for 45 years. That’s 45 years straight of marching down the runway. Amazing.

We met up with the Goldsteins after we were done and the four of us must have been blabbering like idiots, the Goldsteins telling us what they saw from the stands and us telling them what we saw from the runway. We caught the train back to the hotel, still floating on the high of Carnaval and the day that we had. To top things off, we were just in time for the hotel restaurant opening for breakfast so we put a decent dent into the buffet before retiring to bed for much needed rest.

The next evening had us visiting the Sambadrome again but first it was a quick stop at the local bloco (block party) around the neighbourhood of the hotel, Flamengo. A truck blasts live Samba music with musicians atop, going around the neighbourhood as the locals follow along and dance in the street. These blocos happen in many neighbourhoods during Carnaval time and at any time of the day. We made a smooth exit out of the bloco and caught a train to the Sambadrome, this time with seats in the stands of section 13 to watch the first night of the Special Group (this was the top flight league of Samba schools). The crowd in section 13 is made up of locals so it was great partying with them and hearing them cheer on the Samba school they were supporting and singing along. They waved flags, cheered and knew every single word. The locals here are passionate about the Samba schools that they support and equally passionate about Carnaval as an event. Even though the festivities last from 9 in the evening and finishing at 6 in the morning, no one leaves in the middle of the party. It’s 4.30am and you look around and the crowd is what it was at 10pm. These are people who have been partying at block parties all day and there’s nary a tired eye amongst them. These Brazillians clearly knew how to party and party hard.

Again, we left late in the festivities and made our way back to the hotel in the morning. The customary stop by the breakfast buffet over, we had showers and slept just before the sun rose, our transitions into vampires now complete. We awoke in the afternoon and walked by Flamengo beach to recover from the festivities the night before. Nicole and I had another appointment with the Sambadrome, this time on the second night of the Special Group and better seats. The lighting was so much better and we were so much closer to the action and right in the middle of the 1.5km Sambadrome. I went a little nuts with the pictures that night and we had a blast.

True to form, we stayed until the end and caught the train back to the hotel. We woke the Goldsteins up and had breakfast just as the buffet opened again. Shower and sleep (seeing a pattern here?) before crawling out of bed to go to Sugar Loaf Mountain with the group. The views were again spectacular as the pictures should show. It’s hard to take a bad picture here. When we finished with the mountain, the four of us tried to find a bloco in St Teresa (a cool suburb in one of the mountains of Rio). By the looks of things we missed the bloco by a good 6 hours so we settled in for a nice dinner overlooking the city and the lit Sambadrome before heading back to the hotel. Nic and I had tickets to the Gay Ball, one of the big annual events that are held during Carnaval week. We got to walk down the red carpet with the rest of our group before going in and dancing the night away. Back to the hotel, this time an early night, we slept at 4.30am.

Up early the next morning today had us hang gliding off one of the mountains inside the Tijuca National Forest with Ilan and Paul and Bec (a lovely couple we met during our trip through Central America) and of course Nic and I. The mountain we would launch ourselves off was the mountain that we saw every morning when we woke up and looked out of our window at Rocinha. After signing liability forms (I’m not sure what the use of that was, like we had a chance of suing in Brazil we anything went wrong), we went up the mountain and had a quick briefing before running off a wooden runway and launching ourselves off the mountain. I went hang gliding and Nic went paragliding. When your instructor/pilot gives me instructions, the only thing that I remember from the briefing session was, "Don’t touch anything and keep running. Don’t stop, keep running". When he gave me the OK, I was off and running like Forrest Gump being chased by his local bullies (except thankfully, the metal bits stayed on and didn’t fall off my body like it did for Polio ridden Forrest). If I remember my words just after we left the platform, then went something like, “F#!*ing Hell, this is AWESOME!!!” All I heard was the pristine sound of wind on the glider and the sound of my heart pounding with exhiliration. We all landed safely on the beach with pants unsoiled, I’m happy to report.

The evening was spent going on a cruise around Guanabarra Bay on a massive boat with the rest of our tour group. The weather was great, the views were stunning and it was one of those evenings that we won’t forget in a long time. We smoked cigars, drank Capirinhas and talked about the great time we had. It was a fitting end to a hectic week of partying and activities. It was a very special time, full of great memories that we could share with great friends. Please, do yourselves a favour and get to Rio for Carnaval week. You won’t regret it. When you decide to go, be sure to drop your good buddies the Tans and email and let us know, we might just join you for a second run at it.

Please join us in our next blog post, we meet up with the rest of our Dragoman group, the vast majority of which we will be living in super close proximity to for the next 4 months. I’ll also take you around our truck which we will be calling home and the Tans actually pitch a tent AND sleep in it. 
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GShtM on

Best. Day. Ever. (spoken in traditional comic book guy tone)

Ace on

Awesome photos dude!

Kylie on

Incredible! I think I would have cried walking into the Sambadrome! So overwhelming! Haha!!
Love the pics xxx

travellingtans on

Ilan - shhh...remember no one can speak of that day but the chosen four!!

Kylie - no you wouldn't!! The adrenaline and music and can't help but dance away and sing your little portugese heart out (because if you're not singing or dancing the school loses points!)

Love Nic xxx

Lorenzo on


I have been reading your blog and was wondering what you thought of the Dragoman experience for the week of carnival.? Was Flamengo a good place to stay or would you have rather stayed closer to the other beaches? I'm about to book for Feb 2012 and would love to read your thoughts.


travellingtans on

Hi Lorenzo,
The Dragoman guys are really great in their prep for Carnaval. What happens is that a lot of trips end in Rio for Carnaval then a lot of trips leave Rio after Carnaval so you get quite a few trucks in the one big hotel but they basically rent the whole hotel out so it's totally cool. There's a real party atmosphere and they really look after you. Because they have the bookings yearly, they organise a lot of stuff for you and make it pretty easy. Flamengo is pretty nice and has a beach close by as well. It's not too far to travel to the other beaches, close to a train station if you need. Have a great time.

Auntie Barb on

WOW should write for a travel magazine. You are incredibly talented in describing the beauty and excitement of the journey. I wanna go to these places...especially Rio to see for myself the big guy!

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