Thursday, March 6, 2014

My 2014 Rio Carnival Experience

I looked up several different adjectives for the word, “crazy”, and these are some of the results:

Mad As A Hatter
Bats In The Belfry (my personal favorite)

OK. How does one describe the Rio De Janeiro Carnival? Easy.
Choose all of the above.

I mean, I was warned. I’m supposed to have known what I was getting myself into, having spoken to several different traveler’s who’ve done it before. “It’s craaaaazy, man….” Is usually the first thing they say. I was excited! It has always been something I’ve wanted to experience… and BOY OH BOY, an experience it definitely was!


I had just disembarked from a grueling 26 hour bus journey from Iguazu Falls, Argentina, when I walked up to the apartment of my Couchsurfing host, right smack in the middle of downtown Rio. I was basically the walking dead when I mustered up all of my remaining energy to knock on the door. 

Well, when it opened, I was greeted by blaring samba music, overwhelmingly loud screaming, and an attack hug by a half-naked girl with cat make up. My senses were seized and I must have looked like a petrified goat because it took a while for me to register what was going on – I couldn’t react! Before I could even move, boys dressed in drag were removing my backpacks from my body and a caipirinha was being shoved in my hand. “Just go with it,” the half-naked (and apparently, English) girl yelled. 

“Sweet Jesus, save me,” I thought, as I looked around the tiny living room with at least 12 people inebriated beyond words, at 3 in the afternoon.

That scene… that exact moment… was going to be the most “tranquilo” my carnival experience was going to get.


Can I just say that I think it’s amazing how the entire country is SO into Carnival! They just get into it so much, you see it everywhere… The ENERGY of Rio is over the top! Bumper to bumper traffic, crowds marching in the streets, people in costumes EVERYWHERE, samba dancing EVERYWHERE, and singing EVERYWHERE! It’s incredible, and for all 5 days of Carnival, it doesn’t stop! The Metro runs 24/7 during this time, you can bring and drink alcohol here, there, and everywhere, nobody works because everyone is either partying out in the streets or participating in the parade! 

It’s like the whole country is celebrating Halloween for 5 days… Halloween, combined with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, Pasadena’s Tournament of Roses, New Orleans’ Mardi Gras, and… and… Gay Pride Parade. All of that together, multiply the energy times 10. I’m not kidding. It is that crazed and insane, that the only way I could keep up was a constant injection of Red Bull and Caffeine Tablets. I am not much of a “party animal” and I’m not as young and limber as I used to be, so I needed some help.


Basically, a “Bloco” is a street band in a moving float that goes around a block (hence the name). There are tons of different Blocos that people follow in different times of the day… The idea is, you find a Bloco that play the music that you like (which is Samba… always Samba) and you follow them as they move down the streets… making it a street party! THIS is what the locals do everyday… they follow Bloco’s! 


THIS is what I’ve had to do with my Couchsurfing crowd of friends… Drink, eat, and dance, while following Bloco’s! It gets really mental because hundreds – no, thousands of people follow these street bands, and there were scary times when we’ve gotten ourselves stuck, suffocating in the middle of a Bloco crowd. Totally bonkers, I swear!

This is a CROWD following a BLOCO. Nuts.


This year is the 30th anniversary of the Sambadrome (Carnival Parade). Before I headed out to Rio, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to go and pay for the parade because I heard you could see the floats on the streets anyway… Besides, it was so expensive, I didn’t even know if I had enough cash to shell out.

People who have bought tickets in advance had to pay around 300 Reals (130 USD) for it.
Well, apparently (and this is a good tip for you too, if you ever plan to go), you can just buy tickets from scalpers on the street on the day you want to see the parade. It’s really easy too, because the scalpers seek YOU out. My friends and I were just walking down the street near Ciudade Nova where all the floats were parked, taking pictures, when a man approached us offering tickets. All these tickets are legit, by the way… And we got ours for 50 Reals (21 USD) each! Score! It was on a Sunday too, apparently, the best day to watch the parade (they hold one every night, featuring different Samba Schools). 

A warning: The parade goes on from around 9 or 10pm till 5 or 6 in the morning. It is Looooooo---oooong… And YES I had to stay all the way till the end because my friend’s favorite Samba School was last to come out.
I think I died a little bit that night.
But I got some pretty good pictures out of it!


Well, because my purse was already stolen in Buenos Aires, I wasn’t about to let that happen again… so I don’t bring anything with me when I go out. My cash is stuffed in my bra. It’s really a shame because there were so many moments when I wished I had my camera with me --- but I just couldn’t risk bringing it! It really is as dangerous as everyone makes it out to be, so you can never be too careful. A couple people in my Couchsurfing house got robbed during the time I was there, so the odds really weren’t in my favor. I had to rely on other people taking pictures and tagging me on Facebook. The only times I dared to bring my camera was in Ipanema for beach and relaxation time, and the Sambodromo.  The parade had a lot of cops hanging around so it was safer, apparently. Although, my friend’s pair of shorts were stolen in Ipanema while we were taking a nap. HER SHORTS. Crazy, right??

We hang out by the cop cars to be extra safe.

As much as possible, all of us stick together when we go out. Most of the time, we are in the company of one of our Couchsurfing hosts so that makes us feel a little more protected… But definitely, here is where I’ve felt the most alert and keen because it is necessary.  The one time I had to walk home at night by myself because I had no choice, I was running. Literally running for my life, even if I was the only one in the street. Even if it was only a block, I felt like I was being chased by zombies. I couldn’t help but feel paranoid…
Thankfully, all is well though. Hopefully it stays that way…


All the Couchsurfers in my hosts house! Nuts!!!

A lot of the Brazilians I met in my travels told me that they leave Brazil during Carnival. I remember thinking to myself – “Why would you do that?”
Well, now I understand. If I lived here and had to deal with this kind of madness every year, I would run, Forrest, run , too.

The people go nuts. As a tourist, if I had to base my judgment of Brazilians on my experience during Carnival alone, I would say – “Brazilians are fucking mental.”
OK, first of all, everyone is just drunk. As in out of their mind, drunk… high on life… high on crack… inebriated beyond help. And over here… SEX is just all around you. Everywhere you look, there are people making out… and it’s the hot and heavy kind, too. I swear, I’ve never been faced with so much tongue in public. In my Couchsurfing house… they have a “hook-up room”. NOT KIDDING!

Photo from

As a woman, it’s a little challenging to walk down the street without being semi-harassed. The men just GRAB you… as in LITERALLY grab you…  by the hand, by the stomach… some grab your face and try to kiss you. It’s gotten so bad, there was a point when I started walking with my hands on guard in front of me, Karate-chop-style. NOT KIDDING!
It’s a shame, really… because about 80% of the Brazilian men over here are half naked with perfect bodies that put Abercrombie and Fitch models to shame. It’s difficult for me to appreciate the beauty if I’m constantly protecting my womanhood though.

Compared to all the other Brazilians on the street, these boys probably are the ones who only go
to the gym once a week. These guys are lazy.

However… there IS a good side to all this craziness. The thing is, these Brazilians who stay in Rio to celebrate Carnival… They’re all just SO HAPPY. They LOVE the festivities… They LOVE Carnival… They LOVE each other… and They LOVE Brazil! You can just see it in the way strangers interact with one another… Nothing but pure, drunk, love. They burst into song all the time… Any chance they get, they dance the fucking Samba! 

We got stuck in a semi-stampede in the Metro once, where there were THOUSANDS of people trying to get in and out… People were stuck, couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe… But all of a sudden, they burst into song! The whole underground was singing this Portuguese song "Cachaca Nao E Agua" - which is a song about this Brazilian drink... Men with drums actually sat down and gave the people a beat, drumming along to the melody, which made the people sing even louder. It was incredible! The energy….The love… What should have been a very scary moment turned into something really fun and entertaining! I loved it!

This is not what it actually looked like, but just to give you an idea... It was like this - but with
waaay more people, in a bigger Metro.


I’m alive. I survived Carnival. It’s a miracle. Really.
It is, hands down, one of the most insane and outrageous things I’ve ever experienced --- not just on this trip, but in my LIFE.
It’s one of those things that you really have to experience for yourself at least once.
In my case --- JUST ONCE is enough. My body can't handle another Carnival in Rio. I’m getting too old for this shit.

Maybe the Venice Carnival next year? :)