Samba at the Rio Carnival

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

It was all excitement when we rolled into Rio in anticipation for the much talked about city and carnival (that runs for 5 days) in Brazil. It was also on our first evening that we would be attending the Red and Black Ball – held at the Scala Club in Rio dedicated to the famous football team Flamengo (strangely their flag is red and black). Leaving the hotel around 11pm that evening we made our way to the club for one of the first balls of the carnival. It was absolutely madness inside the club, with over 1500 (maybe even way more than that) people in attendance it was also extremely hot and sticky …mmmm maybe that is why they suggest to wear as little as possible! They say the ball is not for the faint hearted which is fully understandable when cultures mix and some think it is a free for all affair. But having been warned, my friends and I strategically placed ourselves next to two Brazilian girls who showed us their samba moves and it also meant we were left alone for most part of the evening. The only exception was my trip to the bathroom when I was ´ambushed` by five men with kisses and my friends literally had to pull me out! Any how I had a great time dancing to the beats of the samba music and left around 5am to go to the local pizza place for breakfast – this is carnival so you must do what the locals do. That is my excuse anyway and it would remain so for the next few days of carnival!!

Sugar Loaf and Corcovado Mountain
Having had 1 hour sleep after the Red and Black Ball I pulled myself out of bed to go and do some sightseeing. In hindsight it was a great plan as we had the most beautiful morning full of sunshine – it rained constantly for the next 5 days after wards.

Located on the Corcovado Mountain, the statue of Christ the Redeemer stands about 38m high and is very impressive. To reach it, you travel on a sweet miniature train through the Atlantic rain forest and get entertained by the local samba musicians (I don´t think that beat has quite left my head yet). The view from the top is absolutely breathtaking as you look down on Copacabana and Ipanema beaches.

Sugar Loaf (Pao de Azucar)
Another famous landmark giving you great views of the city as you travel up by Cable car. Unfortunately the sky was a bit hazy but you could still make out the endless beaches of Rio.

Sunday night I was fortunate enough to go to the Sambadrome to witness the famous Samba Parade, I have only ever seen on TV. The building itself is not too much to look at but once the parade starts everything changes. The atmosphere is filled with excitement as the people on the stands dance constantly to the samba music and sing for their local team. This combined with the intense array of colour, costumes and different themes of each samba school made everything seem quite unreal and at the same time contagious – you just had to dance! I was in Sector 13 in the Sambadrome which is not the greatest for the view but more to experience the local atmosphere and party. The parades started at around 9pm and the last school danced their way through the walkway around 4:30am – guess sleep does not come into play during the carnival as I had to stay to the absolute end.

Visiting Rio was not just about experiencing the carnival for me so I jumped on a tour to see one of the favelas – which are depicted as the slums of Rio. I was amazed to see how closely the people in the favelas live and socialise with each other. The houses don’t look much from the outside but if you sneak a peek into some of them – they were decked out like a place. Entrance and Exit to the favela is strongly monitored by young youths and they are on alert as soon as someone enters that is not welcome. They say about 60% of Rios population live in the favelas and this is mainly because it is cheaper. With no public transport and only private buses the people move into favelas around Rio to be closer to their work. They also get subsided in terms of cable TV and electricity – I guess by the drug lords. And amazingly they feel safer living here than in the town – a right contradiction when gang fights break out. For the last day of the carnival, my fellow travellers and I went on a sunset boat cruise in Gloria Harbour. I mentioned earlier that it has rained for most of my stay so not surprisingly we did not view the amazing sunset over the city but instead danced on deck to cheesy 80s music drinking Caiprianahs. Which ensured our mood for the ultimate end of the carnival – The Gay Ball

Gay Ball
Televised around the world this is the ultimate ending to the Rio Carnival and what I an eye opener. It was truly and interesting and exotic affair – you have to take in everything as it is and be totally open minded and don’t expect to be able to tell the difference between men and woman. I just loved the atmosphere and the confidence of the drag queens and transvestites that were there. I don’t think my straight male friends were quite that comfortable when they approached – I just smiled and thought ´how the tables have turned´

Accommodation: Augusto´s Paysandu Hotel – Rua Paissandu 23, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

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