Marking the beginning of Lent, millions of people flood to Brazil for this well-known party season. If I’m honest with you… the party begins at least a month before the proclaimed dates in the diary, which this year were the 24th-28th of February.
Salvador and Sao Paulo become second-best party hubs (after Rio of course) in the build up to carnival. Every weekend the cities awaken by night with huge pre-carnival ‘blocos’, which are essentially street parties that can consume the whole neighbourhood. Salvador’s carnival is said to be rival to Rio as the best carnival in Brazil. In Salvador, they say it is all about the community spirit, everyone gets involved and makes the carnival what it is.
On Tuesday nights in the Pelourinho neighbourhood in Salvador, the Afro-Brazilians celebrate by samba dancing and drumming through the streets and squares. If you’re lucky you might even catch Oludum, who featured in MJ’s ‘They Don’t Care About Us’ music video. Tuesday became a special evening as it was originally the night when the African slaves were allowed to go to church, so since then this has become a large part of the Salvador tradition.
While Rio has the world-famous Sambadrone, where floats and samba schools dance the night away, until about 6am. The party isn’t confined to just the Sambadrone, there is a party on practically every street at all hours of the day and night. Ignore the people that say that the Sambadrone is too expensive and not worth the money – the tickets are cheaper on the first couple of days and it is, for many, a once in a lifetime experience.
One of the blocos we went to was constantly on the move, so you needed to have a source amongst it or some good detective talents to find it. This was one of the local’s favourite bloco, and apparently it doesn’t stop all week… my first thought was, who could possibly party all week? But then I realised that the more likely explanation was that people come and go, but the party never stops!
The Bloco do Sargento Pimenta is said to be one of the best over the course of the weekend, the Beatles themed bloco started at 8am, lasting until around 8pm. The crowds highlight was Hey Jude being belted out in the scorching sunshine.
By the second or third day, you will probably be flagging a little. I made the rookie mistake of going a little bit too hard on the first night, which meant that the struggle progressively worsened each day.
Be sure to stock up on the trusty Brazilian hangover cure, Engov, and with the help of Skol Beats, a sugary caffeine-filled drink, you will be back to your spritely self in no time.
The party animals of Rio don’t stop at anything, from naked dancers wearing solely a layer of paint, to people climbing up onto anything to have a boogie. If you are a keen fancy dresser, then carnival is the place to wear your wackiest outfits. My glitter and props obviously got lost on the first day, and by then, my empty bank account and bursting suitcase weren’t willing me to find a new wardrobe.
As I’m sure you can imagine, travellers tend to warn others about safety and during carnival a couple of horror stories made the rounds. Whether it was people getting lost or losing friends, accidentaly walking down the wrong street into a dodgy area or phones, money or anything of worth being stolen sneakily out of ones pockets or bags, in some cases people being held up with a knife. The central areas of Lapa and Gloria tend to be a little more dangerous at night time, so it is advised to stay in the southern neighbourhoods after dark, if possible, such as Ipanema and Leme.
Oh, and there is no formula to survive carnival. Sorry… I don’t know a single person who wasn’t completely broken after the week or month long festivities.
Afterwards, you have perfect excuse to take some time out to lounge on one of the many beautiful Brazilian beaches, a bit of R&R and a detox is just what the doctor ordered.