Pancake day AKA Rio carnival 2013 Baby!
For nearly two years I knew my little world tour would end with Rio carnival which I thought was an epic way to end proceedings. The thing is I had no idea what carnival was all about, nor did I know what to expect. Looking back I still don’t really know what to make of it all! Firstly, from the intel that I have gathered carnival’s roots are in Europe, essentially when the Portuguese settled they bought over their religious ideas which got combined with local tribal traditions. This, combined with new ideas such as samba ultimately gave birth to carnival. It is celebrated at the begining of lent basically. So while we have a day of eating pancakes in Britain, the Brazillians have a mega five day party! Also worthy of note is that the whole idea was born out of the favelas, the one time of the year when the poor really let their hair down and had something to look forward to. To this day the biggest samba schools originate from the favelas of Rio.
So in terms of street partys its all a bit random! One of the biggest turn outs saw three million people in one area of town if I remember rightly. I expected street parades everywhere and live music everywhere but it isn’t quite like that. Firstly it appears that all the roads remain open, the traffic just makes its way around all the revelars. The streets are rammed and full of fancy dress but largely people are moving around from A to B drinking lots and pigging on street food. I suppose essentially the party is so bloody big it’s hard to get your head around it all. I think there were also significantly less night clubs open due to the collosal fire several weeks before that killed 400 people and lead to an immediate crack down on safety. All in all it was mental!
The main event we all associate with carnival (with pictures of pretty women shaking their booty) takes place at the sambadrome. This is a stadium probably half a mile long. It is a straight stretch of road with stadium seating either side and if you are lucky and on an overlanding trip you get cheap tickets which are at the end of the sambadrome and set back from the main strip. Not that we didn’t get a good show, the only thing we didn’t get to see was the full length of the parade. Basically twelve samba schools take part in a compatition to see who is the best, judged on samba skills, relevance to their chosen theme, music, floats, costumes etc. Each school has eighty minutes from starting at one end of the sambadrome to finishing at the other. Six schools take part on one night and the other six take part the following night with the winner announced a few days later. We were there on the first night and after watching all six schools, drinking beer and dancing we left at 5.30am. It was a surprisingly good night. I thought I would get bored after seeing the first few schools but it turned out to be a right good hoot, the live bands were particually good at times and the whole atmosphere was splendid. Fantastically, once the dancers get to the end of the sambadrome they take off their costumes and throw them into dumb trucks, job done. The dancers on top of the floats were lifted off by a group of cranes or if you were really unlucky they would fall off as we saw on the news the following day!
A city tour made sure we saw the major sights with the obvious highlight being Christ the redeemer. As you would expect tourists got in the way and did idiotic things like take photos with ipads and hold their arms out pretending to be Jesus. The views of the city were a bit hazy but as international icons go, it was bloody impressive. We also visited a cathedral in the shape of a dome and made of concrete. It looked pretty crap from the outside, original but a bit crappy however, the inside was very impressive with huge stained glass windows which were probably each as high as a standard English church. We then moved onto Sugarloaf which promised excellent views of the city and bay once at the top. We didn’t get chance on this occasion thanks to a two hour wait for the cable car so we gave up. But! We went back a few days later and went up for sunset. Absolutely worth the visit and was definitely the moment when I finally appreciated Rio and kind of fell for the place a little.
And that is that. The end of South America. The tour has been epic without a doubt. I really didn’t get on with Peru and the first month was a bit rough on me in terms of illness for some stupid reason but, heading down the west coast crossing the borders of Chile and Argentina was just amazing. Some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, completely wild and some awesome random nights out with a great bunch of people. Buenos Aires still gives me goose bumps thinking how awesome it was and Brazil is just a collosal tropical beauty. Its an amazing continent, not my favaourite but I will most definitely be returning one day.