We were off from Guarapari before 6 am to make it to Rio for a few of days of Carnaval. We were 500 km away, but were warned that it may take up to 10 hours to get there with traffic. We were a bit worried when we realized that the highway to Rio was only 1 lane each way. We were hoping the early start would help. This was about as far as we’ve driven on any day of the trip, so we did our best in limiting our stops and making sandwiches on the road.
For hours, we kept expecting to hit the traffic headed into Rio. There were plenty of cars on the BR-101 (driving crazy ridiculous) but we weren’t ever slowed down. Then, a few hours before Rio we noticed the traffic. But it was going the other way – out of Rio. The highway had expanded to 2 lanes each way by this point, and a few miles later one of our lanes was blocked leaving 3 lanes out and only one lane going into Rio. We ended up making to Rio by 2 pm – an 8 hour drive.
We passed by the port, through much of town, and didn’t ever see many cars. Apparently, lots of Cariocas just want to get the hell out of town before the festivities begin.
Our new friend, Jason, author of the article about us in O Globo last week, had been very generous in offering his apartment to us. We met up with him in the street where he and his girlfriend had already been to a bloco (street party) that morning.
Jason had saved us a parking spot on the small street in front of his apartment window, where we were able to see Red Beard serve as a shield for hundreds of sidewalk-pissing costumed revelers. I think Jason was a little worried about this, but we assured him that the bus’ height was well suited for public urination. It wasn’t the first time Red Beard’s been peed on, but this has to be a record!
We hit the party just down the street from Jason’s apartment. One band, hundreds of dressed up partiers. We handed Bode the camera to get his perspective. Of all the costumes, Bode seemed most impressed with Duff Man. Who knows. Later, we walked around the neighborhood taking in the damage- piles of trash and cans, discarded costume bits and a few folks just sleeping it off. We found Bode his daily serving of acai and got in a good traditional meal and called it a night.
The plan was to make it to the big street party in the Centro the next morning at 8 am. Well, you know how that goes. After a very exciting bus ride that was a bit like the bus ride before Bay to Breakers except more of a roller coaster (Bode LOVED it) we met up with tens of thousands of others in costume in downtown Rio. I was a little bummed that we didn’t have costumes (our decision to go was very short notice, and well, there is a space issue), but we made due with face paint and letting Bode carry a nerf gun and wear camo shorts.
By this time, the party was in full swing and the overbearing heat and the noise made the whole thing pretty tough to endure. Lots of folks were dropping out with heat-stroke. Jason went in for a few photos, and it took him nearly 45 minutes to get out. It was probably 100 F degrees, and higher when you got closer to the stage. So, we bought the kid some foam to play with and sat in the shade to cool off while things died down.
After a few hours, it was time to clean up back at the apartment. We took the metro this time, and it was a huge party as well. People singing and drumming on the ceiling of the subway all the way home.
The bloco in front of the apartment this night was a much smaller affair. A 3 piece ‘band’ on a moving stage (which also included a guy whose job was to man the keg), a small group of little kids doing the samba and about 200 people dancing behind it. We checked that out for a bit and then decided to take advantage of the big city – one more sushi dinner in Rio.
Carnaval was a little different than we expected. More block parties and fewer of the gorgeous feathered parades that I was imagining. These, apparently, are the samba school competitions that take place at the Sambadrome outside town. Each school competes for 80 minutes and the event takes place from about 10 pm to 5 in the morning on on Sunday. This is what you see on the TV highlights. We were told tickets were now going for 900 reales (about $450 USD), though if we went late, after a few schools performed, we could get tickets much cheaper. Getting across town at midnight with a 7 year old wasn’t exactly on our wish list, so we decided to skip the whole thing.
We’d been to Mardi Gras, and I guess we were expecting to see these costumes and such on floats going through town. Instead, Carnaval in Brazil is more of a continuous drunken street party, with hundreds of different blocos happening each day for 4 days. The winners of the samba school competition perform in a parade the Saturday following Carnaval (next Saturday) and tickets to this event are supposed to be much cheaper. Maybe next time.
Still, we had a blast and we were glad we experienced it. And, for the sake of the returning Cariocas, we sincerely hope a major rainstorm comes through town soon and washes the entire city clean.
Carnaval in Rio… Check!