Carnaval In Rio De Janiero – Samba In The Rain
“Come on, let’s go, let’s go to Carnaval. It’s time to sing and dance my love.
I want the happiness and joy that’s found in Carnaval.”
– Carlos Sanatana
Nestled among the mountains of a rainforest and flanked by the palm-fringed beaches of the Atlantic Ocean, Rio de Janeiro is arguably the most beautiful city in the world. All western cultures celebrate the week before Ash Wednesday and Lent, and Carnaval in Rio is one of the world’s biggest parties. We are lucky enough to secure a last-minute hotel booking for the duration of the city’s festivities.
Down at the Copa
Our first destination is Rio’s famous Copacabana Beach. Throngs of thong-clad locals play futebol (soccer), volleyball and paddleball, while bodysurfing tourists are slammed against the sand by the crashing waves. Vendors hawk everything from sunglasses to umbrellas, beach chairs, and cold drinks. This stretch of white sand is enormous but, even with its neighbor Ipanema, makes up only a fraction of the city’s beaches.
The next day, Carnaval in Rio officially begins, which is instantly evident. Every shop is closed, but we don’t have any trouble finding a party. Everyday, a different neighborhood hosts a parade of music and revelers through its streets, and today is Cinelandia’s turn – where we are staying.
A flatbed truck carries a thirty-piece band, and a long cable suspended over the crowd attaches it to another truck carrying a PA system. The trucks are engulfed by thousands of people that pack the streets and sidewalks. Young and old, everyone knows all the words to all the songs, and the celebration transcends all generation gaps and social classes.
The crowd herds along for a few hours before we take the subway to Estádio Jornalista Mário Filho – commonly known as Maracanã Stadium. Vasco de Gama and Flamengo are playing in the state soccer final, and long before the match even starts, the fans have worked themselves into a fervor. Massive banners cover large portions of the crowd, which is busy singing, chanting, and jumping up and down.
The game finally gets underway, and Flamengo hits two posts and have two goals disallowed. Towards the end, they are losing, but not for lack of trying. We are sitting in a pro-Flamengo section full of restless enthusiasts, and leave when various projectiles begin flying through the air above our heads. Just as we exit the stadium, it erupts as Flamengo finally scores and ties the game.
Afterwards, we return to Cinelandia to find a stage set up in the main square. So, we join the audience and spend the next few hours dancing (or trying to dance) to all the Carnaval favorites performed by a variety of Rio celebrities. It is a great . The locals are greatly amused by our attempts at samba, and delight in demonstrating it for us.
We meet many friends that night, and once we meet a new friend, we are also introduced to their friends, their mothers, and their mothers’ friends. Brazilian people are among the friendliest we have ever met. We finally return to our hotel room exhausted.
Carnaval in Rio
After a quick rest at the hotel, we head to the Sambódromo da Marquês de Sapucaí aound midnight. The Sambodromo is a city street six blocks long with huge grandstands on each side. During the rest of the year, it is used for various shows such as rock concerts, but it was designed for the Carnaval festival.
Every night, about eight dance their way down the Sambodromo. Each school consists of hundreds of dancers wearing vibrant costumes, dozens of drummers, a band, and lavishly designed and decorated floats.
These massive floats are reserved for the school’s best dancers, depicting all kinds of crazy scenes and creatures, and adorned with sexy and scantily clad dancers. Schools are judged on costumes, floats, choreography, coordination, etc. The winner of the preceding year’s Carnaval retains a spot in the final parade.
Every school has its own song and takes just over an hour to make its way through the Sambodromo. Three schools later, it’s 3 am and we’re sambaed out. We wander through the neighborhood looking for a taxi, only to end up back at the venue where we discover that official volunteers are hired to organize such transportation.
Credit must be given to the Rio sanitation department, as the streets are virtually litter-free the next morning. After visiting the contemporary Sao Sebastian cathedral, we take a trolley ride through the old colonial area of Santa Teresa. Rio’s signature landmark is our next stop. Corcovado’s statue of Christ the Redeemer is jammed with tourists, so we must wait to take the tram. But, the views of such a magnificent city from the top are worth the wait.
Samba in the Rain
A loud banging on the street outside our hotel wakes us up before 6am. Two municipal workers are attending to a faulty power line, and one of them is trying to sever a thick cable laying on the street – with an axe.
After breakfast, we walk along the waterfront to another of Rio’s landmarks, Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf Mountain). The two-staged gondola takes visitors to the top of this monolithic hill overlooking the city’s beaches. A winding path leading partway down the backside offers great views, and is home to curious monkeys.
That night, the rain is coming down in buckets. But, by 11pm, the rain has stopped and the moon and the stars start to shine. We take the subway back to the Sambodromo for another few hours until we can barely stay awake.
It is a testament to Cariocas (residents of Rio) that, considering the copious amounts of alcohol consumed and the large crowds gathered during Carnaval, we witness no violence or even marginal aggression. A similar scenario at home would almost certainly produce far different results. Despite countless reports of crime in Rio, especially during Carnaval, we never feel threatened. Carnaval in Rio is an exciting and colorful experience, and we’re sure that the city is just as friendly, hospitable and charming throughout the entire year.