Of the many ways to celebrate the largest Carnival celebration in the world in Brazil, the best way could sometimes be with an empty wallet and an open mind.
Carnival. A simple word; but In Brazil, it is more like a revolution that takes over the entire country each year. Everything stops for a week (sometimes more) to enjoy street parties and to celebrate. Experiencing Carnival could easily cost you the average person’s salary, an oceanfront suite at the Fasano in Rio de Janeiro goes for $26,000 USD for the weekend. But really, the spirit of Carnival is everywhere and within everybody. You could stand half-naked in a street-corner with 20 Brazilian reals and have the time of your life. I asked different “Cariocas” (Rio locals) where the spirit of Carnival came from, but none of them seemed very convinced. Lets just skip over the historical explanation and say it comes from within all those who attend and the pure desire to have a good time.
I arrived in Rio the day before Carnival officially started. Rio’s well deserved nickname, “Cidade Maravilhosa,” was ready to welcome the biggest event of the year. A large amount of people
from around the world come to Rio during this period. You see a lot of foreigners, commonly called “Gringos”. Lots of men are shirtless, which is a great occasion for those who actually have time to hit the gym. You see a few Marios & Luigis, adult babies, Romans in togas, Pacman, smurfs, different sorts of animals… the list of costumes is endless.
It’s Saturday, and I start my day with a typical Carnival breakfast, a 550ml Antartica (local beer). We are heading with a group of friends, breakfast in hand, to our first Carnival “Bloco”. A bloco is a fixed or moving group of people with a special theme, such as ”Funk in Bloco”, “Better be drunk than a deceived husband” or “All or Nothing.” Our first one is right on the beach of Ipanema. The sun hits hard. Lots of street vendors try to sell you cold beers; a few of them succeed. A live band plays samba infused with hints of rock. It’s important to note that you see all social classes, all nationalities and all ages smiling and celebrating together during Carnival. No one cares how you dress, how you look or who you are.
We decide to leave the bloco after a few beers (I’m told that if you can count them then you literally failed your bloco experience) and just enjoy the beach. A few surfers were in the water, along with people bodysurfing. The water temperature is perfect, refreshing but not cold. From here I have the perfect view of the “Dois Irmaos” (2 Brothers), the famous rocks overlooking Ipanema on the right, and Arpoador on the left. They amaze me every time.
After spending most of the day on the beach we take the bus to Copacabana. Ahhhh, buses. Definitely an experience worth trying in this city. They go fast, fast enough that experienced pedestrians are instinctually on constant watch and fear of them. On board, different groups of people sing their own songs in Portuguese, making it difficult to know which one to dance to. It also make its loud, but the air is so cheerful I just give in to my body’s desire and dance.
Once back on the street, vendors disguised in Bedouins offer us empanadas (fried pastries stuffed with meat or cheese). We get a few. This opens our appetite and we head towards Zucco, a small restaurant where they make the best Chicken Yakisoba, a delicious tangy dish of chicken, noodles and vegetables.
We find out from friends that an event is happening a few blocks away. We arrive there and the ambiance is electric. Samba is playing from the speakers. The girls are moving their legs and feet so fast you’d think they were on fire. We try as Gringos to follow, but it’s basically impossible. The ambience is enthralling, like an addict you feed off of each other’s energies. Between the samba and the drinks, the random strangers you cheer with and the colorful decoration, there is no other option but to have the best time of your life.
By 3:00 am exhausting begins to hit, but the motivation to keep partying remains strong. There is a bar in Ipanema where the concept is simple: you stand in front of the entrance and drink, you only need to go inside for the restroom. The Emporio gathers tourists, local wealthy bohemians and artists alike and is the perfect place to end a night in Rio. Portuguese, English, Spanish and French languages combine. Topics vary from travel to religion, culture, food, education, politics, music, fashion, etc. Everybody is welcome to the conversation and all opinions are considered and respected. This is one of my favorite parts about Rio.
By the time the night (or morning) is over, a penthouse suite with five star bed sheets is the last thing on my mind. Any bed or sofa is as glorious as the next. Especially when essentially, what I’ll be taking is a nap. The party and celebrations will be going on for three more days all over Brazil. If I’ve made it this far in Rio, there is no way I will be missing a moment of one of the most vibrant and exciting celebrations in the world.