I like to consider myself well traveled. I’m not on par with some people I know, but I’ve definitely been around. I’ve been to four continents, quite a few countries, and countless cities. I think I’ve partied in most every city I’ve been in. I’ve never quite been to a festival like Carnaval though.
I’ve come to think that Rio de Janeiro has a party culture for the most part anyway. There are always people on the beach, and many times you can find parties and drinking going on. Obviously not everyone parties all the time, but it’s just more laid back. There always seems to be something to celebrate too. With Carnaval though, it seems as everything stops. Some of the places I frequent, like the place where you get a huge plate of beans, rice, and chicken or steak for R$8 in the back of this lady’s house are closed. Many other businesses seem closed down as well. Many of the main roads are closed down for parades. This isn’t just for a Saturday though, it’s for days. It’s amazing that everything just stops so people can party.
I’ll dedicate most of this post to Carnaval, but of course I do have many other things to write about and will get to a few of them at the end. So Carnaval began on Friday, but I decided it was going to begin on Thursday. Training had slowed down, and my gis were wet from leaving them outside to dry since it rained a few days. It felt like a great idea to just get an early start. I was wrong. A few of us from the house decided to drink here and then go out that night. I’m going to be completely honest; I can’t for the life of me remember where we went.
Friday was the real start of Carnaval festivities. I felt great Friday, so after I woke up I went to the bakery to grab some food and then the fun began. We again drank at the house (you can see a trend forming), and then we headed out to the bars. Before I get into that though, I have to mention that this was my first bus experience. The buses are everything I hoped they would be, which is total madness. The ride out to Copacabana wasn’t that bad, but the many other bus rides I took that weekend were pretty crazy. They literally pack so many people onto the buses that you cannot move at all. They drive like a roller coaster except there is no track to keep you from tipping over. I thought it was great. I don’t think a lot of other people enjoy it too much though.
So we get to Copacabana, and there really wasn’t a plan for the night. We stumbled about for awhile, and ended up at somewhat of a street celebration. The thing is, it was full of young kids. Young kids drinking beer, and alcohol, and everything else. One of the Australian guys Trent was actually a pretty hot commodity with the 16 year olds, it was pretty funny. We decided to get out of there and keep walking around. I met a guy who is actually living in Chicago who I’m pretty sure was on enough drugs to kill a small animal. The best part is I saw him later in my night, which was actually the next day, wearing a dress in a street parade.
The next place we went to was quite a sight to see as well. We went to a bar called the “balcony”. I’m not sure if that was the actual name of the place or just a code name for it, but let’s get right to it. This was a hooker bar. When I say a hooker bar, there wasn’t just a girl or two at the bar looking for some unlucky guy to take his hard earned money. This entire place was packed with all working girls. I’d estimate there were about 50 to 60 women here. Some were beautiful, some were not so much. Anyway, we weren’t there to actually pick up hookers, but it was a packed place and they had drinks. So we hung out there for awhile and I sort of just did some people watching. There were plenty of older men there who were either American or European who were definitely getting their fill of women though. I won’t be returning there, but it was definitely something to witness one time.
After that, we jumped around to so many places it’s hard to describe it. I thought it would be weird to visit other areas, but we went to a whole bunch of places. We visited Ipanema, Leblon, and Lapa. There were a ton of bars down the streets and we mostly drank from street vendors. One thing that is pretty great is you can always find beers on the street for cheaper than in the bars. If I wasn’t obsessed with “capivodkas” which is basically a vodka drink with a ton of limes and sugar, then it would be perfect. You can find them on the street but not everywhere.
We ended up back at the house at around 5am. A few of us were still awake, and we heard about a parade in Santa Teresa so we decided to venture out again. No sleep for us. The thing is, Santa Teresa is all the way across Rio. We found a cab that was willing to take us, and took a crazy ride with music so loud I felt like I was at a music conference. This guy was running stoplights, definitely speeding, and had no regard for our safety. It was awesome.
We got there about 7 or 8am, I’m not sure what time it was, but we started going up a hill. This was definitely not a tourist area, we were going into some neighborhoods. They weren’t bad neighborhoods, but when you’ve been up that long and you’re with a bunch of guys who are pretty out of it it’s not the best idea. It’s less comforting when your cab driver starts talking to another cab driver coming down the hill and then stops and says “I’m not going any farther, he said it’s too dangerous”. What did we do? Of course, we got out and checked it out, and I’m glad we did.
It wasn’t a dangerous area, but there was no driving up this hill. The parade was ahead, and there were literally masses of people filling the streets. It kind of sucked you in, and as the parade was moving so were all the people. It was all downhill from there (literally, not figuratively). We bought beers on the street, made a ton of friends, and posed for pictures with people in costumes. Unfortunately I only had my cellphone and it died, but I will post a couple pictures at the bottom of this post for you to see. We met a nice group of girls and they were actually from Barra where I live. One girl wanted to exchange lessons in Portuguese for English with me which I was all about as I’m really trying to learn. Suddenly this crazy European girl came out of nowhere though and started hanging all over the other guys. I think it turned those girls off to us, and we just moved on. Oh well, I’ll find my tutor yet!
I think that was the best experience of my Carnaval, but the other nights were fun too. We went to Ipanema on Sunday night, and of course went wild again. I came home a bit early that night and went out to have sushi at a place called Koni here in Barra with some people from the house. After that I stuck around to drink at the house and everyone came back and partied a bit. All in all, it was a great time, but by Monday I was finished.
It’s funny, because I’ve talked to a few people from home online and they are in utter amazement that I quit on Carnaval two days early. There are a few reasons that this happened, and since some of them were wondering why I’ll explain it here. The first reason is that I had a meeting on Monday night for grad school. I probably could have went out and gotten away with it, but I’m working hard to have a good gpa unlike my undergrad. The second reason is, well, I was just done. I’m not as young as I used to be, and I tend to go a little harder than everyone else when I am out. I’m now sitting here on a Tuesday night writing this as most everyone in the houses are out partying yet again, and it kind of feels good. I had a run to Barra beach tonight, and I got a ton of work done today as well. So there it is, that sums up my Carnaval experience. If I were to recommend any place in the world to travel out of all of my adventures, Rio for Carnaval would be number one.
As for what else is going on, I did my interview for “Real Rio” today. It’s basically a show following the individual experiences of people who come to Brazil to train mixed martial arts and Brazilian jiu jitsu, and how they overcome certain obstacles being in a foreign country such as the language barrier and living in a different economy. It’s not all about obstacles though, we’re also going to be doing competitions and I believe they have some sponsors lined up as well. It should be pretty fun, and definitely yet another thing to look back on. The second trailer will be on YouTube tomorrow with my interview, and I’ll post it on my facebook as well as my next blog as soon as it’s done. Training should pick up this week as well, and I may try to climb Pedra de Gavea this weekend depending on if anyone else is up for the task. I’ll end it off with some pictures of the parade in Santa Teresa, and I should have the video footage I’ve taken from Carnaval edited soon!