Tuesday, 8 March 2011

I survived Rio's Carnaval Parade

Just can't stop moving my feet..
Been there.  Done that.  Bought the feathers.

It was completely and utterly insane and I loved it.  After two consecutive nights at the Sambodrome, I can't get the sound of drums and singing out of my head, and I do believe my feet keep breaking into something approaching samba steps.  I think I've been brainwashed.

For those that don't know, the most famous of parades, held on the Sunday and Monday nights before Mardi Gras, sees the top twelve Rio samba schools compete to be crowned champions.  The samba schools here are like football teams, with team colours, flags and passionate supporters.  Every year they pick a theme for their parade, write a new song and create an hour long spectacle of floats and dancing girls (and guys and everything in-between) in crazy costumes doing choreography to the beats of the incredible bateria.  The whole show lasts all night, from 9pm until around the 5am next day, so you can cut me some slack on the typos and spelling mistakes today - I'm totally dead, even though I only lasted four schools on Saturday and three last night.

On Sunday night I sat in an arquibancada, a large terrace of steep concrete steps, where you hustle for a space, and sit amongst thousands of other people.  From up there you have a great view of the parade as a whole, although you don't see the details unless you take binoculars, and don't get great pictures unless you have a super zoom lens.  (By 'details', by the way, I don't mean bare boobs.  It used to be popular for bare breasted ladies to dance at carnival, but it has fallen out of fashion.  I only counted two topless girls, and some nipple outfits.) 

Salgueiro's un-topless girls
I sat next to a guy who hadn't missed a carnival parade in forty years, so he helped me understand how it all works.  He pointed out the judging boxes, in front of which the schools do extra show-off stuff (so it's good to be near one of those).  They are judged for their song, band, dancing, costumes, story-telling and a couple of other things that escape my foggy brain.  He also showed me where to find the words to each of the songs so I could singalong.  I had actually bought the Sambas de Enredo CD a few weeks ago, with the intention of learning the songs before the night, but forgot about it.  By the end of the processions I pretty much had the chorus down anyway - after all, you hear the same song again and again for over an hour.

King Kong's Banana Girl
Last night was a different experience, in the camarote - private box - for one of the samba schools, Grande Rio, which was great because it allowed us to get closer to the action. As is standard for these areas, invitees are issued with a hideous, extra-large nylon t-shirt that features the school's theme illustration and sponsor logos.  It is mandatory to wear these, so the big thing is to customize them to make them wearable.  I seriously misjudged the effort most girls would put into this, and simply cut a hole out of one shoulder and cinched the waist at the back with a kilt pin.  When I got there I was surrounded by silicone breasted sambistas in strapless dresses (which they call here tomara que caia - hope it falls!) and strappy halterneck numbers covered in sequins, gold brocade, jewels, rosettes and chains.   Next time I'll know better...or will just stick to the "cheap" seats, which had a better vibe anyway, even if they didn't have a free bar and catering!

Some images of the event will never leave me:  The opening choreography of Unidos da Tijuca was incredible; a group of ghastly characters dancing around taking off their heads, holding them under their arms and then putting them back on again.  The school seemed to excel in the crowd-pleasing stunt, with incredible floats depicting the movies Avatar, Transformers and Jaws, the latter of which featured a swimming pool with a guy swimming that was then eaten alive by a mechanical shark.
Mocidade's Show Stoppers
Another school, Salgueiro, also chose a cinematographic scene and had a huge float of King Kong holding a nearly naked woman painted yellow like a banana.  Well, she has to be seen to be believed.  If I thought there was a lot of silicone implants around, well she won the prize hands down...or should I say bottom out.  I can't get her rather grotesque image out of my head.

However, my absolutely favorite moment of the whole thing was the Mocidade float that featured only big chubby but very sexy dancers gyrating in their plain white undies.  The irony brought tears to my eyes - in a parade all about out-doing the next with a killer body, fancy footwork, crazy costumes and high-tech gadgets,  the most innovative, attention grabbing thing you can do is to show a bunch or normal looking people having a great time.  I'm signing up for that float next year!


  1. It was wonderful to read your account of events at the Sambodrome. Will this become a yearly thing for you now? :)

  2. @Jim
    thanks! i think i'm hooked now...I thought it was going to be a once in a lifetime thing, but now I think I'll be there every year!

  3. Excellent read! I really enjoyed it! Keep up the good work and blog some more every year!