Rio de Janeiro – Part 1- Carnaval, Whooop -whooop!!

Carnaval, shopping, washing etc. …..soooo many things have happened since our coming to Rio. Or rather, to Rio DE JANEIRO. There are many Rio´s in Brazil and if you say only Rio, people look at you in a funny way. Rio basically means river. For a long time I´ve been telling people that we are going to River next, or that we were in River now. I sincerely apologize if I´ve misled you in this way. 🙂 The really strange thing is that Rio de Janeiro turned out not to be a river as they thought, but a Bay.

Okayyyy. CARNAVAL. The thing that Rio de Janeiro is known for most. We arrived in Rio and there seemed to be a party everywhere. Frans and the girls went out on the first look-see. They could not even ENTER the one yacht club. There was a raving party and the bouncers were bent on keeping all these little girls from gatecrashing their party. Ok, so maybe it was the fact that nobody could understand them that was the REAL problem 🙂
Frans ended up signing us in at the Rio de Janeiro Yacht Club because their English was better. This turned out to be a real blessing and we can see God’s hand yet again. This exclusive Club has a membership agreement with Royal Cape Yacht Club so that our first month is completely free! What a blessing! and …they have a lovely little library that is air-conditioned!!!! But… I’m disgressing. Carnaval. Right.

We get onto the Cocoroca – a free ferry service – to do our first landing as a family. This is late on Sunday morning. We meet this great guy, Joze, who happens to speak English (we didn’t know then what a rarity this was) and his first remark was : “Ah, you coming to the Carnaval?!!!!” He was dressed in normal clothes except for this shiny Christmas foil decoration twined around his body and stated that he was just on his way to “Carnaval”. “Where is the Carnaval?”,we asked. “Oh, there will be something in Botofoga, maybe in Urca later, definitely Central, Central always has something and you can get there by metro…. There will be parties all week. Carnaval!!” “AHHHH”, we said.”Where can we find internet?” We knew this is a bigger priority for us. Frans HAD to start working on Monday and with parties all week we’d be sure to see something. So we tried some shopping first. More on shopping later..

Everywhere we went, people were dressed normally, but with something quirky added. A Pink wig, some rabbit ears, weird stockings etc. Just enough to make you look twice. As we got back to the club, the place was swarming with little Superheroes and girls in Cinderella dresses or Minney Mouse outfits. The children in Brazil are super cute and these were even cuter. Superman chasing Batman with a beetle and a Spiderman that can’t sit still long enough to have a bite of food. “AAHHHHH” we thought, “Carnaval!” and we knowingly nodded our heads. We splurged out on milkshakes at R40.00 a piece, to celebrate our ocean crossing and relaxed in the cooler evening air. It was soooo nice to be on land. Frans started up a semi-understandable conversation with an eldery gentleman who was waiting for the late night mass service held at the Club’s Chapel. “What should we do for Carnaval?” Frans asked. “Ahhhh, Carnaval? You should go to the Ball at the Cocabana Hotel. You buy tickets. You can see everyone there. Big Party! Very famous people!” We found out later that these tickets cost upwards of R3300.00 each. So, no – we will not be attending the Ball of the year.

Monday dawned and we spend the whole day trying to legalize our stay in Brazilia. Oh, and trying to shop. More on shopping later…. And we saw nothing much. Normal people doing normal things. No parties and no funny outfits. That evening we ventured out of the Yacht Club and saw a group of people milling around some music. Here we found some serious dressing up. All kinds of costumes seem to go. A huge big dress-up party with no rules. We also found some serious smooching and drinking and weirdness. The girls did not like this one bit so we retreated to our comfort zone and called it a night. Okay, we realised that we didn’t particularly want this side of the Carnaval, but we did want to see the floats and the parades. We knew that we had better do some Internetting and make sure that we don´t miss Carnaval 2015. In our ignorance we DID think it was a street parade and we could just hang around somewhere to watch it. WRONG.
All the parades happen ONLY in the Sambodromo. The Sambodromo is the “stadium” of samba. It consists of the Parading Avenue (the samba runway) and several independent concrete structures for the spectators (the bleachers) both sides along the Parading Avenue. It was purpose-built for the Samba Parade and they’ve used it since 1984. That is a long time ago! How come we still thought it was a street parade????
And to get into the Sambódromo, you needed to buy a ticket.
There are 2 huge Samba Parades in the Sambadromo. On the first, most important one, the Samba Parade consists of an all-out Competition! All the Samba Schools of Rio de Janeiro take part. Each School chooses their own theme, composes a Carnaval Song and then design their whole parade to visualize this theme. For this 1st Parade, the cheapest tickets we could find were R1000.00 each. Eina!!! Too costly for us. This is by far the most popular Parade. People from RdJ choose their favourite Samba School and support them – just like in Football. They learn their themesong off by heart and sing it as loudly as they can, whenever they can.

We decided on Saturday morning before the 1st Parade, that we would go to Central where a procession was taking place according to the Internet. Surely there would be something to see? Well…. We did see a lot! No parade as it turned out, but a lot. Wow! As soon as we got onto the metro, we knew something was happening! Everybody was dressed up! And they dressed in groups too. Family groups would all look the same – grandma included. Navy themes, ballerinas, Egyptian,  witches, bees, you name it, you got it! We didn’t expect this and didn’t dress up at all. We thought we were a bit late according to the program, but no. As soon as we disembarked, we saw a steady stream of people going somewhere. We joined. We didn’t  know where we were going, but we were going too. Try to imagine hundreds of people – children too – walking in the broiling sun (38 degrees Centigrade) in an unending stream as far as the eye can see, to the front of us and to the back of us. By now it was nearly 12 noon. It was hot, hot, hot. The people were all smiling and joking and singing and drinking . Each person seemed to have a see-through plastic bag or cooler or container with more than a dozen beers in and ice. The ice was quickly melting and I found myself wishing that I was underneath a bag like that. We passed some floats standing next to the road very nearly finished. They were pretty impressive and we took a few photos, but as the stream of people seem to be ignoring the floats, we moved on. After about an hour’s walking, something seemed to be happening in front. We entered some narrower streets. People were pressing in more and more from the back and we decided to get out of the throng. There was a kind of bus ahead with musicians on the top, blasting music at full volume. We now realise that it must have been theme songs for the different Samba Schools. I especially remember a burly young man singing the song as loud as he can, as he elbowed his way to the front. The music was VERY loud, it was VERY hot, there were people EVERYWHERE and  we were VERY tired. We couldn’t see what the people were doing there and decided to go home. We just turned and fought our way through the crowd to reach the open spaces further back where we could leave the stream behind. Now…….. I do NOT look like a Brazilian. My hair is too red and too short. My clothing is too modest, my face too red and sweaty and…… I was not dressed up for Carnaval. Truth to tell I was pretty fed-up. Oh, I forgot, I was also not smiling. Suddenly……., facing us from the stream of Carnavalies, came this HUGE, young guy. HE was going to help this poor, old, suffering tourist understand Carnaval! At first I thought he was going to hug me and tried to dodge past him, but no………. he literally swept me off my feet and held me as his triumphant trophy for all to see. I do think he turned around a few times before he put me down. It was way too fast to even think. Way too fast to pull out the camera. Just as well : ).

After this experience Frans was even more determined that we should see something of the Carnaval that we would really enjoy. We researched some more and found that we could afford the tickets to the 2nd Samba Parade. This Parade is called the Winner’s Parade as only the top 6 Samba Schools take part. It started at 21:00 on the last Saturday evening and lasted until 6:00 in the morning. We tried to sleep during the day on Saturday in order to see as much as possible, but we knew beforehand that we wouldn’t make the full show.

It really was a fun night out. We took a bus to the Dromo and realised that where we turned around the previous Saturday, was very close to the Sambadromo and that all those people were actually heading there. Walking at night is a real pleasure as the temperature is so much cooler and we never felt unsafe in any way. The Sombadromo itself seemed truly magnificent and overpowering, It is lit up with special effects and everywhere around there are foodstalls and curious. We dressed up some in colourful bunting, thanks to Tiana, and it made us feel very festive. It was interesting to see that very few people actually fancy-dressed for the Winner’s Parade. People really trickled in at first and it seemed as if the stands would be half full. Not so. Eventually all the seats were taken, even if people did not come on time.

The Parade started with “dancers” with disabilities and we had some good wheelchair breakdancing. This was only a pre-show with no floats and Sophia confided to me later that she was very disappointed in the Parade. She thought that was all we would get.

I’m glad to report that she was more than satisfied with the real Parade. It…. was….. FANTASTIC!!!!  All of the  colours, the detail, the costumes (or lack thereof) and the creativity and ingenuity of the floats worked together to form a smorgasbord of delight. It overwhelmed our senses and we did not know where to look first. There are surprises built into floats and dancers alike. We managed to stay through 3 whole Samba Schools, but then could do no more. As it is, we only got into bed at 4:00 in the morning. (Actually it was only at 5:00, because they changed to daylight saving time that Sunday morning.)

As Marike shared, each Samba School started their parade with fireworks. This was followed by their themesong over the sound system. It was sung over and over and over for as long as it took to move their show along the length of the runway. (Approximately 1hr and 20 minutes). There were an average of 6 major floats per school and 32 – 35 different dance groups spaced in between. There were easily upwards of 60 people in each group. Every school included some “bajanas” – swirling ladies of some sort, a flag bearer and also a samba dancing group. The other groups just seem to be ordinary people enjoying the chance to walk in the parade. The whole group wore similar costumes according to the story that was unfolding. The costumes were magnificent. Afterwards, as we walked to the metro, we encountered various of the “actors” from the first schools carrying their clothes. Up close, the details were even better. Beautiful detail, beautifully done.

The most interesting floats, were the ones that did things. There was a huge eagle on this one float. At one point it just started bending down. It nearly touched the dancers on the top of the float, but  they seemed completely oblivious. Just as we became really worried, we noticed the camera bridge, and that the eagle needed to bend like this to pass underneath. Some dancers on other floats were also too high. They just incorporated some little movement right at the bridge and didn’t lose a step!

Every float was a feat of engineering! We saw dancers on VERY thin pillars,three stories high. One float was covered with men sitting on “horseback” resembling knights and their  dancing made the whole float pulse up and down in big movements. Another float had a group of dancers sit on the downside of a see-saw. At a certain point in the song, they would all bend in the same direction and tip it over to slide to the other side. We saw two ladies skate on top of a frozen pond and a huge egg, pop out and open up, to reveal two dancers inside.

The spectators were also interesting to watch. There were some young guys to our left. They knew EVERY theme-song and sang it the whole time, while dancing very fast Samba-moves. Only rarely did they stop to take a break. We managed to sit down and take a breather in between schools, but watched all the parading standing up. We were on a concrete stadium where the seats were not booked. There were quite a few families around us and it was interesting so see, that they, just like us, brought a packed dinner from home.

We really enjoyed every minute of the evening. With the winner’s parade, we saw the 3 best Samba schools of 2015 perform. I know that the following 3 schools would have been just as good, but we were exhausted (Frans’ normal bedtime in Rio is 20:00) and we still had an hour’s walking and metro-ing to do before we could crawl into bed. Thus ended Carnaval 2015 for the Van Zyls in Rio de Janeiro.

6 comments

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    • Trish Roberts on February 27, 2015 at 12:07 am
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    What a fantastic description! What a great experience for all of you. Did you plan to be in RdJ for the carnaval or was it just luck! Thanks for giving us a peak of this and you have described it so well I could not stop reading!! Looking forward to hearing about the rest of your visit!!
    Love from all of us xxx!

    • Jacolien on February 27, 2015 at 2:31 pm
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    Amazing storie!!! Was so lekker om te lees! Ag ek wens ek was daar om jou deur die lug te kon sien sweef en dan ook verseker om Frans se gesig hiermee te aanskou!!!! Geniet dit baie. Baie liefde

    1. Man, Jacolien ja. Dit het my werklik sprakeloos gelaat – em dit is ek nie sommer nie. Ek het ook sommer so lig soos ‘n veertjie gevoel. Nogal ‘n lekker ondervinding as mens nie ‘n latlyf het nie 🙂

    • Julia on February 27, 2015 at 4:00 pm
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    Wow Karin dit kink so amazing! Wat ‘n wonderlike belewenis. Dit is vir my so awesome dat jul juis net voor Carnival daar aangekom het. Al hierdie belewenisse is so amazing vir die kinders, praat van jou horizon verbreed! En wat ‘n wonderlike voorreg om dit so as ‘n gesin saam te doen.

    1. Dit is ‘n ongelooflike belewenis. Die kinders het oor en oor vir Frans dankie gesê vir die voorreg om die Karnaval te kon bywoon. Hulle was nie beindruk met die eerste paar ondervindings nie. Was baie dankbaar dat ons die regte optog kon sien.

    • Tiana on March 24, 2015 at 2:34 pm
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    Hello Julle Almal!
    Ons mis julle baie! Sjoe dis absoluut ongelooflik om elke keer van al julle wedervaringe te lees. Die uitdagings is amper te groot om aan te pak! Wat ‘n gesoek om net ‘n Supermacado Extra te kon vind. Ai. Dit klink darem of die Karnaval daarvoor opgemaak het. Julle geesdrif en dankbaarheid is pragtig!

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