Carnival 2014 – Rio de Janeiro

It took me 2 days to recover and process, but I think I’m ready to put down my thoughts about my first Carnival experience.

For me the party began Saturday morning, although for most Cariocas (people from Rio) the party started Friday. I joined some friends for a bloco (block party) in the Santa Teresa neighborhood. After climbing several very long, steep flights of stairs I began to see people dressed in costume. The regular street celebrations don’t involve what most people imagine- women in sparkly samba costumes- but rather regular halloween costumes. There were many Marios and Wonder Women, cats, cavemen, and zombies. We stood on the side of a street and waited for the “parade”, which turned out to be a mob of people singing, cheering, and drinking. Homeowners along the street were out to spray the revelers with water hoses, which was nice because it was really hot.

By the next morning the garbage had really started piling up. The street cleaners have gone on strike. We took the metro to the center of town from Copacabana, which somehow remained fairly clean throughout the week. As soon as we stepped out of the metro station we were overwhelmed by the smell. In a few places the garbage had been gathered into heaps, but mostly it filled the gutters, probably doomed to end up in the ocean. People had come to collect the aluminum cans, which can be redeemed for money, but all the plastic bottles, food wrappers, and foam spray cans were left behind.

There was a big stage with a band playing music where we were that day. Everyone was dressed in costume, drinking, dancing, and having fun. Every once in a while someone came through the crowd to collect any cans, but again all other trash just thrown on the ground.

Monday I witnessed my first banda, which is more of an actual parade with people dressed in coordinated costumes, musicians that can be best described as marching bands, and samba dancers. The parade was moving along smoothly until a fight broke out. A gang of kids dressed in clown costumes were there with the specific intent to fight. In this instance, most people were able to swerve around the small outbreak of violence and continue the parade.

On Tuesday- my FOURTH day of Carnival- we went to a bloco at the Parque do Flamengo. There were an insane amount of people there to see the Orquestra Voadora, which was definitely awesome to see (and hear). Afterwards we walked back towards the center (Lapa), and were met once again by the gang in clown outfits. They were just standing together in the middle of the street. I was pretty impressed by how organized they were, so many young boys wearing exactly the same outfits. And not some thrown together outfits either, these were nice. I can’t help but think about whoever it was that organized all of them, and the things that person could accomplish if they actually put their talents towards something productive. Hmm.

I stopped for some street food and began speaking to a local man who knew English. He pointed out an Olympics protest to me, and commented on how people celebrated when they first heard about the Olympics coming to Rio. I don’t think things have gone quite the way people hoped. In fact, most of the people I’ve spoken to say that violence has been increasing recently. I’m learning more and more about the “pacification” that’s been going on here, but I won’t go into all of that right now.

Ash Wednesday finally came, and I met my friends for a relaxing day at the beach in Ipanema…..bahahahahaha! JK! Only if you find squeezing onto a tiny square of sand in the middle of a million people relaxing. But it is an interesting experience, and great for people watching. Also, there are people on the beach who will make sure you always have a caipirinha in hand. It is a beautiful beach, but sadly on this day it was suffering due to the street cleaner strike. The beach was completely covered in garbage.

I’m here to document an education project aimed at teaching about Water, Sanitation and Hygiene in the favelas, but clearly this is a program needed by all Cariocas.

I know I may sound overly critical, but I’ve just read too many articles that gloss over Rio likes it’s Disney South America. These people seem to travel in a bubble and only talk about the big samba parade at the Sambodromo, but that sort of travel is pretty irresponsible. Especially when you consider that events like the samba contest were created and are run by gangsters (read more here). I’ll try to provide a more balanced view of the city, which I think is important. Rio is one of those places that is for the real adventure traveler.