Rio de Janeiro’s Carnaval
A prostitute plants a juicy kiss on my lips as I walk out of the grocery store. She grabs my wrist and sticks her other hand into my front pocket. “Call me.” She disappears into the crowd.
The first thing I do is drop my grocery bags and feel for my wallet, which is still intact. The second thing I do is wonder about how her hand felt so strong, and covered in callouses.
The only thing I know for sure is that we are staying in the transvestite section of Copacabana Beach…go with the flow. This is Carnaval in Rio, the largest party in the World dating back to 1723. Before we hit the bandas (Brazilian street parties), let’s visit some of the surrounding area in Brazil.
Opera House in Manaus
My wife, Mare and I start this journey by roaming around Manaus, the largest city in the Amazon Basin. We sit with an elderly man at the busy, open-air market along the Rio Negro. He eats quail eggs and we share beers with him. Another man stands across from us and serenades the crowd with a mellow song. Despite not knowing how to speak the Portuguese language, we feel the friendliness of folks in this city of two million, as we communicate with smiles and nods.
Rain pounds onto tin roofs, sounding like approaching trains. Streets transform into raging rivers for a few hours each day. Fresh fish and exotic fruits appear as faint colors under the dim lights of thatch-covered vending huts. The scent of grilled fish and meat blends with fresh, lush foliage.
Many Amazon excursions start at the floating dock. Colorful riverboats bob in the water, waiting to fill the many hammocks on deck. Take a jungle trip from one day to several weeks in length, as all options are available.
You would not expect to find an opera house in the middle of the rain forest. Teatro Amazonas presents opera deep in the jungle, as it has since 1896. We wear slippers overtop of our shoes to slide across the hand-crafted wooden floors. Canvas paintings adorn the opera house, mostly depicting Amazon muses.
The outside pavement mosaic symbolizes how black water from the Rio Negro melds with the brown Amazon River. At night, this square comes alive with people enjoying cooler weather, and crowding the many cafes and restaurants complete with drinks, music and intricate lights.
You can call me Jeri
A four-hour bus ride from the large coastal city of Forteleza will reveal the isolated beaches of Jericoacoara, known to the locals simply as “Jeri.” A large sand buggy provides the final 30 minutes of transportation to this sunset beach town, with a population of 3,000, and where all roads are made of sand.
Jeri’s dunes and miles of sandy beach remind us to slow down and take it easy. Each evening, a group of folks make a Mecca of sorts to the top of Por do Sol, a large dune with drastic sunset views.
Just my luck…we nickname this man, “You for Scuba?” from the movie, Along Came Polly. My wife strains to see his face, hidden behind locks of bronze hair draping his brown chest, ending above his six-pack abs. I look down at my abs, hidden behind hair and rolls of age, and promise to resume working-out in the gym when I get back home.
Each evening, we watch young men and women spar on the beach to the beat of drums. A circle of hand-clapping enthusiasts encourage them. They engage in Capoeira, a form of martial art melded into an athletic dance.
Sand buggies, horseback rides and surfing present other activities, but again, we’re content to kick-back and absorb the scenery with a few Rastafarians. Jeri’s energy puts people in laid-back mode gently and quickly.
Yah, man, time for some seafood stew, cooked in clay pots, along with a side of sun-dried beef. In the morning we’ll awake to plates of exotic fruits and tapioca, which is popular in this part of the world.
Soon, we bus it back to Forteleza and on to the rambunctious city of Rio de Janeiro, for a taste of Carnaval. Fortunately, public transportation is easy, efficient and inexpensive all over Brazil.
Roaming Around Rio
Jungle-covered mountains surround the gorgeous beaches of Rio de Janeiro. Numerous volleyball games, played without the use of hands, crop up in the sand from Copacabana to Ipanema beaches. Take the cog-train ride up mountain Corcovado (Hunchback), where Cristo Redentor looks out over this city.
Yes, there are many tourists here, but the view is worth enduring the hordes of lookers.
Two cable cars connect to the summit of Sugarloaf Mountain (Poa de Acucar) where some of the most fantastic views of this massive city can be enjoyed on a clear day. Micros, small capuchin monkeys with ringed tails, swing around the edge of this mountain as if posing for photos and handouts.
What would a visit to Brazil be without tasting that fantastic, Brazilian grilled meat? The meal is delicious enough to convert a vegetarian to a carnivore. Some meats we cannot even recognize, but they keep coming, sliced from sizzling skewers, until you raise the white flag equipped next to your eating utensils. We cannot resist the lure of the Carnaval crowd for too long, though.
Mare and I forego spending hundreds of dollars for tickets to attend formal events, opting instead to join the fun at numerous bandas, Brazilian street parties. The energy combines tears, laughter, hugs and dance. Drinks flow. Music blares. Humans celebrate in harmony, as if we might die tomorrow.
Pile up the sins now, Baby, because abstinence comes on Ash Wednesday. Combine the Super Bowl, World Cup, 4th of July, and a Rolling Stones concert all together and it still cannot compete with the sustained energy of Carnival in Rio. Dance in costume or bare skin. Follow slow moving trucks that carry bands blaring music, dancers, and the loud mumbling of DJ’s.
Hundreds of thousands of folks indulge in drink, parade, samba, and song in the streets. Dramatic costumes dwarf curiosity and awe. Revelers must plan for this all year long. Sip caipirinhas, Brazil’s unofficial national drink.
They flow freely for days. Parties and balls carry on all night long in clubs, while street festivals erupt in designated as well as impromptu places.
Masses of people, elbow to elbow, get along in good spirit. Perched on our hotel balcony after getting exhausted, we people-watch, amazed at the absence of violence in such a humongous, rambunctious crowd.
Folks warn us to be on the look-out for pick-pockets. However, the biggest crime we have noticed is simply the common, worldly practice of inflating the cost of hotel rooms during a major event. It’s worth it….a “once-in-a-lifetime” experience.
The taxi stand/bar below us, filled with prostitutes, transvestites, and revelers provides ample entertainment. We simply cannot stay on the balcony for long,though. Got to go down and enjoy the hedonism, chaos, revelry and over-indulgence…as all sins will eventually be forgiven, as goes the promise…
Busses in Brazil are efficient and inexpensive. Bring a blanket for a long ride, because the air conditioning is from refrigerated trucks and is either “on” or “off” but usually on. Lodging in Manaus and Jericoaca is reasonable for all budgets. We can vouch for Hotel 10 del Julho in Manaus – www.hoteldezdejulhh.com
The journey to Jericoacoara is fun, from bus to sand buggy bus. We stayed in laid-back Vila dos Ipes – www.viladosipespousada.com.br both clean and affordable.
In Rio de Janeiro be prepared for sticker shock during Carnaval, and that is if you can find a room. We stayed at the old Hotel Atlantico for $300 per night, where leaking water dripped from the ceiling light bulb…but who cares? It’s Carnaval!
We saw no signs of violence, but were warned about young children grabbing your dangling object and running into the crowd.
Ron Mitchell is a regular contributor to GoNOMAD, he lives in Phoenix, Arizona. Visit his website www.ronaldgmitchell.com
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