My 1st Carnaval

Everyone who’s in school back in America is on Spring Break this week and the office is closed. However, there’s no reason to break our streak and leave you with nothing this week. So, live from my extremely extended WINTER break in Rio, here I am.

Update: this school, Mangueira, is the champion samba school for 2019. They won with a 
show dedicated to telling the stories of people forgotten by history.

When people say “nothing is like Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro”, believe them. Countries all over the world are trying to have as much fun as they can before Ash Wednesday starts Lent, but I promise it’s nothing like what I’ve seen the last few days in the Marvellous City. 

 Pretty much every day since this past Friday, you find a block party (bloco) going on in the streets of every corner of Rio from sunrise to sunset. Get really close with a few hundred of your new friends. I came home one morning covered in other people’s glitter. Listen to classic samba songs, the Northeast’s favorite forró, or covers of the Beatles. There’s a bloco for everyone and even some of them are even safe enough to bring kids along. These are free to the public- just buy liquor and snacks while you’re out. Blocos might be proof that every Brazilian has a creative bone in their body. Everyone comes out in a costume. Not elaborate ones, more like the ones you find in the sexy aisle of a Party City, plus lots of glitter. Less is more here, but going all out isn’t too bad either, as long as it’s a good costume. For added points, some soblocks have bands that play live music the entire way. Drums and horns and one girl had a flute for some reason. If you rather listen to the hits, I’m sure someone is blasting funk from a speaker somewhere. Or better yet, some blocks have a giant van/truck  with giant speakers attached or maybe even a famous singer on top.  These are called Trio Elétricos, and nothing can stop them.  People (and the truck) will nearly run you over if you don’t party with them. How are these made, people just rewire cars and decorate them. Even if all of that doesn’t hold to intense scrutiny, know that Brazilians are ready to step, march, and twerk on beat. I have yet to see someone with no rhythm here. 

If it matters to you whose sweat is on your body, Carnaval’s nighttime activities might fit you a little bit better. I’ll start with the parties. For a few years last century, partying in the streets and samba were banned, which made private parties the focus of the holiday. These parties were not “receptive” to certain groups of people, and cost lots of money which made prohibitive to other people. In modern times, there are still balls and parties, but they’re a lot less exclusive. I got tickets to a party for about $5 that was DJd by Major Lazer. Pro tip: if you have to pay for a bloco,  it isn’t one- it’s a party. The nightlife here usually lasts until around 4am, so be prepared. Some of the balls are institutions in their own right, with reputations that stretch back decades. 

I suppose this is less a picture of a party and more a picture of my friend Ned being his usual stupid self at a party.

If you’re waiting on the big guns of Carnaval, look no further. The parade of samba schools that takes over Marquês de Sapucaí each year is the main attraction. Even though it’s not as universal a tradition as the blocos, these schools represent some of the poorest neighborhoods of Rio de Janeiro. Samba schools construct immense floats and gorgeous costumes that together tell a story. Sometimes they include political and social criticism, other times they’re just for fun. I got to parade with the samba school on Friday night and it was amazing. Even in poring rain it’s an incredible experience to dance down the famed avenue. Everywhere you look people are smiling and singing and dancing. 

Now, those are the highlights of my Carnaval. It’s been an amazing few days, but Lent starts tomorrow and I’m religious, which means I’ll have to quit partying for a while. Brazil won’t, but I will. However, before I finish up I just want to introduce you to something: the bate-bolas.

 This glorious tradition came from Portugal and was developed in the suburban North and West zones of the city. I don’t know too much, so instead I’ll leave a link to an article that does. All I do know is that when a large group is walking fully costumed as it starts to get dark, it looks like the trailer for the sequel to IT.

Have a happy Shrove Tuesday and let the good times roll at Mardi Gras! 

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About the Author

Andrew Walker Watson is a sophmore International Studies Major. He loves Brazilian rap music, discovering useless facts, and, naturally, writing. If he could ever stop staring out into space, he would like to start a global movement to change the world and guest host Saturday Night Live.