As each day passed and Carnaval drew nearer, it was very evident that what we were about to experience would be unlike anything we have ever seen before. From about 11:30am until roughly 3:30am, there would be waves of crowds roaming the streets often in costume and almost always inebriated.
Men would typically be dressed in drag or shirtless with their t-shirts used to create a makeshift fanny pack. Women preferred to wear cat-ear headbands and tutus. Cop-out(fit)s usually involved afros, leis, and various masks, face paint or oversized geeky frames. It was as if we happened across a massive frat masquerade party. We would hear drums, see people breaking into song, catch guys serenading gals on benches and witness many people asking strangers for “beijos”. These characteristics were much more amplified when you got closer to the source of these parties: blocos.
Considering the fact we were never completely plastered, it was very easy to feel “left out” or “too old for this”. However, the spectacle was an incredible formula for people watching. We spent an entire afternoon sitting outside of a cafe in awe while other cariocas seemed pretty unphased by it all. The best advice we received was from Serena, a little girl sitting with her parents at an adjacent table in the cafe where we posted up: “Don’t go in the middle of a crowd…you might get squirted with a water gun.”
At the sambodromo, it was a very different atmosphere. Surprisingly, alcohol took somewhat of a back seat to the festivities and celebration. Perhaps it was the sector we chose to sit in or maybe it was a result of fearful little bladders paranoid about missing some of the action. Surrounding spectators of all ages sang passionately along with each of the samba schools, waved flags as they passed and some even came dressed colorfully in support of their favorite schools.
Each school paraded down the oversized catwalk for a little over an hour and with roughly six schools showcased each day, merriment easily lasted well into the morning. Our self imposed goal was to outlast the seniors, who were ready with Red Bull in hand. We tapped out after five of the schools in the hopes of escaping the inevitably long taxi lines. Unfortunately, so did many others too tired to push on. Luckily, the process went pretty smoothly and we made it back to Leblon just before 6am.
Later we found out that two of the five schools we saw placed 1st and 2nd, Unidos da Tijuca and Salguiero, respectively. Fading three hours in, we almost missed the champions, who started their performancea around 3:30am.
In America the only time you’d find thousands of people cheering and going wild are during sporting events, but at the Sambodromo, over 70,000 packed the stadium to watch dancing. We can definitely get down with that.
I guess after a while, the parade of texture gets old and you need to spice things up with a condom beach ball bouncing around the stadium.