James and I had had quite a long discussion about exactly how to end our trip. I mean, there have been so many amazing, incredible highlights: how can you possibly find something to cap it all off?
Then we had a brainwave. Easter falling unseasonably early this year, as it did, mean that the Lent period also started strangely early. And of course that means only one thing: Carnaval. Perfectly timed to fit in with our planned South American trip and a fairly big, blowout ending to the trip.
Of course, being us, we came to the rapid conclusion that just being in Rio, the mother of all Carnaval cities, at the time to enjoy the Carnaval festivities, wasn’t enough. Sure, we could get tickets to watch the Samba parades and maybe take part in some general all round town partying, but we needed something more. I mean, you’ve seen our trip, and it’s been pretty world class. We wanted something extra special, just for us. That’s right, we wanted to PERFORM in Carnaval. Which, a short internet browse and a hefty download of cash later (ouch) we realized was perfectly possible. So we booked it all up, sometime back in December or so, and carried merrily on with our trip.
So we were kind of excited to arrive in Rio. We started off quietly enough, with a nice dinner (and a couple of caipirinhas) and a lovely day down on Copacabana beach, with some more caipirinhas to get us in the party spirit. Plus some good espresso, of course, I mean it was only 11 in the morning after all…… And we started to practice our Samba song (four verses, all in Portuguese, insanely dull) in earnest (once getting a standing ovation from our audience in the bar. OK, it was just the barman, but it still counts!).
Then we went to pick up our costumes. Reader, they were BIG. And GOLDEN. And very very very GLITTERY. It was love at first sight. (They were also extremely large, unwieldly and heavy so we were cursing a little by the time we got them back to the hotel, but hey, I’m a lover of insanely high heels as well. A little inconvenience does not in any way diminish the love).
We were really excited by now, but as yet still had little idea of what we’d actually be doing in said costumes. So we headed to the Sambadrome that night to see our first Samba parade and find out what it was all about.
The Samba parades are actually very carefully structured, rhythmed, and rehearsed events, with thousands of people participating and maybe another hundred thousand watching. In essence, though, it’s basically about one thing: glitz’n’glamour. I was in heaven. Oh, and bottoms. Lots of big wibbling bottoms. James was in heaven. For those interested in the technicalities, each school (they’re called schools rather than clubs because it means they don’t get taxed!) has a strict format to follow, with 2-3 flag bearers (ladies in ENORMOUS skirts accompanied by their “prince”), a set number of floats supported by wings of samba-ing performers, 2-3 sets of whirling ladies (more enormous skirts), the drummers and, of course, the drum queens. They’ll be the ones you instinctively associate with Carnaval, the ladies clad in nothing other than enormous amounts of body glitter, a bejeweled pair of knickers and several ostriches worth of feathers. They of the enormous wibbly bottoms. They’re absolutely gorgeous and more than a little terrifying.
It’s an incredible sight to see and I can’t recommend it enough. We watched until our eyes started to glaze and heads explode from the sensory overload of hypnotic samba drums combined with the whirling, glittering colourful onslaught that is a parading school. We left at three in the morning.
Exhausted, but very very excited. We’d just watched one of the greatest shows on earth. Next night, we’d be part of it.