After our red-eye flight from Miami, we arrived at our hotel in Rio Saturday morning completely exhausted. Our early arrival paid off though, when we got a complimentary upgrade to an executive suite. The hotel that we staying in for free (hotel points – courtesy of Matt’s days as a consultant) has a going rate of over $700 US a night. I’ve decided that Matt needs to go back to his job because the perks are so good for me: this hotel is significantly better than paying $100 a person for a bed in a 16-bed hostel during peak Carnivale times.
Though we were tired, Carnivale festivities wouldn’t wait for a nap, so we headed to Ipanema beach for the street parades. Overall, the streets are fairly similar to Mardi Gras in New Orleans: a lot of drinking, eating, and standing around. The biggest difference is obviously the temperature, mid-80’s here! Another notable difference is instead of everyone wearing beads, people wear head bands with bobbly ears and a lot of men dress in drag. A couple of “nurses”, complete with dresses, heels, and wigs made our bus ride quite entertaining. The bus driver even made a special stop for a beer run for these nurses.
Unfortunately, the weather hasn’t exactly been cooperating. Beyond Saturday, it has been rainy and overcast. Ipanema and Copacabana beaches just aren’t the same without the hundreds of umbrellas and even more people. It is true that the beaches attract the scantily clad; it was quite common to witness old men wearing nothing but a speedo and running shoes out for their afternoon jog.
We wanted to watch the Superbowl on Sunday. Matt asked the concierge desk where we could watch it, and they told us we needed to go to Shenanigans, a bar in Ipanema. So we hopped in a cab and were in line at the bar before the game started. Unfortunately, this being one of only a few bars in all of Rio playing the Superbowl, and it apparently being more popular than people thought, we didn’t get there early enough. We proceeded to wait in line for over two hours (with fellow Americans travelling as we are), occasionally getting updates yelled down to us from the balcony of the bar, while we watched Brazilians, who mind you didn’t even know who was playing, stumble down the stairs to exit. After two hours of waiting as the sixth and seventh people in line (thus making us the “official gatekeepers to the bouncer”) we gave up and headed back to the hotel. There is nothing like waiting two hours in line at a fake Irish bar in Rio de Janeiro during Carnivale. Upon entering the hotel, we heard cheering from the bar, to find out, unbeknownst to us (or apparently the concierge desk) that our own hotel was playing the game. So after $30 in cab fare, and waiting around for two hours, we at least got to see the fourth quarter, which apparently was the most exciting anyway.
The huge event of Carnivale are the samba parades held in the Sambadromo on the Sunday and Monday nights before Ash Wednesday. It is AMAZING! The costuming, the floats, and the atmosphere are unlike anything I have ever seen before. There are six different samba schools that put on their show, each lasting about an hour. The sheer number of people participating in each parade is amazing (about 5,000 people per school according to Matt’s Fermi estimation), not to mention how detailed each and every costume is. The crowd participation is also something to be seen; the Brazilians sing and dance along with the schools while waving the school flag. Matt even got swept into his surroundings because he “liked the song”, though he doesn’t speak a word of Portuguese, or even Spanish. Much different than Detroit’s Thanksgiving Parade.