By Saturday morning, I was actually feeling a bit anxious. What kind of event exactly required the entire city to be boarded up? Were these thousands of beer cans really going to be drank? Why were people stocking up on water and food? What was the police preparing for?
I felt like we were about to be in the eye of a hurricane. I mean, narrow streets, thousands of beer drinkers, the city turned into a giant open bar, and police forces in one of the supposedly most violent cities in Brazil… Just as I though it could all end very badly, I saw a motorbike crashing into a car, illustrating my thought.
In the afternoon, we walked along Avenida Oceânica. Around the lighthouse, there were still more beer vendors with their yellow Skol Styrofoam coolers than customers, even though cans were less than $1. We bought Mark a hot dog at one of the many food trucks that had popped up in Barra the night before. “What time does the… party starts?” I asked, fully aware that it sounded like a dumb question because Brazilians always seem to know when and where things happen. The vendor showed me ten fingers. Alright. We’ll see tonight, then.
Soon after, we stumbled upon a first bloco. Blocos are fun street parties, often organized around a theme or a pun. They aren’t usually too big or too loud, unless they are super famous, like Banda de Ipanema in Rio. Some blocos walk behind a trio elétrico, an enormous amplified truck complete with a band on top but many are happy with just a marching band or any kind of moving sound stage, including an old boombox on wheels. To join a bloco, you just have to buy an abadá (shirt)—this gives you the right to enter a protective moving corded area roped off around the trio elétrico, the cordão. Most people stay outside the “VIP area”—they are pipoca jumping around, i.e. “popcorn.”
Blocos are the place where you can take pictures of people freely and easily and spot a seventy-year-old Smurf, a guy wearing a pink tutu, Baianas in traditional dress, women with unicorn headbands and other superheroes, pirates and Indians., all very much grown up and drinking beer.
On Saturday night, for the first day de pré-carnaval, Avenida Oceânica was being swept away by a tidal wave of people. Suddenly, the endless beer supply made sense.
“This is crazy… Carnaval hasn’t even started yet!”
“I SAID THIS IS CRAZY, IT’S ONLY PRÉ-CARNAVAL!”
The party didn’t stop until… I can’t remember. At one point, we just went back to the hotel. It was late, I can tell you that much.
On Sunday, we escaped to Pelourinho, the historical downtown, then I hung out around Barra while Feng and Mark were resting.
“Remember last night? Yeah, well, it’s the same today—with more drunks, dirtier streets and more people,” I warned Feng when we all went out in the evening. “Like, I literally couldn’t get to the supermarket. And it’s not just in the main street like yesterday, but everywhere.”
“At least the police closed the streets…”
“No, they—WATCH OUT, CAR! Yeah, no, they didn’t. Maybe they did and moto taxis and cars don’t give a fuck, or maybe we’re not supposed to dance in the middle of the street. Whatever.”
This time, proper Trio Elétrico, i.e. large 18-wheel freight trucks stacked with amplified speakers and with a large stage at the top, were following the Dôdo circuit along the seaside. It didn’t take us long to be engulfed by carnival’s frenetic masses.
Standing there, in the crowd, I realized how important music is in Salvador. In Rio de Janeiro, I never felt Carnival songs were the focus of the parade—most are repetitive and not particularly memorable, people tend to pay more attention to the dancing and the elaborate costumes. But in Salvador, there were very good singers. I fell in love with Márcia Castro, a Bahian singer, around midnight—I literally stopped walking when I heard her voice. I started dancing. I don’t dance. I can’t dance. A Brazilian dog dances better than me. But standing there, by the loudspeakers, I couldn’t help it—I actually needed to dance.
This is what Carnival does to you. It’s completely crazy and exhausting but it’s a hit of pure energy. Carnival makes you want to join the crowd, have fun, dance with complete strangers and follow giant trucks, Carnival makes you want to make love, Carnival makes you believe life is, after all, fun and easy.
It’s 3 a.m.
The parade isn’t over yet. I can hear the music.
I’m curious to see what the city will look like in a few hours.
And once again… it’s not even Carnival yet!