Banco do Brasil was boarded up first. We were walking back from the supermarket late at night on our first day in Salvador when we noticed the building was being covered with wooden boards. “Uh. Good thing we withdrew money this morning.” “Capitalism. Assets must be protected,” I mocked. “Paranoid pigs!”
Then came the portable toilets—rows and rows of blue cabins being installed along Avenida Oceânica and side streets in Barra. “No parking during Carnival” signs popped up. “I love how it’s assumed that everybody knows which days are Carnival,” Feng joked.
Yes, locals know. Carnival is the party of the year, especially in Salvador de Bahia where it takes place in the street—the biggest parade in the world, right?
Officially, this year, Carnival is from February 9 to 14. These are dates we can’t forget because in Brazil, Carnival is both a source of frustration and excitement for us. We have been looking forward to trying to party somewhere, but it’s been a headache to plan our trip around it. Feng has been giving me Carnival updates for a month now, relentlessly searching for affordable hotel rooms online. “Are you giving me another Copacabana report?” I sighed in Montevideo as we were still trying to find a way to Brazil. I don’t blame him—typically, we don’t plan or book ahead but for the week of Carnival, we have to. And as of today, we still have what I call “mystery nights” when I have no idea where we will be.
Meanwhile, we wanted to be in Salvador de Bahia before the Carnival because it would be exciting.
We had no idea Carnival began before Carnival.
We’re staying in Barra, one of the traditional neighbourhood by the beach. On our second day, I walked to Centro and I could barely recognize the long Avenida Sete de Setembro we had taken 24 hours earlier—all the main buildings had been boarded up. Praça Dois de Julho? Boarded up. Art Museum? Boarded up. Every single main square now featured grandstands and more were being installed, along with portable toilets. Power lines were being moved higher and street signs were being simply removed or turned sideways, presumably for parade trucks to get through.
That evening, Feng and I were to meet up at the Praça Farrol da Barra at 6 p.m.—the historical lighthouse is an easy-to-find landmark. Except there was no way I could have found Feng, because guess what? It was being boarded up.
“Gee, they’re taking Carnival really seriously here,” we noted. “They plan ahead!”
The following day, trucks were delivering pallets and pallets of beer to supermarkets, beer cases that were immediately bought by dozens of vendors who carried them away the best they could, including on strollers. We found out their destination a few minutes later—Avenida Oceânica, the main avenue along the ocean, was now lined up with hundreds of vendors all selling Skol beer from small yellow coolers. Trucks brought ice. More vendors showed up with Carnival accessories. Then came the food trucks, dozens of them.
I think Carnival may happen sooner than we had thought.