At 5 a.m., Feng was watching the samba schools parade live on TV while I was arranging my dinner, empadas, on a makeshift plate using the lid of a box. This wasn’t an early start for an 8 a.m. morning bloco—we hadn’t slept yet. Only Mark was snoring lightly on the big bed.
E Carnaval. We just had better things to do than sleeping at night.
“Feng! It’s really, really late!”
Not that I had finished eating, mind you.
“Just checking the blocos for tomorrow. Hold on.”
By the time we went to bed, the first bloco of the day had probably started in Rio but at noon, the Bloco da Gold/Giro do Arar was still in full swing. This is what usually happens when several thousands of people gather in the empty and boarded up downtown of a giant city with an endless supply of beer—you can be there for hours.
So we walked to Centro, that place where you guidebook told you not to go, and enjoyed the party.
The next major bloco scheduled was the Banda da Ipanema, one of the oldest, biggest and most famous street parties in Rio. I told the guys I would meet them at Posto 9—both Copacabana and Ipanema are demarcated by posts—but we had a backup plan because we expected the neighbourhood to be mobbed.
After crossing Flamengo (evangelists bloco), Botafogo (unknown bloco but a big one) and Copacabana (four kilometres of small blocos), I finally made it to Ipanema two hours later. I was pleasantly surprised. People were starting to gather but posto 9 was still relatively quiet and I found Feng and Mark easily.
It was a stormy day. Dark clouds were coming and the atmosphere was changing subtly—five days of non-stop drinking and partying takes a toll on people and the city. I had the stupid idea to go pee in one of the portable toilets along the beach and I don’t wish the experience on my worst enemy. I don’t think the tank had been emptied since the beginning of Carnival.
Mark hated me and claimed the city was stupid because I forbid him to go in the water. “There’s a no swimming flag right HERE!” I shouted. “This isn’t a freaking supervised swimming pool! Do you think they’re going help if you get in trouble?” I added, pointing to the military choppers circling over the area.
We walked on the beach and I took pictures of the eclectic crowd, a mix of Ipanema yuppies, gays and kids from the favelas above. At 6 p.m., we put glitter on and walked the few metres to Avenida Vieira Souto.
The police was here, all geared up. Banda da Ipanema is a marching band with an average of 90,000 followers—this is the largest parade. We stood there, on the sidewalk, as the crowd was moving towards us. For a second, I was really scared. After watching the waves on the beach for a couple of hours, I felt this last wave of people may swallow us and we had nowhere to escape.
It was crowded but we weren’t pushed to the side too much, we had enough room to breathe. I took pictures, held Mark tight, and then it was over.
We took the subway home. Mark was falling asleep, Feng wasn’t feeling well and I was afraid it was going to rain any minute now. Carnival isn’t all glitter and unicorns. The streets are a mess, getting around is difficult when entire neighbourhoods are mobbed, most businesses are closed, there are giant cockroaches on the sidewalk as well as puddles of beer and urine. We’re filthy at the end of the day.
Yes, it’s still worth it.
This was the last day of Carnival. Are Brazilians quitting cold turkey? Will Minnie be back to being a respectable forty-year-old accountant tomorrow? Can a tutu-wearing manager switch to wearing a shirt and tie just like that?
We’ve never spent the entire Carnival in Brazil before, I have no idea. We’ll find out, we still have a bit of time before going home.
Meanwhile, I’m going to take another shower—damn glitter.