Things I have experience with:
- Crowds (cf. demonstrations in France)
- Drunks (cf. every weekend in France)
Things I have no experience with:
- Brazilian street parties
- Antarctica beer
- Celebrating Carnival before it even started
- Drunks wearing costumes
But hey, you live, you learn. Now I can add these precious skills to my resume, minus beer tasting (it was only spilled on us, didn’t drink it).
Carnival is an event of huge proportion in Brazil, especially in Rio de Janeiro. On the official Carnival dates, February 24 to 28 this year, the best samba schools compete at the Sambódromo. Each parade is filled with revellers, floats, and adornments and the event last for hours—pretty much until dawn every day.
But the Carnaval do Brasil also takes place in the street with the Blocos de Rua, literally “street blocks.” These events, much like long and elaborate flash mobs, draw hundreds of thousands of participants. The official list of blocos is impressive: there are probably a hundred listed, starting early February.
This is what we were hoping to experience in Rio.
After we landed, I stopped by the tourist info desk at Santos Dumont Airport to ask for a map of the city. “We don’t have any,” the cheery guy replied. “But we have the list of all the blocos!”
Because, hey, who cares about directions when you have a street party in every neighbourhood?
We tried to narrow it down and find the most popular ones—not an easy exercise as blocos have obscure names and the schedule is all over the place, some gatherings are at 8 a.m., other are in dodgy neighborhoods.
It was noon, we were in Copacabana. Avenida Atlântic looked fairly quiet for a Saturday afternoon. Most people were enjoying the beach. We walked to Ipanema and sure enough, we spotted a large crowd gathering on Praça General Osório. At this point, there were more people selling Antarctica, the brand of beer sponsoring blocos, than participants. We went to the beach and waited a bit.
An hour later, streets had been closed to traffic and there were thousands of people drinking, singing, smoking and dancing in the street. It was a hell of a party, and a boozy one. Beer was the best-seller (three for 10 reais, about US$1 each) but also hard liquor sold by kids carrying bottles and glasses.
Drink, dance, sing. Repeat.
Anything goes, really. It was not about elaborate costumes and samba competition, it’s was pure fun, people taking over the street and expressing themselves freely.
All things considered, Brazilians are well-behaved drunk. Good thing, since police was clearly outnumbered.
We joined the crowd for a bit, wearing nothing but our swimsuits—the perks of Rio de Janeiro, you’re fine wearing your swimsuits in the two main avenues the closest to the beach.
We had barely slept the night before, so it all felt like a dream, yet we observed people, how blocos worked.
We had fun. And we were now prepared for the next bloco.