A few years back I threw my 30th birthday party in Pamplona, Spain at the Running of the Bulls. While we were there, we chatted with an old Spaniard at a bull fight and told him the Festival of San Fermin was quite a party. He replied “(The Running of the Bulls) was no party. Carnaval, in Rio, is a party!”
So Rio we went!
The colors. The pageantry. The samba school parade. It was all fantastic. The weather could have been better, but it also could have been much worse!
After getting our Brazilian visas in the nick of time Alisha and I hustled to the airport. We flew in Thurday mid-day, which was good because (according to the local news) traffic was backed up for 200km getting into Rio de Janeiro on Friday. Saturday the party opened with fiery as gallons upon gallons of beer were chugged, like prohibition started at midnight. Men dressed as women, women dressed as men, and the party spanned the length of the city. On the street, children sold beer out of coolers for R$5, while their mothers’ sold corn on the cob the next block down.
Sunday night Alisha and I went to the Sambadrome, a nearly half-mile stretch of performance space designed to accommodate the local samba schools and their 90-minute long parades. It is like nothing I’ve ever experienced before in my life.
Each of the four nights during Carnaval, six schools compete in front of judges (and 90,000 others). The winning five teams are selected to perform the following weekend. The samba parades start at 9PM and go until they’re finished — usually six or seven in the morning. (Remember, each samba school gets 90-minutes to perform!) During the daytime, the street parties were slightly more reserved, but when a local neighborhood community started their own parades, a party quickly ensued. At Ipanema one evening, Alisha and I were engulfed in a passing parade. We found a great spot under a palm tree to watch the spectacle pass by.
I’m not sure if the old Spaniard was our kick in the pants to go to Carnaval or if we would have eventually made it on our own. Either way, we had a grand time at, quite possibly, the world’s greatest party.