What is Carnival? For those that don't know...Carnival is the most famous Brazilian holiday. During this time period Brazil attracts 70% of its tourists. Variations in Carnival celebrations are observed throughout the multitude of Brazilian cities. Yet, a commonality observed among them is the incorporation of samba into the celebrations. The southeastern cities of Brazil have massive parades that take place in large sambadromes. The largest Carnival celebration in Brazil and the world occurs in Rio de Janeiro, where two million people are found celebrating in the city. The city of Salvador also holds a large Carnival celebration of the same magnitude.
Carnival is very similar, yet very different to the Mardi Gras in New Orleans each year. In New Orleans there is the French Quarter which is "R" rated; the more beads you have the more skin you see (you know what I mean). Outlying towns have the more traditional brass and marching bands that are family friendly.
Mardi Gras is fun, but I much prefer Brazil's take on the celebration as you are quickly reminded that you are in a foriegn country; no english. Yes, there are floats, but these are trucks built just for these events. Basically these trucks are HUGE speakers on wheels that support a stage on top. Just in case you missed it, speakers on wheels that support a full band! The streets are locked down...about 5 - 7 miles of city streets are secured. The Policia military protect the area with helicopters from above...security checkpoints to help keep weapons out...and policia on horseback or riding in military trucks in full riot gear. They take security very seriously as problems do and can occur here. There are some opportunities to take photos...but carrying a camera may subject you to having it "borrowed" or broken due to the crowds. I found it interesting that you saw no women with purses...smart!
I started the first evening with "Chico" an Amazon Parrot...who happens to LOVE coffee and salsa music. It annoys me that "Chico" can speak better Portuguese than myself, but...regardless...we hung out sharing coffee and conversation...albeit limited (grin). Later I met up with Rosie and her family for a celebration.
The first night we "side-lined" the Carnival...which means you let the Carnival pass you by and you get a big sampling of the music and dancing that goes on. This is the free version of Carnival and a very good way to experience the variety of the music and feel the crowd's excitement as each band approached. You just dance and socialize in the street...where you can find the room!
The second night we paid to stage ourselves on a short enclosed stage, or booth if you will. You pay for this feature and it's not cheap. In Aracaju it's about $250 each...in Salvador or Rio it's more like $1000 each if you bought tickets ahead of time. If you wait until the last minute...you are going to pay 4 to 7 times these prices. Anyhow, like the first night, you let the bands pass you by...only you have MORE room to dance plus a private bar...tables and chairs when you need them...now we are talking! This is a more comfortable way to experience the festivities. Being out of the crowds means the camera comes out!
The third night we joined one of MANY bands around a float inside the roped off area. Yeah...just what I said...big guys hold a rope around the group inside the "protected" area which includes the float...which contain the band, bar, bathrooms, but no dining...hahaha. You all wear a distinctively decorated band shirt...which is your ticket. No shirt...no entry into the float area. I guess it's like being a groupie at a concert...hahaha...you get to be in the front row. The band ("Chiclete Com Banana") is very famous in Brazil...making 25 albums and playing music live for the last 30 years; and it was their final year together...so you can imagine how crowded it was amongst this group! We danced for hours...not walked...which is a big difference in terms of physical exercise! I did good for a gringo! Later, as the band progressed down the streets, our path narrowed in front of the observation stands and the crowd was compressed and now moved as one. There is no fear of being trampled and very few people push...as it is pointless. You had to just go with the flow. The "sea of people" go this way....well so do you...then they move that way...and so do you. At one point I just put my arms in the air and let myself lean with the crowd 30 degrees this way...and then 30 degrees that way and my friend laughed at my silly antics. Just keep your personal group together and keep dancing. It's hard to explain this experience to my fellow gringos but all three styles of participating are good and all three style will let you skip the gym! No personal cameras here due to the crowds...but Carnival is VERY big in Brazil...so naturally we were on their national television channels as we danced past the Judges and miles of observation booths.
Personally, I think next time I do Carnival...and I will...it will be in a big city like Rio de Janeiro or Salvador. Most hotels have packages where you can stay at the hotel for 3-5 days and avoid the crowds by remaining on their property...which are World class beach resorts within a major city. The advantages are you can sit on the beach, and play at the hotel resort by day...and at night you avoid the crowds on the streets by partying within the hotel's stages and booths while observing the Carnival as it passes you by in all it's full glory. That's what I would suggest after trying various methods of participating in Carnival. I would highly recommend you add this experience to your "bucket list". I keep adding it to my list as I'm having too much fun down here in Brazil.
So what are some of your carnival experiences or plans?