Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Rio Carnaval 2011!

It's party time! 
Attending Carnaval or Mardi Gras has been on our “list of things to before we die,” so when Rod invited us to Carnaval in Rio, it was really an offer we couldn’t refuse. Besides we had always wanted to visit Brazil so the timing and the occasion was perfect!
Rod & Keenan around the Lagoa
Rooftop deck at Rod's parents flat
Rio de Janeiro is a visually spectacular city straddling both ocean and mountains. I didn’t get the full perspective of the city until our excursion up to Sugarloaf Mountain to see just how amazingly stunning Rio is. With ribbons of blonde crescent beaches, dramatic mountains of the Twin Brothers, Sugar Loaf, and Pedra da Gavea, lush tropical rainforest, and deep blue sea, Rio is one jaw-dropping beautiful city. The iconic cityscape is best viewed from the famous Corcovado Mountain where Christ the Redeemer sits with his arms stretched across the city. 
Unfortunately we had a stretch of bad luck with the weather during Carnaval; it rained off and on throughout the week with overcast skies, but the sun did peak through every so often. I guess that was to be expected being the tail end of summer in a tropical country. When we went to see Christ it was so cloudy that we could hardly see the outline of his body. We waited long enough for a glimpse of his face and took the opportunity to snap some fun group photos.
If time permits, I also encourage you to drop by Forte Copacabana to get a dose of military history during your stroll between Rio’s famous beaches – Copacabana, Ipanema, and Leblon, which are all lined up next to each. There is a nice cafe called Cafeteria Colombo with patio seating overlooking Copacabana.
My favorite beach is Ipanema – it has a younger crowd, beer kiosks on the beach, fun atmosphere, and is definitely the beach to see and be seen. Be warned: men do wear hipster briefs called sunga and ladies wear the ‘dental floss’ tanga bikinis, and don’t forget to bring the kanga, shades, and plenty of sunblock! Copacabana is nice especially with the backdrop of the Sugarloaf, but the crowd is older and the traffic is maddening along Atlantic Avenue.
 The overall energy of the city is exhilarating, and even more so during Carnaval. Fun-loving Cariocas certainly know how to enjoy the life -- sipping caipirinhas to the sound of Bossa Nova, basking under the sun on sandy beaches, and samba the night away in Lapa. They are also a very good-looking lot!
The festivities associated with the Rio Carnaval, generally regarded as the mother of all Carnaval parties, are intense. For four days straight, starting from Saturday to Mardi Gras, the entire city literally turns into a gigantic street party with live music, mini parades, and revelers in outrageous outfits. In addition to street block parties, there are also other festivities including formal Carnaval Balls and of course the famous Samba Parade at the Sambódromo.
Each year one dozen samba schools competitively parade down the Oscar Neimeyer-designed Sambódromo donning elaborate and imaginative costumes, feather, glitter, body paint, or nothing at all.  The Samba Parade takes place over two evenings starting from 9pm to 5am in which each samba school has at least 60 minutes to parade down the Sambódromo whilst being judged on ten main categories including floats, costumes, dancers, and music. 
We didn’t get tickets to the parade as it would leave us with no energy to sightsee during the day or partake in the street parties, but we did have an opportunity to attend a small Carnaval Ball at Centro Cultural Carioca in Downtown Rio for an evening of live music, snacks of pastels, and buckets of beer. That was a fun night of dancing and singing to the music of traditional Carnaval songs. We also joined several thousand of revelers on the streets at block parties at Praca Santos Dumont in Gavea and spent all day Tuesday along Ipanema Beach where we met up with some of Rod’s friends before heading to Cobal de Humaita for our last night in Rio.
Street Party in Ipanema
Lunch at Academia de Cachaca
Carnaval in Rio is definitely an experience not to miss! For those planning a trip to the 'Marvelous City,' take note – Carnaval 2012 is 17-21 February, or 40 days before Easter Sunday. Finally, thanks again Rod for being fantastic host!
Next up -  Eating in Rio!

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