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  • Writer's pictureDawnelle Salant

Friday, February 21st, 2020 is the day my dream of attending Carnaval in Rio finally comes true. And it’s raining. Like torrential, tropical summer rains. Which is really annoying, for many obvious reasons, but mostly because our Carnaval costumes include feathers and you can’t wear feathers in the rain! Most Carnaval celebrators wear a costume - not like a Halloween costume, but a fun, flashy mixture of glitter, feather, beads etc. Males and females wear tutus in various colours and materials - ours are a black netting/tulle with coloured sequins thrown in. We have ribbons with sequins for earrings and our headbands boast colourful feathers and beads. But when it’s time for our first party, we leave all these fun things at home and go out in regular clothes, with just our earrings, colourful featherless headbands and our fanny pack. I never thought that at age 45 I’d be wearing a fanny pack in Rio, but it’s what everyone does and it’s what is recommended for safety.

Besides the Samba parades in the Sambadrome, the main part of Carnaval is the Blocos. These are the street parties that are formed by blocking off streets - hence the name. Luckily, I find an app - Blocos de Rua - that lists all the parties and locations. There is one mere blocks from our flat, Banda do Lido, so when there is a lull in the rain we head out. We find it easily by following the music. A giant truck with a platform overflowing with costumed women blocks the street off and it is packed with people.You can’t move without bumping into someone else, but no one seems to care. I see people dressed as priests, police officers, Mickey Mouse and too many devils to count. Women wear very little - lots of them just have bikinis and glitter on. We try our first street caipirinha and it’s huge and delicious. Right before he hands them to us he sprinkles what looks like pine needles on the top and tells us in Portuguese that it is a special flavour. We can’t place the flavour, but we don’t care for it much so we pick it out. After about ten minutes, the women on top of the truck start counting backwards from ten. When they hit zero - the truck starts moving down the street and everyone follows. We have no idea what we are doing, but there are happy people everywhere and it’s contagious. We follow the truck, relieved that it’s only raining lightly and quite happy that we are not sweating in 30 degree heat. Two girls push past me and I am hit with a flash of recognition. They are the girls we chatted with in line for like an hour while we were waiting for Museo do Amanha. We hoot and holler like long lost friends and I can’t believe that we have actually run into someone we know at a Bloco! We don’t see many other tourists - everyone is speaking Portuguese and some do try talking to us, but with my limited Portuguese and the blaring music, there’s no communicating going on here. So we just dance!

As we round a corner, we hear English and immediately say Hello. We befriend a lovely couple from England, who are enjoying themselves as much as we are. The fellow keeps saying - This is amazing! It really is. I’m finally living out my dream. This is probably something I should have done when I was younger, but youth doesn’t always provide these kinds of opportunities. I buy some beer from a vendor and am thrilled to notice that the beer can actually has the word Carnaval on it! The joy is short lived though as it starts pouring. At first it’s ok, we knew we were going to get rained on, and we dance and laugh. One of my biggest questions about Carnaval gets answered during this downpour - where does one relieve themselves during Blocos? Well, if you're a guy, anywhere. Even though I'm drenched, at one point I feel some warmer, um, liquid, on my leg, and look over to see a young guy relieving himself behind a car. It was splashing me. I try not to panic too much - the rain is washing it away immediately, so that helps, but I fear I will flashback to this moment often in the future. I'm sure worse things have happened to people during Blocos!

The rain does not stop. Some people take shelter but there isn’t enough to go around. It’s still hot out, so I’m not cold, but I am soaked. Like jump in an ocean with all your clothes on soaked. I can hardly see - rain pours off my drenched hair into my face and giant raindrops land directly in my eyes. Still, we persevere. It’s when I notice that my capri pants are nearly falling off they are so heavy with rain that we finally decide to pack it in. Luckily we only have 2 blocks to walk in the never-ending downpour. When we get home, we have to take care not to soak our flat, and the air conditioning makes us shiver, but I consider our first Bloco a raging success. Even without feathers.

The next day we run into the English couple again on Copa beach. (Copa is HUGE - the chances of this are so remote that it's almost spooky) We go for a drink together and decide to meet up a bit later for another Bloco - one of the most famous Carnaval parties in Ipanema (Banda de Ipanema). It's not pouring today so we bust out our feathers and tie our rain ponchos around our waists, just in case. This party is even bigger - there are blocks upon blocks swarming with intoxicated, costumed people. We grab a drink and wander around, but it's almost too big. The string of portable toilets lining the beach has overwhelmingly long lines and the smell kind of puts a damper on the festive feeling. We dance a bit and watch people, but this one somehow doesn't compare to yesterday's first Bloco. After just an hour or so, we head home. Which is fine by me as I drank quite a few beers and there is no way I am standing in that line to use those toilets!!

After grabbing some food, we head over to the Copacabana Palace where the Magic Ball is taking place. It's held the Saturday of Carnaval, and is one of the most famous Carnaval events. It is frequented by celebrities and although regular people like us can buy tickets, they start at around $900 U.S. I honestly think that if I hadn't been on a 4 month adventure (including Antarctica) I may have splurged on a ticket. Once in a lifetime. There is a live band and the hotel is decorated to the nines with sparkly disco balls and strings of white lights. When I find the red carpet, I'm glad I don't have a tickets, because I have no idea what a regular person would wear to this. The people walking down the red carpet are stunning. The glitter, feathers and costumes are out of this world. It's like I have been thrown into another dimension, or I've fallen into a tv. They are interviewing most people at the end of the carpet, and I'm standing right behind the gate at this point. I have no idea who anyone is, but when one lady walks past the crowd goes crazy. She is an older lady, say in her 60's or 70's, but she is stunning. Her hair and makeup are perfect and she is wearing a set of white feather wings that would not be out of place on a Victoria's Secret runway. I find out later that she is Heloísa Eneida de Menezes Paes Pinto - The (actual) Girl From Ipanema. The song was written about her! A woman dances her way down the red carpet, spinning and swirling her sheer cape that somehow has lights sewn into it. A few minutes later, a man dressed in black leather pants and black feather wings struts down the red carpet. He's also an older man and I love to see that everyone here embraces Carnaval and it's liveliness and excitement. Another thing Rio does just right.

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  • Writer's pictureDawnelle Salant

I spend the day exploring Tijuca National Forest - which claims to be the world’s largest urban forest as it covers around 32 km squared. We are picked up in an open backed jeep, and our drive from Copa to the forest borders on frightening. Rio traffic is scary enough in a closed vehicle, but being exposed brings this fright to a new level. However, we also have really great views. As we exit one of Rio’s many tunnels, the driver points out the favela that sprawls the hill above it. Favelas, or slums, are so sad, but they are also beautiful with their colours and and the ramshackle buildings standing so close to each other. We pass Rocinha as well, one of the most famous favelas; the one we visited last time we were here.

It’s 8 a.m. and it’s already 30 degrees. But once we enter the park, the temperature cools considerably. You can feel the refreshing air from the elevation and the massive amounts of trees providing shade. Until I start hiking; then the cool air seems to disappear. It’s about a 45 minute hike up to Pedra Bonita (Beautiful Rock), but it’s worth it. This gives a completely different view of Rio than Mirante Dona Marta. We are farther south here and we can see the newest area of Barra de Tijuca. This is where the Olympic sites were built for the 2016 games. Another gorgeous beach stretches for miles and our guide tells us that the beaches are New Copacabana, New Ipanema etc. When I look back over to the original Copa, I am once again astounded by how big and beautiful this city is. What makes Rio so incredible, in my opinion, is the combination of stunning beaches, backed by the city and the huge rocks and forest of Tijuca. There’s nothing really like it on Earth. Again, I can see Christ the Redeemer in the far distance looking over his spectacular city.

There is a huge, sloping boulder that overhangs the cliff and people are sitting on it with their legs hanging over to get their photo taken. My stomach drops just watching them sit here, so when it’s my turn, I crawl on my hands and knees and stop a good three feet from the edge. My photos still turn out amazing and I am alive to see them!

We drive through the park and see an old monastery, a lake with turtles, and a 35 metre high waterfall. When we stop by the lake, a blue morpho flutters by so slowly that we are able to see the striking blue patterns that make this creature so beautiful.

Our last adventure in the park is hiking to a waterfall. When the guide shows me the path, I think he’s joking. It’s a vine covered cliff and he has to tie a rope to a tree so we can hang on to it as we shimmy down backwards. It’s frightening and I’m unsteady on my feet, but I somehow make it down. Then we stumble across wet rocks in the river before we finally arrive at the waterfall. It’s like a scene from a movie; it’s not a huge waterfall, maybe ten meters, but it’s set in a rocky cliff and empties into a pool of water which cascades over smooth rocks before hitting the river.

We quickly change and jumping into the water is the most refreshing thing I’ve done since the polar plunge. The water is icy, not Antarctica icy, but cold enough to take my breath away, and I relish it. Rio is not only hot, it’s humid, and my poor Canadian body is not used to it at all. I lay down on my back on a rock and let the cool water rush over me. When I open my eyes, I am looking up at the waterfall. It’s pouring down, backwards to me in this position, and although it makes me dizzy, it’s mesmerizing. I stay in the water for about 15 minutes, until I’m practically freezing, because I know that the hike back up will have me sweating buckets again. #dawnellesalantphotography #rio #rio2020 #tijuca #tijucanationalforest #landscape #cityscape #amazingcaptures #cityscape #landscapephotomag #natgeo #natgeoyourshot #natgeolandscape #yourshotphotographer #canon #nationalgeographic #landscapephotography #brazil #christtheredeemer #stunning_shots #marvelshots #travel #igtravel #postcardplaces #meettheworld #worldcaptures #worldplaces #photooftheday #picoftheday #instapic

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  • Writer's pictureDawnelle Salant

I finally go for an actual swim at Copa. Last time we were here, the water was so cold that I could hardly go in. It was winter, so I thought the water was cold just because it was winter. No, it’s cold in summer too. The water in Fernando was 29 degrees, here, it is not. But, it is more refreshing. We spend some time walking along the sand, watching people dive in and out of the surf and squeal as the water hits them. It’s been so hot that the cold water dripping down my back is hardly helping to keep me cool, but at home, it’s around -20 so I am definitely in the right place! I often wonder if people who live in these climates are just so used to it that they don’t sweat. We are constantly sweating, look like we are about to faint from the heat and there are women walking around with full faces of makeup and they don’t even have a bead of sweat anywhere. I still shiver when it’s -20, why aren’t they bedraggled, sweaty drowned rats like us?

The next part of the city we explore is Mirante Dona Marta and I am surprised that this is not a more popular spot. It is a viewpoint over the city, and maybe it’s because it’s 37 degrees, but it’s practically deserted. Sugarloaf is undoubtedly the most famous lookout over Rio, but this place is breathtaking as well. I can see Sugarloaf in the distance, with Botafogo underneath it, the bay dotted with sailing masts. A giant jet flies in to land at Santo Dumont, the domestic airport, and it dwarfs the two hills that make up Sugarloaf. It also looks like it’s going to hit it, but it doesn’t. To the right of Sugarloaf are the white buildings and blue water that make up Copacabana, with the fort jutting out at the far east end. Past that there are glimpses of Ipanema and upper scale Leblon. And behind us, on the tall promontory of rock stands Christ The Redeemer. He’s facing us, and every time I see him, one of the Wonders of the World and the biggest Art Deco statue anywhere, my heart skips a beat. It is one of the most magnificent things on the planet. It’s powerful, beautiful, and it gives me a sense of well being somehow.

On our way down we stop to take photos at another, less formal viewpoint. A favela (slum) covers the hill to our left, and although I know they are a sad part of Rio's story, they are beautiful in their own way. We make a quick stop in Cosmo Velho to see Largo do Boticario. The rundown remnant of the colonial house was used in the 1979 James Bond film Moonraker. There’s not much to see, but the building is a photographer’s dream. Yellow, blue, pink and turquoise peek through the browning that comes with age. It’s only two stories high, and I can see through most of the doors and windows. A few have shutters, but the rest must have disappeared years ago. Usually decrepit buildings like this have a creepy air to them, but this one is beautiful. Maybe it’s the Atlantic rainforest that surrounds it or the colours that hint of its interesting history. In the 1800’s, Boticario was a hangout for the political elite and famous artists.

Afterwards we wander along Botafogo Beach, where it is too polluted to go swimming, but is beautiful nonetheless. I snap some photos of some men playing football (soccer) on the beach. How much more Rio can you get?

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Hi there! I'm Dawnelle - travel photographer, adventure seeker and digital nomad currently exploring  South America. 

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