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.