After several days of rain, we are surprised when we walk out to hot sun at 9 am. We’ve booked a free walking tour of Little Africa, where Samba originated with www.riobyfoot.com. Because Carnaval is only a week away, people have started partying already. Our guide hands out glitter before the tour starts so we fit in a little more….I have to admit that I spent so much time watching people on this tour that I may have missed some of the things our guide was telling us. It’s fascinating, don’t get me wrong, but when a man dressed as a devil walks by, or a beautiful woman wearing a bodysuit and glitter, or a group of men in pink tulle skirts - that’s where my eyes go and my mind follows. I can’t help it. Plus people were asking me to take their photos. Asking. I can look history up - but sometimes living in the moment is more important.
My favourite part is Pedro do Sal. This is recognized as the birthplace of both Samba and Carnaval, and is a famous spot for watching Samba, especially on Monday nights. There is a party going on - people drinking, dancing and tons of stalls set up selling beer and caipirinhas. I want to stop and party, I feel safe here and people are friendly and motioning us to join in. Nearly everyone had on their Carnaval costumes and it’s like Halloween in 30 degrees. Some just have on headbands with unicorn horns, devil horns or even angel wings on their back. There’s a guy in superman dress with red knee highs and a cape who walked around like he owned the place. I want to be his friend.
Our guide informs us that Brazil was the last country in the world to end slavery, something I knew nothing about. He also tells us that Brazil has the most black people (his words) in one country - even more than in Africa.
When we round the corner, there is a band playing and people dancing the capoeira - which is an Afro-Brazilian martial art that includes dance and acrobatics put to music. It’s almost like a fight. The dancers are dressed in white and move in fluid patterns. It’s mesmerizing and the dancers have such control over their bodies and their movements. We walk up a steep set of stone stairs to a stone ramp that has iron hooks embedded into it. This is where the slaves would carry the salt from the port and lay it out to dry. We are told that if the slaves dropped the salt, they would be chained to the hooks and made to lay in the sun. I’m sweltering in the shade, I can’t imagine laying in the hot sun on those stones. It would mean death for some, I’m sure.
We wander around for a few hours, and I take photos of a beautiful girl laying on the rocks. She looks to be mixed-race, and she has the fullest, brightest red lips. Glitter adorns her face and when she looks at the camera, I have a feeling that she’s no stranger to having her photo taken. She is stunning and it turns out to be one of my favourite photos I’ve ever taken.
The tour ends at the huge mural that dominates the area surrounding Praça Mauá. It is the world’s largest graffiti mural and it is stunning. Imagine 190 meters of wall art reaching over 15 metres high. It covers an area that measures almost 3,000 square meters. Rio never ceases to inspire and amaze me.
One of the things I like most about travel is meeting new people. We have a drink with Juliana, a girl from Colombia that we met on our tour, at one of the pop ups bars that line the wharf across from the mural. We exchange travel stories and share parts of our lives that surprise each other. She complains how hard it is to understand Portuguese and this makes me immediately feel better. She’s a native Spanish speaker and still struggles with this similar language. And truth be told, I do much better than her in conversing with the waiter!