Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Carnaval, Florianopolis and Montevideo: Jan 26-Feb 15

With Andy and Wendy back home in the states, Lizz and I had several days to kill in Niteroi before David Small and Sage Sipchen arrived from Middlebury at the beginning of February for Carnaval. We got a little taste of Carnaval before the real thing started. Lizz and I had gone to a bloco with Andy and Wendy their last day. A bloco is a street party/parade that follows a truck loaded with speakers and a huge samba band and dancers on top of the speakers. The truck drives down a street very slowly with thousands of people around and behind it dancing, drinking, singing and peeing. There is no shortage of food and especially beer, with vendors lining the streets and walking through the crowds selling Skol and Antartica, the PBR and High Life of Brazil. While Carnaval in Rio is more famous for its fancy balls and the Sambódromo (more on this in a bit), the Carnaval that most people in Rio actually celebrate is on the street...because it´s free. An environmental feature of the blocos (and every outdoor party in Brazil) is the collection of cans. When you are done with your beer, you can hold up your can or toss it on the ground and within five seconds someone comes running up with a huge bag of cans to collect the deposit. I once saw two people fighting over can. It´s a little sad having an underclass of people shuffling in between your legs, but Brazil can boast that it has an aluminum can recycling rate of 98%. During the rest of our time before Carnaval, Lizz and I toured around Rio some more, went to the beach and moved in to the apartment of some of her friends from school where we stayed for the duration of our time in Niteroi/Rio. The last day before Carnaval officially began, we went to another bloco in Rio where I had fifty reais (about 30 dollars) stolen from my pocket, the only trouble I´ve had my whole time down here.

The first morning of Carnaval, I caught a bus to pick up David at the airport, we dropped his stuff off at the apartment in Niteroi, had lunch and hopped on a boat to Rio. I thought the blocos we had been to were pretty wild and crazy, but they did not prepare me for what we saw once we got off the boat. Rio Branco, the busiest street in downtown rio, was impassable because of the wall of people. We pushed and fought our way down the street to meet up with some friends, but had to take a detour on a slightly more manageable side street. We had few more hours before picking Sage up at the airport, so we stayed downtown and went to a bloco. After picking up Sage, the four of us went to the Sambódromo for the night. The Sambódromo is a stadium designed by the Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer to look like a street for Samba schools to parade down and compete against each other during the four days of Carnaval. Each Samba school from the Rio area (a couple dozen in all) comes with thousands of dancers, drummers, singers and floats for their hour of glory. We stayed around to watch four samba schools which were all very impressive. I have never seen such elaborate costumes or floats, the best being the topless women wearing a bead or two down below. On our taxi ride through downtown back to the boat to Niteroi, the sidewalks and streets were lined with mountains of garbage (with not a single beer can in sight).

Over the four days of Carnaval, we divided our time pretty evenly: 12 hours at blocos and 12 hours sleeping. We´d wake up around three or four in the afternoon and come back between four and five the next morning. Lizz´s friends that we stayed with- Vanessa, Renan, Celhao and Ana Laura- were incredibly nice, fun and took us out with them every day to the best blocos with their friends. We become close friends with them despite the strong language barrier (Vanessa was the only one who spoke English) communicating with bits of Portuguese and English, and lots of hand gestures. Our last day of Carnaval we went to a gay bloco, which was (unhomophobically) the least enjoyable one. The bloco was packed so much you couldn´t move around and ended up getting shoved around a lot. Also, I couldn´t take my eyes off the ground. In Brazil, especially during Carnaval, making eye contact with someone means you want to make out with them, and every time I looked up there were twenty 250 pound shirtless body-builders staring me down begging me to look at them with a few moving in for the kill...I´d go hide behind Lizz.

After Carnaval, we stayed around during the resaca (literally means hangover and refers to the rest of the week following Carnaval) to rest up before making our way to Buenos Aires to rendezvouz with our good friend Jeremy Martin from Middlebury. David and Sage were able to see what Rio is normally like- we spent some time downtown, at the beach and at Rio´s famous Pao de Azucar (Sugarloaf), a massive semi-phallic rock jutting up out of the water over Rio. Coincidentally, if you forget the nasal pronunciation at the end of Pao like every gringo, it means dick. We preferred the name Sugardick. The resaca over, we hopped on a 3:40am flight south to Florianopolis (for the same price as a 25 hr bus ride), where Lizz is studying for the spring. She dropped off a big suitcase she didn´t want for travel around with, and we took advantage of our two nights there to explore the colorful city that´s on a beautiful island with 42 beaches. Lizz is going there to study? Hmm...

The next stop before Buenos Aires was Montevideo, Uruguay, which laid a 20 hour bus ride south of Florianopolis where I´ll be studying for the rest of the year. I met my host family and dropped a few things I didn´t want to travel with anymore (i.e. computer). I really liked my family and think they will be easy and fun to live with. We took a couple days to explore the city which was awesome, eat a lot of great steak and stay up late hanging out with people from all over the world from our hostel. There was a plaza or park on every other corner, and everyone goes about their day drinking yerba mate. It may be the national drink of Argentina, but in Uruguay mate is life. With life defined by mate, it goes at a very slow pace, and everyone seemed very laid back...not a bad place to spend a year in my opinion.