Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Rio de Janeiro. February 23rd – March 14th, 2011
Rio is overwhelming, over populated, over-crowded, over exuberant and over the top and yet we loved it. The fact that is was Carnaval also contributed to the influx of people and activity. Before arriving, even when we started planning the trip, one of our goals was not to be in Rio for Carnaval and yet...here we are and loving every minute. The city has a stunning setting flanked by the Bay of Guanabara and the Atlantic Ocean, with a landscape that builds up the sides and around enormous granite mountains and flows down to the many world renowned beaches notably Copacabana and Ipanema, giving a topography that looks to have been molded by nature. The 7 million residents who are known as “Cariocas” exhibit the casual, open friendliness that is often associated with Brazil and the tourists which at times triple the city’s population are definitely here to have fun. Our stay extended from a few days to almost three weeks, thanks in part to our meeting Mauricio and his wife Maria, a Brazilian couple who reside in Rio. Our generator was still giving us grief so Tom found an Onan Cummins service distributor online and we called them. Mauricio, who works there, speaks English and directed us to bring in the RV to them. They are more used to the newer diesel generators than our older gas-powered model but nevertheless the two mechanics Daniel and Gladson, with Mauricio providing the translation, over the course of a week, managed to get the generator working like never before and it is now purring like a kitten. Tom is ecstatic. When Mauricio found out we were only planning to stay a few days, he was shocked. “How can you leave” he said to us. “It is Carnaval. People plan for a year to come here and enjoy the experience”. We had all the old clichés. Too many people, too dangerous, too expensive. “Nonsense”, he assured us. “The people who want to party, do so all night and sleep through the day, leaving the major attractions quieter. The government, both State and Federal are working hard to ensure peace and have a campaign in place for reducing crime mostly due to the World Cup Soccer tournament being in Rio in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016 and the Carnaval street parades are free. If you want to go to the Sambadromo, the ticket prices vary from inexpensive to outrageous, depending on your seat location. If you do not stay for Carnaval, you will regret it later” We promised to think it over and arranged to meet him and his wife for dinner at a local churrascaria (Brazilian barbeque) restaurant. The meal was different and delicious. It is served by waiters who come to your table with a huge variety of barbeque beef, chicken, pork, lamb, ribs, and sausages of various persuasions on skewers and rib-eye and fillet steaks on platters. Side dishes of vegetables and potatoes are brought to your table as needed. This is an all you can eat smorgasbord and I can honestly say that when we left we could not have eaten another mouthful. During dinner, we exchanged life stories and by the end the result was, two more friends from our travels and we will stay for Carnaval. Also, March is a rainy month in Rio and we will have to wait for clear days to go to two of the main attractions, Pao de Azucar (Sugar Loaf Mountain) and Corcovado Mountain where the trademark statue of Rio’s, Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) is located. Both of these attractions are better on clearer days due to the spectacular views. We also decided to rent a car so we can leave the motor home in the RV park with Winston and get around the city more comfortably. But first it’s Carnaval! The name, by the way, is believed to be a derivation of the Italian phrase “carne vale” or farewell to meat. It is 4 days (5 in Salvador) of lavish extravagance, excitement and exhibitionism that for better or worse has come to be a symbol of Brazil. Samba is the signature trademark music and dance and there is huge rivalry in competition between the large samba schools. After months of preparation and practice, the gates of the samba stadium, the Sambadromo, designed by Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer are opened and about 65,000 spectators with tickets are seated along the kilometer long parade street to watch the samba schools shimmy and shake their way, telling a story with their individual music score, dancers, musicians and floats. To give an idea of the size of the schools, the rules of competition are no more than eight full size floats and 4,000 participants per school with a routine that lasts not longer than 85 minutes. It is extravagance at its best and Tom and I were fortunate to attend one of the nights. (Photos will follow, once we have assembled them). Oh and the parades, they consist of 6 schools each night for 4 nights (Sat – Tues), starting at 9pm and the last school scheduled at 3am, with an end at around 4:30 in the morning. We lasted until 1am and called it a night. It took us an hour to get back to our car through the streets of revelers and another hour to get to the RV Park. Even though it was exciting and amazing, this was the latest we had stayed up in a long time but we are glad we stayed and experienced it. And safety. Not once did we feel threatened or in danger. There are more than enough police and military to keep an eye on the activities and knowledgeable enough to know when to intervene. We also managed several visits to the beaches of Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon, the cable car ride to Sugar Loaf and a memorable trip up Corcovado Mountain to the statue. Memorable because the weather would not co-operate with us and with our time in Rio running out, the day was cloudy and rainy so there were no good views. (Photos again to follow). But that did not change our love for Rio. Both of us gave the city our biggest accolade by agreeing that this is one place that we will return to again, if only to see those views from the statue.