A Travellerspoint blog

And then there was one

Part 1 (Mon 22nd Feb)

Well carnival has well and truly finished now. Despite officially being over on Ash Wed, everywhere continued to have final carnival concerts until last night. But it seems things have returned to normal now – or at last until the weekend.

A long 12 hours overnight bus ride took us further north to a small beach town named Olinda. Apparently despite its size, Olinda is a cultural centre, but I think we missed the best it had to offer during Carnaval (next time!).

Not much to report from here other than some cute beaches, a nice hostel pool and a terrible mosquito filled night (I was literally eaten alive and had to sleep wrapped in my mosquito net – the one drawback to a hostel pool).

I said goodbye to the last two of our once group of five, and then there was one. This is my first day of solo travel and the real beginning of my adventures. It is strange what propels one to travel alone. Apart from the obvious reason of a lack of friends wanting to travel at the same time to the same destinations for the same length of time, there is something about travelling alone that is different from any other type of travel., Everyone who does it agrees it can be hard and tiring and lonely at times, but also exciting and rewarding. For me it is the uncertainty and endless possibility that excites me the most. Not knowing who I will meet, where I will go, what strange occurrence might happen, and being so far out of my comfort zone that thrills me to bits. But I know it will be a love/hate relationship, full of extremes, so I will wait and see how it goes.

Part 2 (Mon 22nd Feb)

Well I survived my first day of solo travel. Hitting the beach out of town by bus was my first challenge. Mumbling a few non-coherent Portuguese words to the driver trying to ask him to tell me when we hit the beach was a bit tough, but luckily followed by a tap on the shoulder by a friendly woman telling me she would let me know. The beach was lovely and a bit of solitude was well due.

Having already made a friend the day before meant I had a buddy to hang out with in the afternoon. We wandered around the sleepy old town, checking the views and aging architecture. I had a delicious banana and chocolate crepe which was definitely the culinary highlight of the day. A pleasant evening was spent chatting to two English lads at a seaside bar, catching the beautiful sea breeze, which unfortunately does not travel as far as the hostel.

Early to bed tonight, I am looking forward to a hopefully mosquito free night (after changing rooms) and a good sleep. Tomorrow I am heading to Maceo, where apparently one of the best beaches in South America resides, though no one seems to have heard about it. Everyone here is heading north to the Amazon. So as usual, I will swim against the tide and head back down south.

Boa noite!

Posted by Tracy Chap 08:51 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

Viva la Carnaval!

Almost recovered from my bout of food poisoning (one of the worst I´ve ever experinced), and with Carnaval truly over, I finally have the chance to recount the events of the last week... and what a week it was! Carnaval certainly lived up to its reputation of being the best street party in the world.

In Rio there is the official Carnaval parade, where samba schools made up of thousands of members parade in flamoyant costumes through a massive outdoor amphitheatre (the Sambadromo), and then there is the ´Carnaval of the streets´, made up of smaller musical groups and drumming batterias (called ´blocos´) who parade through parts of the city at different times over the whole week of carnaval, plus several official parties and concerts. The former is highly commercialised, expensive, and though visually impressive, did not live up to it´s hype for me (though I did not parade in it which I think would have been amazing - but I just couldn´t spare the $700US dollars to do this).

The Carnaval of the streets, however, was much more my cup of tea. The blocos and parties were loads of fun. Some of them started at 8am in the morning to beat the Rio heat - and this was definitely the most fun I´ve ever had before midday on a weekend. Everyone, and I mean every ONE, dressed up in fancy dress and followed the music along its parade route. Some blocos were huge with several hundreds of people (like that of Boita Ta), and some were much smaller and intimate. Some I had planned to attend, while others I stumbled upon accidentally and chased after spontaneously. After a few blocos, I got surpisingly comfortable being sandwiched between sweaty, (sometimes pushy), costumed cariocas, and despite the crowds, everyone was always in great spirits, smiling, singing, dancing, drinking beer, and joking with everyone around.

Every bloco I saw was slightly different. Some had large drumming batterias, and others more prominant horn sections and singers. They played a mix of batucada, samba, and ´marchinhas´ (a catchy, European polka-type music of old-school Carnaval). Though the marchinhas are very old traditional songs, the lyrics have been changed to be more modern and very silly (such as `we like Viagra!`). Everyone knows the lyrics and sings along. Every bloco was followed by an after party lasting several hours, where people would hang out in costume in the streets and drink more.

Luciana, Natia and I at one of the pre-carnaval parties.

Luciana, Natia and I at one of the pre-carnaval parties.

One our way to a Bloco in Santa Teresa

One our way to a Bloco in Santa Teresa

Natia with a sombrero, from the ´Natia in Other People´s Funny Hats´ Series

Natia with a sombrero, from the ´Natia in Other People´s Funny Hats´ Series

One of the best things about the blocos was how friendly and happy the locals were and how much fun they had dressing up. Guys especially liked dressing up as women (a tradition that also occurs in traditional African-Brazilian religious practices), and somehow, cross dressing seems to pose no threat whatsoever to their masculinity. I remember seeing an Arnold Schwarzenegger look alike, whose sheer size and muscle tone was very intimidating, dressed up in a tiny ladies camosole winking at me - a great visual contrast!

Bloco Boita Ta - one of the biggest

Bloco Boita Ta - one of the biggest

Boita Ta

Boita Ta

Apparently, the bloco-style carnaval is what carnaval in Rio used to be like, I guess before it become very commercial and expensive and centred around the main parade. And only over the last 10 years has Rio started allowing and promoting street blocos and parties during Carnaval in addition to the main parade - so it was definitely a good time to go!

After days of blocos, my fairy wings started to rapidly degenerate and it was time to head to Salvador to get a taste of Carnaval, Bahian style. My god, it was like arriving in a different country. 80% of Salvador´s population descend from the African slave population that were brought to Brazil by the Portuguese. Apparently, they are the group of Africans that have held onto their cultural traditions the most out of any country in the new world. So arriving in Salvador was almost like stepping off the plane in an African country, with the music and culture to match.

Carnaval was in full swing by the time we arrived there. We got a sense of this first hand, when we stepped out of our hotel for a wee stroll around the area, only to be suddenly swept up in a wave of people all following massive trucks with bands playing at the top. Like quick sand, we rapidly became stuck in the middle of the crowd which filled the streets in every direction like dancing sardines, leaving us no avenue for escape. Luckily we survived and my fear of being curshed to death did not occur. But it was certainly a sight to be hold. Everywhere were Afro-Braziliaans of all ages shaking their booties to beats of all kinds.

Once started (around 3pm in the afternoon) these massive muscial trucks (called ´trios electricos´) did not stop, and I mean there was not evern one minute´s break between them. They literally kept coming all night (no joke until 5am), all playing different music and surrounded by a few hundred people dancing infront and behind each truck. The music ranged from samba, to reggae, to traditional African rhythms, to Brazilian pop, to rock, to funk - and no two bands were the same.

I was also amazed at how family orientated it was, with babies only a year old parading on top of their parents´ heads looking as if this sort of thing happens in their backyard every day, and young kids singing and dancing even if they couldn´t see the bands from behind the crowds, and grandparents hanging in there with a smile, if also a wobble.

I thought I had died and made it to some sort of musical heaven. I did my absolute best on the last night to suck the last of the marrow out of this Carnaval experience and made it to 4am. Of course the party continued way past then, and I had to drag my exhausted body and excited mind off to sleep.

Despite Carnaval officially finishing on Ash Wed, for the next few days we continued to stumble upon great music at every crevice of Salavdor´s old town. On several occasions I have dropped everything to run out on to the streets and follow drumming batterias, only to stumble upon several others along the way. Going out to see a band in Salvador is like playing dominos, where one band leads to another, and another, and another without ever having to search.

Overall, Carnaval Rio/Salador style was the best music festival I have ever been to. To see soooo many people dancing in the streets, smiling and having fun, but also being composed and respectful of eachother, is my idea of heaven. In the words of Arnie, `I´ll be back`!

(P.S more photos coming soon - am struggling to find a computer with enough memory to upload them quickly)

Posted by Tracy Chap 06:15 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

My first taste of real samba

Santa Theresa is the Bohemian quarter of Rio. Initially, the run down streets, poor looking locals and lack of females on the street left me wondering if we had accidentally booked a hotel in the heart of a favela. But over the last few days, the charm of this alternative town has become more apparent. Santa Theresa is located on a hill with steep cobble stone roads leading up to it. It is filled with very cool street art and a mix of lovely colonial architecture, old castles and run down flats.

After some serious jet lagged sleep, we made our way out to Lapa - the centre of samba bars and nightlife in Rio. We had dinner at one of the upmarket samba bars and saw a live samba band. The music was beautiful and we got to sing along to Mas Que Nada with a visit from the singer. We then made our way onto the streets to soak in the party vibe. We stumbbled upon a tiny bar with Afican style drumming and a big black woman singing vocals. Most people were outside on the street dancing (to avoid paying the cover charge). The music was awesome and the R$2.00 beers off the street went down a treat.

I have realised that looks wise I can pass for a carioca (someone from Rio, pronounced as `hio`). If I keep my mouth shut and get my street wise stride going I totally blend in. Unfortunately this doesn´t last long, because Brazillians are a very friendly bunch who want to chat to you. My few seconds of credibility as a local are quickly replaced by my true tourist idenity the moment I open my mouth. Mind you, I am amazed at how much I am getting by here with my Italian. They generally understand most of what I say in Italian, but unfortunately I understand hardly anything they say back to me. Thank god for Natia and her Spanish.

So far, I have found Brazillian people to be extremely warm and freindly. They are quick to smile, lacking in arrogance, and have this addictively happy, relaxed manner and approach to life. Some of men can be a bit intense at times, and sometimes try to kiss you upon meeting (`Hi my name is Carlos`.. swoop in for the kiss), but they don´t persist after they know youre not interested and generally most the men have been very polite and respectful.

Overall I feel like Rio is a city that would take time to get to know. Its filled with constant contradictions between beautiful archietcture and shanty urban streets, traffic filled streets and stunning beaches, and you never know what you´ll come across next. But the culture here is very rich and there seems to be so much to discover, which isn´t apparent at first glance.

Posted by Tracy Chap 07:46 Comments (2)

Aeroplane anticipation

Three hours from Santiago. Two movies down. A few minutes of sleep - just enough to feel sub-human. Experiencing a strange mix of nerves, tiredness and excitement. Like I am slowly shedding some dead skin and stretching out my wings ready for flight.

I have newly dicsovered Iron and White and am listening to them on my ipod. I feel like I am 23 again - setting off to explore the world, to think big ideas, meet different people, and have that increadily addictive feeling of stepping foot in a totally foreign country, where noone speaks english and everything is new.

May this be the beginning of a fun adventure!

Posted by Tracy Chap 07:30 Comments (0)

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