The drive to rio was only a few hours, so after a lazy start we headed to town for a quick cash stash and then we were on our way to carnival!
We arrived in rio mid afternoon and immediately had to say goodbye to most of the passengers, many of whom we'd been travelling with since Quito in Ecuador. It was very strange saying goodbye to people that you've spent 24 hours with every day for 4 months knowing that most of them youd never see again, and everyone was feeling pretty flat. We knew rio would be absolutely amazing but it felt like the end a little and it was actually quite sad. When we'd finally said goodbye to everyone who wasn't staying on for the rip package, we checked into our rooms and sulked about for a whole before our welcome meeting at 5.
There were actually a lot of people on the rip package as there were 4 trucks that met in rio for carnival plus anyone new that had joined in rio. It was a little strange though because you didn't really get to know anyone new as you're pretty much on your own in big cities so we were down to a small group really.
The welcome meeting was pretty cool and the crew did a good job of lifting spirits and getting us excited about the next few days. We were all given our rio guides and t shirts, a run through of the itinerary and then a few warnings about safety and security. Rio carnival is well known for security issues so basically take nothing out except what you need to buy food and drinks and never ever go on the beach at night.
There was a joining dinner that night for everyone, but it meant missing out on seeing the children's section of the sambadrome and as none of us were feeling particularly sociable a small group of us passed on dinner and decided to head over to the sambadrome. The sambadrome is the parade area of carnival. A long strip with stadium style seating where you watch the official samba parades and the various samba schools compete each night. This night was just for the children in the schools. We didn't have tickets and we expected only to stand outside and see the costumes as the schools entered and exited.
After navigating our way around the metro system, which is incredibly easy as theres pretty much one line and you either go north or south, we made our way to the sambadrome. Walking through the streets to get there we passed one of the warehouses where the floats are stored and for the first time we began to understand the size of this event. They were huge!! We passed a school practicing in the street, who we would later see in the parade. There were people everywhere and everyone was dressed up in some way. The sight of people dressed in carnival attire would become normal as everyone dresses up all day everyday there. Very bizarre at first though and we were all feeling a little underdressed.
We eventually found ourselves at the sambadrome and tried to see if we could get ourselves to a spot where we could see the parade. We walked in all nonchalant hoping that we could just get in without a ticket but we were immediately turned away by a security guard who rattled on in Portuguese at us and pointed at us to go out and turn left. We did as we were told and found ourselves going through some rear entrance into the sambadrome and landing ourselves in one of the stands. We thought we'd managed to get ourselves in for free and were feeling pretty smug but in reality I think we found ourselves in the free stand for the locals. Either way, it was pretty cool. A really lovely atmosphere, people just chilling out and drinking beers from the guys that were taking drinks around the stands.
The children's parade had already when we arrived so we quickly found ourselves a spot to watch and started to enjoy the show. The colours were immense and from where we were sat which was actually before the official start point, you could see them all queuing to come through into the sambadrome so there was a rainbow of brightly coloured people as far as the eye could see. We quickly saw that there was a structure to the parade with each school sticking strictly to the structure by taking on their own theme for costumes and floats. Each school has a flag bearer who's a lady and a guy with her who protects the flag. Years back the schools used to sabotage each others flags to lose the schools points, so there was always a protector of the flag who traditionally carried a knife to ward off any attempts to sabotage. They had a samba band, dancing ladies, a float which is pushed by members of the school, samba dancers and probably more that I've forgotten. It was Amazing. These kids could dance and the schools were huge! It took ages for each school to pass, with each playing their own song. The samba bands were definitely my favourite, the music just makes you want to dance straight away.
It was really nice being in the locals stand as we were in the thick of it, with many of the children coming up into our stands in their costumes when they were finished. We befriended some locals who were sat in front of us and danced about with them for a little while, but after a few hours we were all tired and with an early start the next day we decided to call it a day and head home.
We were expecting to be the first back as it was only midnight, but everyone was in bed when we got back, so we snuck in and went to bed ready for another big day the next day.
The following morning we did the first of our organised trips as part of the rio package. We were heading up to the corcovado, or Christ the redeemer, the famous statue of Christ who looks over the city of rio. We had a private viewing booked with meant it would not be full of tourists, but also meant that we had I leave at 6:30 the following morning to head up there. It turned out to be the best decision despite tiredness, as it was so hot in rio, and we were up and back down before it got uncomfortable.
We boarded the bus which would take us to the tram which takes you up the mountain to Christ himself. We had a local guide who told us a little more about rio on the way to the tram. The tram ride itself lasted about 20 minutes climbing high up into the mountain. At the top we obviously were pretty amazed by the statue and took lots of pictures, but even better than that were the views that we got from up there. You could see everything you'd ever heard of about rio, copacabana beach, guanabarra bay, sugarloaf mountain and more. The city is beautiful, very tropical with loads of palm trees and coconut trees and because there's no real city centre as such it just feels like a cluster of very small towns, it has a nice feel to it. We stayed up the top there enjoying the view and seeing the sun continue to rise over the city for about an hour before slowly making our way back down to the city and back to the hotel.
I decided that I wanted to go see copacabana beach and chill there for the rest of the day, as the prior few weeks and the early morning were catching up on me and I was tired!!
We decided to attempt to walk to the beach from flamengo where we were staying. We had no idea how far or how long it would take as we only had a tourist map with no scale on it, but we figured this would be the best way to see a little more of the city. We were told by one of the local guides not to walk it as there was a huge bloco (street party) that would prevent us from getting there, but we chose to ignore him as we were actually quite excited about the concept of getting caught in our first bloco. The walk was beautiful, all along the many white sandy beaches of rio, it was really hot but we took our time walking there and actually
It wasn't really that far. Just as we were getting to copacabana we hit the bloco and it was incredible. We actually caught it in a tunnel So the number of people seemed more intense as we were all contained. The general format is that there's a truck with music or for the smaller ones a little band walking,and then the members of the bloco follow behind singing and dancing and as they walk more and more people join in until you have a huge group of
People following. They eventually stop and then the party continues for a while before eventually they disband. It was a lot of fun with a lot of colourful characters. You really can't help getting involved and before you know it your part of the party drinking and dancing and having a wicked time. The blocos happen all day in random places throughout the city for the duration of carnival. It's hard to go anywhere without getting caught in one. Eventually we got through the party and soon enough we found the beach.
The beach is a little bit crazy during carnival as the 2 million visitors seem to head there during the day. It wasn't so bad that you couldn't move though. We made our way down to the sea along one of the water trails that they make to stop you from burning your feet and down on the waters edge we found a couple of the guys from one of the other drago trucks. Very convenient as this meant we could leave our bags with them and all head into the water to co off. And cool off we did. The water is freezing!! And the surf is pretty strong so we spent about 30 minutes being beaten up and knocked over by the icy water before heading back to drier land for a sit in the sunshine with a cheeky little drinky to dry off.
We went off to find somewhere nice for some lunch but we were faced with either really expensive restaurants, beach food or crap from the cafes on the edge of the beach. We decided to go for the latter which with hindsight was a bad decision but it was at least a good spot to people watch. There are some very interesting sights in copacabana beach. The women wear the tiniest bikinis which are little more than a strip to cover the nipples at the front and are thongs from the back. This is staple bikini style no matter how big or small you are and there are plenty of big ones out there! The men wear budgie smugglers which leave very little to the imagination and this attire is not restricted to the beach. Apparently budgie smugglers or banana hammocks are appropriate anywhere in rio.
Lunch took forever and a day so Esther and jo headed back to the hotel to get back in time to go watch some random football match. Sarah and I stayed out and headed off in search for some shops to mooch about in. Just the standard shops really, plenty of havaianas and not a lot else.
On the way back to the metro some random dropped a couple of nuts into Sarah's ice cream and demanded that she fed them to her. When she politely refused to he decided to turn his attention to me and just kept asking me to kiss him whilst backing me against the wall of the stairs. All sarah could hear was "kiss me", "no", "kiss me", "no", "kiss me", "no". We'd heard this happens a lot but weren't expecting it during the cold light of day. This was all quite light hearted but I could see how it could be quite intimidating if you were in your own.
Anyway back on the metro we boarded yet another train full of people in fancy dress all casual like, and headed for home.
We grabbed some dinner, got showered up and then headed back out to ipanema in search of another bloco. Unfortunately we just missed the one we were heading for but there was still people everywhere so it was quite cool just to wander about and soak it all up. We found some of the left overs of the party and watched that for a bit before it was broken up by a couple of buses that wanted to get down the road that they were blocking. We wandered around some more and eventually we found what we were looking for. We were sticking to the edge of the party as one of the girls we were with didn't really want to get involved. We headed over to a stall to get some dulce de leche filled churros but whilst we were queuing, the bloco started heading our way. I'm giving it all "they're coming!" most of us wanted to get into it so we were dragging our heels hoping that we'd get swept up in the party and sure enough we did. Next thing we know, we're right in the middle of it next to the band, dancing like loons and having a brilliant time. There's no point watching theses from afar, you have to clutch on tightly to your handbags and get stuck in!
After the party had disbanded we walked a little more and ended up on the seafront which was full of the most colourful characters. It's quite impressive how much effort put in and how creative they are with their costumes. We decided to break the no beach at night rule and had some pictures taken of us on the sand and then walked on some more.
We found a group of Aussies all dressed up in parade outfits, they were taking part in the sambadrome parade that night and were very excited. We tried bits of their costumes on which was an eye opener. These things are really hot and heavy and you have to balance them right to keep them on. The 1.5 mile parade must be tougher than we'd thought.
By this time we were out of the thick of the party area and lee wanted to head home so we took her back to the hotel and grabbed some food. I had this amazing idea that I wanted to head to lapa, where the best nightlife is supposed to be so I gathered the girls up and off we headed to lapa.
When we arrived at lapa we were faced with what looked like the aftermath of a war. There was litter everywhere, the streets were all soaking wet and the whole place smelt really badly of wee. Proper strong wee too. It was disgusting and I already had a face on walking through it. There was a stage opposite with live music so we headed over to that but it was even worse standing in that bit. I got the royal hump as decided we needed to get the hell out of that part and try to find the arches where all the bars are supposed to be. None of us really knew where the hell we we're going so we were just walking aimlessly (in wee), when we came across a parade. We thought it was the end of the sambadrome parade coming through but it wasn't. I guess it was some of the schools practicing or something because they were dressed in full costumes and parading as they do in the real
Parade. We were within spitting distance of them which was pretty cool. It was great to see the costumes and dancing from a point where you can see everything. We knew we wouldn't be able to the filling night at the sambadrome as we were in the cheap seats.
We watched the parade for ages before continuing our mission to fid a bar. We never did find the arches but we did find ourselves a cool little street with some bars and clubs on. The queue for the club was the longest I've ever seen so we decided against that and say instead and had some drinks outside one of the bars. As soon as I sat down I realised how tired I was. I really wanted to stay out and have a big night but I was literally falling asleep in the bar. Eventually we called it a day and got ourselves a can back home, where yet again everyone was already tucked up in bed.
The next day we decided to head back to ipanema to see what the beach was like during the day and to try to find some sparkly stuff for our gay ball outfits. When we arrived at ipanema beach we suddenly realised how busy a beach really can be. It was ridiculous. You couldn't see a free stretch of sand it was just a sea of red umbrellas. Nasty. We walked about for a little while looking through the markets along the way. We found ourselves a stall selling feather headbands so we tried every one on before finally making our selection. I weirdly chose one with huge baby pink feathers and purple flowers. Far too girly for me, but it was the only one that didn't offend me too much and I figured girly at a gay ball was perhaps the way forward.
With new headbands on we made our way on to the rammed beach and took shelter under one of the little tents selling cocktails and beers. It wasn't very nice on the beach so we were forced to drink caipirinhas to make things better. We sat around there lazing in the shade for a while before making our way home to get ourselves ready for the big sambadrome night. This time we had tickets and everything!
The sambadrome parade starts at 9, and according to the guide finishes probably around 3am. Reality was that it went on until 7am. And this is just seven schools parading, so you can imagine how big each school is. We were meeting at 6pm which was stupidly early and a little unnecessary, but this was one of the organised activities so we had to go with the plan. We made our way over to central where the sambadrome is, and found ourselves a bar to hang around and have a few drinks with. It was nice because we met up with people here who we thought we'd already said goodbye to.
We eventually made our way towards the sambadrome where we were faced with an absolutely ridiculous queue and this was just to get into section 13 which would be our home for the night. Once inside, we were handed a random selection of crap including some weird panama style hats, a shed load of condoms and a bunch of magazines. I'm not quite sure why we needed any of these things for our stay at the sambadrome, but maybe I missed something.
We found ourselves a little spot to sit /stand in the concrete steps and nestled in for the night. Section 13 is right at the very end of the parade and is set back from the parade a little (behind the joey stand), so the view wasn't brilliant in the sense that we couldn't see the detail in the costumes but what was good was that there was an area after the parade where the schools would wait when they were finished. All of the schools had a big celebration for having finished and we got to see this and get involved. We were also told that there might be a chance that they'd pass bits of their costumes up to our stand for people to keep.
When the schools started coming down we realised just how big this was compared to the children's schools that we had seen earlier on in our stay. The floats were enormous and some schools had more than one. There were hundreds of people in each schools and the costumes were incredibly elaborate. It takes each school about an hour to walk the length of the sambadrome. They have a time that they have to aim towards and they gain / lose points if they are over or under. Quite often you saw The schools slowing down and dragging heels or speeding up to a run right at the end to ensure they got maximum points on timing. Between each school is a 30 minute wait, so with seven schools to get through we were in it for the long haul. Each school started with fireworks and then began their procession down the strip. Finishing just by our stand with the last people over the line being the samba band usually met by cheers and celebrations from the rest of the school.
The costumes and themes were amazing, the floats enormous. There were floats with trampolines on them, acrobats and much much more. It's amazing. You can't even imagine the colours and music. The crowd gets really into it with much singing and dancing. And unlike anything that involves large groups of people and alcohol back home, there's no trouble at all.
At the end of the strip after each school finished the participants get out of their costumes and dump them. We saw dumpsters chewing up the amazing costumes. It's so sad to see it all getting thrown straight away. Little Sarah took the opportunity to get some of the costumes and came back with a shiny blue number and an amazing skirt which would later be her gay ball outfit. I have never seen anyone look so happy. She was over the moon with her goodies. She later went back a couple more times and got an incredible tall hat and a bird head which she wore for the rest of the parade. Towards the end most of our stand had bits of costumes. It must have been quite funny to see from the other stands who had no access to such treats!
My favourite school was one with rainbow coloured costumes. The samba band ha cone hats on of all different colours and they looked amazing from up in the stands. They had the biggest celebration at the end, with lots of shooting confetti things and partying. Such a wicked atmosphere.
I stayed watching the parade until about 5:30am at which point I was a little bit over it and extremely tired. I really wanted to stay until sunrise but enough was enough, I needed to get myself home. Tanith and I left to find an entire street of unwanted costumes. We had a rummage around for a while until Tanith told me to move away from the costumes and go get a cab.
The taxi driver rattled off in Portuguese at us for a while but agreed to take us back to our hotel. About 5 minutes into the drive we noticed that the meter read 60 reals , which is about 25 pounds. We knew the journey should only cost 15 reals so we started questioning the driver who assured us the meter was wrong and not to worry. We parked at the end of the street for our hotel and the driver demanded 70 reals. We both argued with him and he started getting really angry saying that he'd agreed the price up front, which he may well have done as we don't understand Portuguese at all. Tanith got out of the can and was ranting at him through the drivers window, saying we would give him 20 only. It carried on for a while until Tanith came round to my side and told me to get out. I was locked in and didn't really want to be murdered in rio by a cab driver so was trying my best to negotiate until Tanith reached in popped the lock and screamed at me to get out. So out I get with Sarah's massive carnival costume hat tucked under my arm. Tanith throws 30 reals at him and then we run. We got to the hotel in fits of giggles and a slight panic that he'd come find us at the hotel. A very funny end to a great night.
The next thing I know I hear Kate who I was sharing with chatting at the door to someone who as far as I can tell is telling us to get up. Eventually I find my glasses and wake up enough to know that it's little Sarah telling up its 12:35pm and we are leaving for our sugarloaf mountain visit in 25 minutes!!! Much quick showering ensued and even a quick visit to the juice bar for juice and pastries before we board the bus for today's day trip.
Sugar loaf mountain is another of the famous landmarks of rio. It's a mountain overlooking the city, with incredible views, this time including Christ the redeemer. We arrived at the cable cars which would take us up the mountain to find an enormous queue which would take 2 hours to get through in blazing hot sunshine. It was a horrible experience. Two cable cars later and we were at the top enjoying the amazing views. It was absolutely stunning. We stayed at the top for only 30 minutes before beginning the descent back down to firm ground. I chose to get off after the first cable car and walk the rest of the way. My back was killing from standing at the sambadrome so was in need of a bit of exercise. It was a lovely walk through the trees, although quite tough as the decent is pretty steep. I was hoping to see some monkeys as a few days earlier on the walk another group had, but we weren't lucky that day.
The guide had recommended a spot between ipanema beach and copacabana to watch the sun go down so I decided that's what I wanted to do tonight, having a fairly lazy one. Some of the girls tagged along but we never did find that spot before the sun disappeared. We sat and ate a sausage on the beach before having a cocktail and heading back to hotel. We obviously got caught in a bloco in the way back to the metro which gave us a bit of a boost but after 30 minutes or so we hit the wall again and headed for home. We got back and had a lovely steak dinner before having a relatively early night.
The next day was gay ball night and I was very excited!! The gay ball had been hyped a lot and was meant to be the highlight of carnival and we all had big plans to get dressed up. It was going to be a good day.
I had finally managed to get hold of Claire and we'd agreed to have a beach day together. I was really looking forward to it as I'd missed having her around I've the past few days. As it happened most of the group were doing the same thing so we all headed to copacabana together. We ended up breaking off onto two groups when we got there as a couple of the Aussie boys didn't want to sit where we'd agreed to meet everyone as it turned out to be the gay area. Idiots. We had loads of space to ourselves and we ha a really nice chilled day with people coming and going and catching up with Claire and what they'd done for the past few days.
Claire and her friend and cousin did t have tickets to the gay ball so I spent a couple hours back at the hotel trying to get some for her. Eventually we got hold of them and as we'd all hoped we could all have one more night out together as a group. And what a night it was. The boys all decided to cross dress so getting ready took ages as we all had some quite spectacular make up going on.
It took forever and people started to leave so we all rushed and headed out in cabs to lapa where the gay ball was being held. We stood around by the live music stage for a while having a couple of drinks. There was a small group of paraders by us carrying these balls on sticks that they kept hitting on the floor. If course I wanted a go, so forgetting that I'm dressed in a dress and girly feathers I start smacking these thugs on the floor. Eventually we decided to head towards the ball. Supposedly watching everyone all costumed up going up the pink carpet is the highlight of this night but if I'm honest it wasn't all that. There was no pink carpet and there were too many people so after taking pictured with a couple of drag queens we head in. More condoms being handed out, this time with a handy pouch to keep them in around your neck. What were we getting ourselves into?!!
We had all imagined the gay ball to be in a huge club with elaborate decor but in reality it was a small dowdy club with the smallest dance floor in the world. Worked out well for us as we were a big group and it meant you couldn't really lose each other. Especially as we dominated the dance floor for most of the night. There were drag queens everywhere. Some of whom were very convincing. Especially those with huge naked fake boobs on display. There were gay guys dressed as cats complete with cat eye lenses who weirdly seemed to be enjoying the female attention a little too much for gay men. There was a group of women with the best body paint ever. And then there was the tourists who had the staple men as women and women in wigs get up. The music was samba for most of the night with a live band but switched to dance later on. It was great fun, we danced and drank the most enormous rum and comes I've ever had. They do this weird thing in brazil where they measure the spirit and then they just keep pouring. I like to think I can drink but I had three of these and I was totally off my t*ts! I danced it off until about 4am when Tanith decided she wanted to go outside and listen to the band on the stage outside. I went with her and as soon as I was outside I realised how drunk I was so left her to it and went and found a lovely bit of pavement to sit down on. I'd danced and drunk too much and needed a rest! I got myself some vile chicken on a stick and then talked about how gross it was for about 30 minutes before we decided to get a cab and head home.
The following day everyone was shattered. I did vey little all day. We had a sunset boat ride at 4pm so we just had a lazy lunch and chilled at the hotel for most of the day. I really wasn't sure I was up for the boat ride but at 4pm we walked over to flamengo beach and picked up our boat. It was a really cute little boat and despite free cocktails was much more chilled than the party boat we went on on Paraty.
We sailed around the coast for a couple of hours just chilling out and enjoying final moments with some good friends. Team Japan did their best at making nearly everyone cry. They don't speak a lot of English but are an amazing couple and noriko had some lovely things to say to me before giving me a huge cuddle which made her ball her eyes out and then Hide came over all full of tears too. Very sad but also nice to know that they've enjoyed our company on this trip. They've definitely provided much entertainment (and tempura) for us.
After the boat trip I headed over to copacabana to have dinner with the girls. We went to a lovely Arabic restaurant and totally over ate for ages. This was supposed to be goodbye for the girls but we agreed to meet again for beach time the next day.
Most people were leaving the next morning as the rio tour had officially ended so I said a few sad goodbyes and got the hell out of the hotel and to the beach to avoid getting too upset. I had a nice chilled day relaxing on the beach with Claire, her posse, little Sarah and josh an Tim. We refused to say goodbye again and arranged to have one last night out just our group before we all left rio the next morning.
Sarah and I headed back to the hotel to have the pre departure meeting for the next leg of the trip which would take us through deepest darkest brazil to Salvador. We met the four new passengers and talked through what we'd be doing. Normally we'd have a welcome dinner but most people had agreed to be doing goodbye stuff so instead we went for giant gun and tonics before each going out own separate ways.
The final night in rio didn't exactly go to plan. We were all supposed to meet at the metro but the boys went to our normal meeting point instead and by the time we thought to check there they'd gone. We sat around in Clare's hostel having a few beers and hoping that the boys would get in touch, if only to say goodbye, but they'd assumed we'd blown them out and headed out alone. It was a bit of a sad way to end the trip as those lads had been a big part of the last leg and we'd wanted to say goodbye properly.
All that was left was to say goodbye to Clare who had been my tent and room buddy for 4.5 months and with whom I'd had a lot of fun. I know I'll see her again as she lives fairly close but it felt very odd leaving her behind as we'd done pretty much everything together until now.
When we got to the hotel neither Sarah or I wanted to go to bed. We sat up for a while reminiscing about all the good times we'd had before finally admitting that our time in rio had come to an end.
We got up early the next morning to see off jonny and Hannah the guides who'd been travelling withe since Cartagena and to load up Carmen one more time and head off out of the city for the next part of our adventure.....