Journal 22 - March 13, 2003

Carnival » Go Back

Journal 22
I had heard for months, but I couldn't help having my doubts while I remained in Argentina. I just couldn't believe the women could get any more beautiful. Enter Florianopolis, Brazil, a reputed Mecca for Brazil's most beautiful people. After a 27-hour bus ride from Buenos Aires to Florianopolis, Cory picked me up and gave me the best introduction to Brazil a guy could ask for. Straight from the bus station to Praia Mole, one of the best of Florianopolis' 42 beaches.

During the ride from Buenos Aires out of Argentina, through Uruguay, then into Brazil, the change in scenery and flora was slow but steady. For hours we drove through and out of Argentina's endless grasslands as the temperature and humidity rose. Night fell, and when I woke up the lush scenery had changed from grasslands to tropical forests. The high temperatures and humidity here are very conducive to beach life, which is a big part of what Brazil is all about. With roughly four thousand miles of coastline, Brazil has thousands of beaches, some of which are among the most beautiful in the world.

Florianopolis is an island located just off the coast of southern Brazil; it's connected to the mainland by bridge and is a famous vacation spot for Brazilians. It's a notorious destination for some of the country's most beautiful people. Lush and tropical, Florianopolis is a Hawaii-like island that lives and breaths beaches. The question is not whether you're going to the beach on a given day, but which beach you're going to. More than a hobby, it's a way of life, and it shows. The people take great care of their bodies with a variety of sports from surfing, running, yoga, cycling, wind-surfing, kite-surfing, fresco-ball and others.

Although not known for its Carnival celebration like the cities of the north, Florianopolis still attracts tens of thousands of vacationing Brazilians to celebrate the world's biggest party, many of whom come to escape the madness of Rio de Janeiro or Sao Paulo. Sitting on the beach among the vacationing Brazilians I felt as if I was in the middle of a REEF sandal add, there were incredible views in every direction, some of the best I've ever seen. And there's a reason they have a wax-job named after them, the bikinis here are hardly more than patches of cloth held together by tiny strands of string.

From what I've heard the Carnival celebration in Florianopolis was relatively tame compared to the parties in the north, but that didn't stop people from dancing all night in the streets as the samba schools paraded around and filled the air with the sound of tamborim drums. The celebration in Logoa, Cory's neighborhood in Florianopolis, was enough of a party to keep us from venturing out to other parts of the island, which meant we didn't see the traditional Carnival parade downtown. But even the relatively tame party of Logoa meant we got very little sleep during the five days of celebration, often staying out until dawn or later, bringing in the new day as we danced away the previous one.

The Carnival celebration in Logoa included a bandstand, marching samba school, and hundreds of revelers in the streets, enough of a taste of Carnival to make me want to see the real thing up in Rio. Each day we went to the beach for hours, sat in the sun, swam, played fresco-ball, then went home to shower and make plans for the evening. Often we started off by visiting Uyuni, a restaurant owned by a friend of Cory's, it's named after the Bolivian salt flat prominently pictured on my web site, and has many beautiful pictures from the majestic Bolivian tourist destination. From Uyuni we'd go out and walk around Logoa, go to a disco, or make attempts to visit any one of a variety of festivities on the island. A few times we didn't make it out however, just danced ourselves to exhaustion on the beaches after a full day of sun, then went home to rest up for the next day's party.

After the end of Carnival in Florianopolis on Wednesday, I had been ravaged by Carnival fever. On television and in the newspapers I kept seeing highlights from the grand parades going on in Rio and Sao Paulo. Being in Brazil as a tourist and not seeing part of the parade in Rio seemed blasphemous to me, so I booked a ticket north to see the winner's parade, an incredible display of the best samba schools from Rio's Carnival. My friend Lilah and I bussed to Rio and arrived in time to get a hostel and buy tickets with a bunch of other gringos eager to see the spectacle. Fortunately we waited until the last minute to buy our tickets, each hour we did the price dropped dramatically. From a hundred REALS when we arrived, to sixteen REALS before we left, the price drop meant we could afford the good tickets, so we splurged on the fifty REAL tickets for some of the best seats available.

The winner's parade takes place the first Saturday after Carnival is complete. It's comprised of the six best samba schools from Rio's five-day celebration. Each night during Carnival approximately half a dozen samba schools parade down the middle of Samba Stadium, a special viewing stadium in downtown Rio. Throughout the course of Carnival, the schools are judged and six winners chosen to march in the parade on Saturday. Starting with the sixth place school and counting down, the show is progressively more spectacular as the night fades to morning. Each samba school includes a few hundred dancers, marchers, a huge percussion section, and elaborate floats where some of the best and most beautiful samba dancers strut their stuff. Although not as wild as the rest of the Carnival celebration, the winner's parade included a full array of the best sites of the carnal revelry. Each school is given an hour and twenty minutes to march through the stadium, which makes for a long and exhausting parade if you do the math. It started at 9:00 p.m. and ended the next morning at 6:00, an amazing show.

The costumes and floats were more elaborate and sexy than anything I've ever seen, like the Rose Parade on ecstasy. Awesome floats with huge extensions and stages where dozens of samba dancers danced with costumes that were elegant, magnificent, and seemed to have an inverse relationship to the massive size of the floats. The elaborate costumes included elegant head dresses of feathers, sparkling stones and gold, tiny jewel imbedded bikinis, body paint, and sometimes nothing at all. This while the dancers shook and sambaed to the intense beat of the drums until their bodies were glazed with perspiration. For hours the celebration beat the rhythm into our bodies, even the most tired of revelers couldn't resist the sound of the drums as the percussion sections marched by. The loud, frantic, high pitch of the Brazilian tamborim drums during the Carnival celebration is an intoxicating beat that compels even the whitest of men to dance, or at least tap a toe, leg, or shake his white noggin. The parade ended as dawn approached and the music faded. The other gringos and I found a taxi and headed for the hostel, weary after days of celebration and weeks of travel to get to Carnival.

Arriving back at the hostel I tried to get some sleep as the sun and temperature began to rise, the fans whirred, and the neighborhood children began playing in the park across the street. Most people in the hostel slept until early afternoon attempting to recover from the evening's festivities, and movie theatres were packed that night as the most people could manage is to drag themselves to the air-conditioned comfort of a theater.

Since Sunday I've done very little but sleep and recover. For over two months Carnival dictated my travels and itinerary. Now it's time to catch my breath, rest up as I pass the half way point of my trip, and think about the next several months of travel. Where, when, and why will be common words included in my thoughts over the next few days. As usual the answers to those questions will be well documented in my wordy emails.

When I first arrived I didn't want to like Brazil, as if it would be unfaithful to my beloved Argentina, but less than a week after arriving I found myself really liking it here, of course an introduction that included Florianopolis and Carnival didn't hurt. I really didn't want to like it because I enjoyed Argentina very much, but here I am wanting to attend the local Portuguese language school and stick around for a while. I'm about ready to get a Renaldo haircut, start playing soccer and swear allegiance to Brazil forever. At least those are my thoughts today. Tomorrow will be another story.