I feel like there are two sides of Carnaval and to be honest I only experienced one of them. There's the grand Sambradrome parade with its beautiful costumes and elaborate floats and the Champions League, which was highly recommended. I did not look into tickets because it was expensive and it wouldn't be fun without Hub. He ditched me for the UK, but in his defense he was breaking the World Record for the largest Samba band.
The other side of Carnaval are the street parties, aka blocos, that take place all over the city. They are organized by bands with occasional themes like Mustache Parade or Smurfs. Most of our friends skipped town for Carnaval, as do most Cariocas I'm told, but I did manage to find some friends willing to venture out. The blocos reminded me a lot of the Notting Hill Carnival in London, but with crowds of exceedingly drunk people and many of them really young.
So it's a parade of people trailing a moving samba band that plays one tune. That's right, the band plays one song over and over again until you can memorize it. And to be frank it's not my kind of music. It's loud and tiresome, not romantic and soulful like Jorge Ben, which is what I was hoping for. Here's a sample of the music from a pre-Carnaval party Hub and I went to. We also captured a close up of the famous Samba footwork. Pardon the up-close booty shot.
We pretty much stayed locally in Ipanema and Leblon, where I was staying. I was kicked out of my flat, so I crashed with friends in the ritzy part of town. I had heard great reviews about blocos in other neighborhoods, but it was a hassle to get to them. Everyone recommended the Santa Teresa bloco which had the best costumes, but you had to get there by 7am. Otherwise it would be too crowded to get in and I wondered how good can this block party be? I don't like being squished and I don't like getting up at 5:30am for anything. I wanted to check out Bloco do Sargento Pimenta, yes sir Beatles songs, but it was in Flamengo. This neighborhood isn't far, just a 20 minute bus ride away, but during Carnaval it's impossible to get on a bus or find a taxi at night. On a few occasions I had to walk home late at night, which really sucked. Luckily I got home safe every time, but let me tell you that Carnaval is not safe.
All my friends warned me of the dangers lurking in blocos and they told me to not take a purse, my phone or camera, to take only a little bit of money and to keep it in my bra. The blocos get so crowded, it's hard to avoid the thieves wondering about. My friend Shanna's purse was sliced open once and she didn't realize it had happened until much later. How scary is that? The thing that's so unnerving is that people get robbed at knife or gun point here. I felt really unsafe over Carnaval and the real kicker was actually watching a sketch guy reach for his hidden knife.
I do feel like I missed out on some great party happening somewhere with good music and good people, similar to my experience at Pedra do Sal. However, overall the festival felt like one big college party and I would have enjoyed it if I was single, in my early 20s, and with my single girl party posse. But I no longer feel flattered when men persistently hit on me, I only feel annoyed and longing for my husband. Perhaps next year will be better, maybe it was just not my year for Carnaval.