Carnival!!! This week has been all about partying Brazilian style. Luckily for us we started off in Sao Paulo where we stayed with Juliana, an old Rabo colleague of ours, and she showed us how it’s done. We arrived in Sao Paulo on Friday afternoon and headed straight to Juliana’s apartment in Jardim Paulista where she surprised us by not leaving the key for us but by leaving work early to meet us. Her apartment is well positioned with a great view of the city skyline. After getting settled and catching up we decided to head out for a look around.
We walked to Parque Ibirapuera and then made our way around the park, doing a lap of the big lake. I was really surprised with how many people were out considering it was around 2pm on Friday but Juliana explained that most people leave work around lunchtime in preparation for the Carnival long weekend. We checked out some street art and stopped for fresh coconut water from one of the cart vendors. I was very surprised by the park because it reminded us of Centennial Park back in Sydney and I guess I wasn’t expecting Sao Paulo to have a nice oasis like that. It was hot though, around 35 degrees, so eventually we decided to make our way back. As we were leaving the park the sky turned very dark which raised a few eyebrows since none of us had umbrellas. Then Juliana’s mum called her saying that she heard about a big storm that was about to hit Sao Paulo. This presented a dilemma… we had enough time to reach the apartment before the storm hit but then we’d be stuck at home with no beer, or we could go buy beer but then risk getting wet. Well we took the gamble and went for the latter option. About 300m from the apartment it started to bucket down hard. We sought refuge under a pharmacy front awning but eventually had to move into the store as it continued to worsen. After 20 minutes I felt guilty and decided to buy some deodorant as way of thanking the pharmacy for not booting us out. Eventually the rain eased so we decided to make the dash. After about 100m it started to pour again so we ran for it. We arrived back soaking wet, but our reward was a case of Heinekens. It was totally worth it and we did have a good laugh about it.
With the continuing rain we decided to head to a bar for a quiet dinner. We went to a place called Mirante which is situated above the entrance to a road tunnel that goes through a hill and below a highway ramp. Sounds awkward but it created a cool spot for this little artsy place. The rain stopped so we decided to go for a wander to see some sights but we just happened to stumble across a block party. This was a fantastic introduction to Carnival because it gave us a taste of what was to come over the next few days. The way a block party works is a section of street is closed off to cars and then it’s packed with pedestrians ready to party. A vehicle or cart is loaded up with speakers playing music and then there are some drummers and dancers that walk in front. The procession then very slowly makes its way down the road while everyone parties around it. The best part is that there are vendors with foam coolers on wheels selling beers and drinks that follow as well, so you never have to leave the dancefloor to go get drinks. There are also vendors carrying portable grills cooking meat skewers but I wasn’t brave enough to try that. We all really enjoyed that first night and that was just a warm up.
The next morning we had a slow start (surprise surprise) so we went out for a late breakfast and relaxed. One of Juliana’s friends, Wendell, came and joined us for another block party. He educated us on how Brazilian people do it. He had a small beach bag with drinks and a mug with a wrist strap to make sure he didn’t lose it. We arrived a little early so we headed a few streets over and found a little pre-party to keep us entertained. Some of the costumes that people wore were hilarious and they were definitely more comical than fancy. We came unprepared but Juliana sorted us out with some headwear to make sure we fit in. On the way from the pre-party to the block party we stopped in at a liquor store and bought some Catuaba which is a cheap Brazilian drink. The strategy was to get something cool and refreshing that doesn’t make you need to go to the bathroom. They put porta-loo stations along the route but we discovered that they get super crowded. Having a local guide definitely saved us from making some rookie errors. The block party was an all afternoon affair and after we had dinner we were all ready for home.
Sunday morning was again slow but we caught the bus into town for a walk around the city centre. Being a Sunday most places were closed with their graffiti covered rollershutters down, but we did find a nice place called Esther Rooftop Bar which was nice for a cocktail and a look at the view. From here we walked to an expressway which is closed to cars on Sundays and we walked a section of it, looking at some of the buildings with murals painted on them. It was a great idea because it gave a better perspective to look at the buildings and not having to watch out for traffic. After this we stumbled across a block party that specialised in rock music so Matt and I loved that. We stayed for a while and then headed to a nearby park for a Jamaican group that were playing. Just before their start time it started to pour with rain and everybody swarmed to seek shelter under a bridge. It was very crowded and very hectic but we made it without getting trampled. The only problem was while we were making our way I could feel pulling on my shorts. I quickly checked my wallet which was in a buttoned pocket and it was ok but one button was undone. I checked my other buttoned pocket but it was open… my phone was gone. I looked around but quickly realised there was no point. There was a silver-lining though… the visit to the police station was quite funny because the two officers obviously don’t see many tourists so they were very entertained by us. Oh and we were then close to this great Japanese restaurant.
I’ll admit that I’m a bit of a worrywart when it comes to this sort of thing. That night I hardly slept a wink as I was going over all possible risks with programs, passwords etc on my phone. We’ll make a claim on travel insurance but it’s just the inconvenience of it all. I had everything on my phone and it was setup the way I like it. Oh well, it’s gone now. I have a cheap replacement that’ll do the trick.
The next morning we had an early bus ride to Rio which meant we were out the door at 6:30am. As soon as we boarded the bus I had the travel pillow out, the ear plugs in and the face mask on ready to catch up on some sleep. I was already behind on sleep and we were going to Rio Carnival that night which starts at 10am and finishes around 7am. I managed about 3 hours which was good and I woke up just in time to watch us drive into Rio.
Our AirBnB apartment was in party town Lapa which was handy as it was so close to the Carnival ticket collection point. It was also close to the Sambadrome which is where the Carnival parade is held. We arrived at 8pm to secure a good seat in our section and then waited it out. It’s one of the only events I’ve been to that you can BYO alcohol so we packed some Catuaba to fit in with the Brazilians. The parade really was overwhelming. The elaborate costumes, the gigantic floats and the number of performers was staggering. It definitely exceeded my expectations. There was an issue with one of the floats where a top section collapsed and 13 performers were hospitalised but the show continued without too much delay. We lasted until 3:30am but then we ran out of energy and we left for sleep.
The next day we indulged in a huge sleep in and decided to have a late lunch that would also double as dinner. We went to a very local restaurant where we got the mixed churrasco platter for three. We tried our best but we couldn’t quite finish it but I’ll blame Matt for that one – he didn’t eat his third. With very full bellies we headed to Sugarloaf Mountain to go up on the gondola to watch sunset. The view from the top was spectacular as you look out across the harbour and the vast mountains that Rio is based around. The city, the beaches and Christ the Redeemer are all on show from the lookout with sunset as the backdrop.
It had been a while since our last beach day so we headed to Copacabana the next day to check it out. I guess it kind of met our expectations of an overcrowded tourist beach that’s nice to look at, but isn’t the best on offer. Luckily Juliana gave us the hot tip of heading to Ipanema Beach which is the next beach around. It was still busy but much nicer to swim in. We even indulged in some Caipirinhas on the beach to make our time in the sun even more enjoyable. Sunset from the headland provided some photo snapping opportunities for Anna.
Part of the tourist circuit in Rio is a trip up Christ the Redeemer on the cog railway which climbs the steep mountain to the top. It was a great journey that provides excellent views on the way up as the train slowly claws its way up some steep mountain sections. Once up the top you realise why this location was chosen for the statue – it’s the highest point that’s smack in the middle of the city. Of course there were people everywhere and they’re all trying to get their perfect selfie which makes it difficult to get around to take regular pictures, but that seems to be everywhere in South America. We checked him out from all angles and were quite impressed considering he’s almost 100 feet tall and was built in 1931. We sat down at the cafe and enjoyed the view for a while before heading back down.
It was 35 degrees and it felt even hotter in the sun so we decided to head to RioSul which is Rio’s largest shopping centre for some air conditioning, lunch and to buy a replacement phone. After a couple of hours we braved the heat again and went to Santa Teresa which is a funky little suburb up on the hill which has large ageing mansions and a street car service. There’s a park that includes the ruins of a grand mansion and they have platforms and staircases that allow you climb up to the top floor to see the wonderful views that the home had. Then we headed to Escadaria Selaron which is a staircase that is decorated in bright colourful tiles. It’s a simple concept and one that should be replicated in other cities around the world.
That’s the end of our Brazilian visit. Next up is Buenos Aires and then some further exploration of Argentina.
Anna has published our latest monthly video. Click here to check it out.
Fail of the Week
Well the biggest fail was having my phone stolen. I should’ve known in the crazy packed crowd to hold onto my pockets and not let go. Luckily the wallet didn’t go as well though.
Meal of the Week
After the police station we went to Temakeria e Cia which is a Japanese restaurant that specialises in cone shape sushi rolls. All the food was great and we really enjoyed the change in cuisine.