rio de janiero
rio de janiero. home to awesome beaches, stuff-yourself steakhouses, and arguably the biggest party in the world…carnaval. we couldn’t believe we were kicking off our second-to-last chapter of pretirement with such a bang. not only that, we were going to experience carnaval the way locals do. nate’s friend vitor was gracious enough to let us join him and his brazilian crew for the celebration! and judging from their impeccably formatted emails and impressive spreadsheet of 400+ blocos (block parties), this definitely wasn’t their first rodeo.
so there we were, not so fresh off an overnight bus from sao paulo and ready to get the party started. we immediately hailed a taxi and went straight to vitor’s sister’s place to get ready. as soon as we arrived, vitor was there to greet us with breakfast on the table and costumes in hand. mind you, it was 6:30am – otherwise known as party time! alex and i changed into french men costumes and nate put on a shiny pair of muay thai boxing shorts. we headed over to another friend’s house, where we completed our looks with awesome mustaches and a beautifully done, authentic-looking black eye for nate. the best part was the handmade beer holder that doubled as a necklace, which we each wore. these guys were so prepared!
eventually the rest of the group arrived in the day’s costume theme – old people. everyone looked very much looked the part, down to the perfectly drawn wrinkles, granny stockings, and bent-over shuffle-walk. their costumes were a hit at the first bloco we went to, which eventually turned into a crazy parade. instead of an organized event with floats and people cheering from behind the barricades, imagine tens of thousands of people in ridiculous costumes, singing and dancing as they follow the live band down the avenue. try to picture various objects of varying sizes being carried along the way, from giant inflatable dolphins and metal bathtubs to a guy on a surfboard actually surfing the crowd. and of course, every hand to be seen doubled as a beer-holder. talk about getting a bit claustrophic! it was insane, but insanely fun.
it was also easy to get lost in this crazy sea of people, but thankfully vitor was carrying the “o balaco do baco” signpost high above everyone’s heads so people knew where the group was. it was also outfitted with a gopro to capture all the shenanigans. drinking beer continuously - while wonderful – also led to another party challenge, which was trying not to pee. trust me, this was one of those things you tried very hard to avoid, at least in the middle of the parties. one look or sniff around those port-o-potties had me dry-heaving in no time. over the course of two days, we made partying our full-time job. we went to five different blocos, ran into brazilians dressed as cheeseheads (i couldn’t believe it!), donned norwegian curling team costumes and sang the national anthem with actual norwegian tourists, snapped a pic with “michael jackson”, visited the famous colorful steps of escadaria selarón, and enjoyed a deliciously authentic brazilian meal at nova capela in lapa, a neighborhood known for its vibrant bohemian culture.
although we americans are infamously known to sprint when it comes to drinking, i’m proud to say we went in knowing that carnaval would be more like a marathon. what an unforgettably good time! there was, however, one moment that was hard to forget for other reasons. our last night in rio, we found ourselves in a particularly sketchy situation. nate, alex, and i decided to check out the scene at ipanema beach. we took a few beers and wandered over to people-watch and mingle with everyone, which turned out to be a large group of locals from the favelas (slums). this didn’t really deter us because it was ultimately a rather relaxed and fun crowd, and everyone was just having a good time. half an hour later though, as we were enjoying our drinks, i saw nate’s eyes go wide and heard him say, “run.” suddenly we were sprinting down the beach, following the locals who seemed just as terrified as i was. poor nate had a hurt knee, but even he was limping as fast as he could. while we can’t say for sure what happened, this type of scare isn’t as uncommon as one would hope. apparently, thieves sometimes work together to encircle an unsuspecting group of people, then pull out weapons and steal from the crowd. whatever it was, it was pretty unnerving, and afterwards we decided we’d had our fair share of beach gatherings and spent the rest of the evening down the road at a decidedly less scary street party.
when the sun rose on tuesday morning, alex and i were definitely ready to trade beer and hangovers for wine and a more laidback vibe in buenos aires. we were excited to “move” into our little apartment there for three weeks and immerse ourselves in the argentine city life. it would be the longest amount of time we’d have spent in any one place, and we were really looking forward to it!
// south america trip to date: 1 country, 2 cities, 2 flights, 1 bus