|Photo by Freeimages.com/janne andersson|
by Donna Bowater and Rio de Janeiro, The Daily Telegraph, January 26, 2015
While Rio de Janeiro ’s annual samba parade might be the most iconic Carnival celebration in the world, the real festivities begin on the street.
With more than 500 parties taking place across the city before and after Carnival weekend (February 5-8), the merriment - or folia - will bring Rio to a standstill. So how do you make the most of it?
What are blocos?
Blocos, sometimes called bandas, are the free street parties that take place around Carnival throughout the city. They are centered on a band, which either parades a pre-determined route through the streets on a sound truck, or remains at a fixed location.
They vary in all aspects, from drawing a few hundred spectators to a million, from 7am starts to sunset parties weaving along Ipanema beach. Some are associated with a neighbourhood restaurant or bar, others with a celebrity or a district. Many have a revered history based on traditional samba, while the more recent blocos have been inspired by more contemporary music like the Beatles-themed Bloco do Sargento Pimenta or the New Kids on the Bloco.
The essence of street carnival is all about free-spirited revelry: many blocos’ names are jokes or puns, such as Se Não Quiser Me Dar, Me Empresta (“If You Don’t Want To Give It To Me, Lend It To Me”), Parei de Beber, Não de Mentir (“I Stopped Drinking, Not Lying”) and Deita Mas Não Dorme (“Lie Down But Don’t Sleep”).
Carnival fashion is just as creative: men dress in drag, women dress as animals and even dogs are adorned with flowers. The unofficial opening of the street carnival happened on January 3 and the last bloco will take place on February 14, with most parties clustered around weekends, so bring plenty of stamina.
What can I expect?
Each bloco will have a starting point and time when people will gather before parading through the streets. Fancy dress is optional – but most people will turn up with at least a flower garland or headband, a wacky hat, wig or painted face. Beer is free-flowing – even at the Céu na Terra bloco, which starts at dawn in the hillside neighbourhood of Santa Teresa and typically attracts more than 5,000 people. Be prepared to get swept up in undulating crowds as hundreds or thousands follow and dance to the intoxicating drumbeat under a pulsing sun.
How do I choose which ones to go to?
Blocos are organized by neighbourhood so it is easy to stumble across parties close towherever you stay in Rio. The sound is unmistakable as the samba rhythms blast out throughout the streets, and you can simply just tag along, following the music.
However, with so many blocos taking place every day, it is also worth checking out the full list if you want to plan your carnival. Among the biggest are: Cordão da Bola Preta in downtown (January 31), Monobloco in Centro (February 14), Sargento Pimenta in Aterro do Flamengo (February 8) and Afroreggae in Centro (February 8). Some of the more traditional blocos include the Carmelitas in Santa Teresa (February 5) and Bloco do Barbas in Botafogo (February 6). You can also look out for smaller blocos if you want to avoid really crowded ones, and there are also children’s blocos that take place during the day.
Some favelas - or shanty communities - have their own blocos as well, including Rocinha, Rio's biggest favela. If entering a favela, it is worth talking to local contacts and seeking advice on the current safety situation, which varies from favela to favela.
What should I wear?
Closed shoes are recommended, as the streets get dirty quickly with so many people drinking and dancing, and comfortable clothes as summer temperatures can reach 30-35C. But during carnival, anything goes so dress up as much – or as little - as you want. Costumes and accessories are on sale almost everywhere during carnival, and most blocos sell T-shirts.
What should I be aware of?
Pickpocketing is common during carnival, so keep money, cameras and phones close and hidden. Keep hydrated, wear sunscreen, and make use of bathrooms where you can – there’s a fine of R$510 (£87) for relieving yourself in the street. Some blocos have water cannons so take care to keep valuables dry.
How do I see the best of the main carnival action?
For those still wanting to catch the main parade at the Sambodromo, Rio Carnival ( rio-carnival.net ) is a reliable and secure ticket seller, prices range from £31 to £681 depending on the grandstand and the type of ticket. Tickets are selling quickly and if you miss the main parade, the six top samba schools will perform in a champions’ parade the following weekend (February 13).
Be prepared to pay a premium for a taxi if you don’t go by public transport, and the Sambodromo is uncovered so take a mac in case of rain. For those who arrive early for Carnival, you can catch rehearsals at the Sambodromo, which are free. Happy Carnival!
This article was written by Donna Bowater and RIO DE JANEIRO from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.