The next day we had plans to meet up with Katelynn and Scott, the Canadian couple I had met on the Sugar Loaf tour in Rio. They had rented an apartment in the Barra district for 10 days and invited us to dinner and pre-drinks at their place before the parade. We were in charge of caipirinhas and beer while they provided the dinner (although we definitely got the better end of the deal considering booze was cheap and the meal they made us was out of this WORLD).
Google map said it was 5.2 km from our place to theirs. 1 hour 6 min walk, or a 20ish min cab ride. So we grabbed a cab at 6:30, and figured we’d be early for our 7:00 meet time. Then we hit Carnaval traffic… An HOUR and TEN minutes later we were dropped off on a street NEAR their place. It then took us a lot longer to find their unlabelled “Palmieras” street, which made us over an hour late to their place. Fail.
Their apartment was wonderful: a big kitchen, two bedrooms, two bathrooms and an adorable living room. Music was already on, hor’deurves of meat and smoked cheeses were on the table, food was in the oven and icy beers were cracked. We caught up on our trips and adventures and made the most wonderful caipirinhas throughout the evening (To see how to make perfect Caipirinha’s, check out Scott and Caitlin’s “how to” video blog). For dinner they had made an extravagant Brazilian meal: marinated beef with lots of vegetables, fried potato wedges (actually some special Brazilian potato that I can’t remember the name of), cooked beats, and a homemade salad with loads of cilantro. It was UNREAL. Scott is an excellent cook, and he and Katelynn obviously love to entertain. Which worked perfectly, because Adam and I loved every bit of it!
Once dinner was over, it was time for the parade! Carnaval Salvador is very different from Rio. Rio is about the spectacle, the performance, the elaborate outfits and lavish floats. Salvador is about the dancing, the music and the party. Where in Rio people party in the blocos or pay money to sit in the Sambadrome, in Salvador the party IS the parade. It’s the “crazy” Carnaval, as people here have been referring to it. It’s considered THE largest street party ON EARTH, and even after Stampede in Calgary, Full Moon in Thailand, Oktoberfest in Munich, Guinness’s 250’s Birthday in Dublin and every other crazy festival I’ve been to over the years, I wasn’t prepared for Salvador. Yet, it lived up to every one of my expectations!
There are approximately 5 million partying for Carnaval in the city. That is twice the size of Salvador’s usual 2.5 million people. The Barra district holds the larger of the two parades in the city. It starts from the lighthouse and stretches for kilometers along the main drag right along the water. The four of us came around the corner from the apartment and faced MAYHEM. Millions of people, in a crowd tighter than the craziest moshpit, filled the street and sidewalk; bodies took up every inch of space. Massive trucks with bands playing on top of them and people dancing, slowly inched down the road in procession. Speakers on all sides of the trucks were massive 10ft amps or sub woofers that blasted deafening music out to the crowd.
Each float had a specific t-shirt that you could buy and subsequently be allowed within the roped off section. Around each float they had probably 50 or 60 people who’s job was to hold a rope to section off a “safer” place to dance. The four of us were not, by any means, limiting ourselves to a single float. We danced along with the crowds, imitating their moves, or making up our own, until we got bored, then we ran ahead to the next float and started again. Let me tell you, Brazilians can DANCE! Even the performers had dancers that could shake their ass for hours without tiring. At one point we even grabbed two random girls and made them teach us how to dance like the locals. I’m not sure we got it in the end, but they laughed and gave us the thumbs up that we were making progress. As Katelynn pointed out, it takes a lot of practice to dance AND move forward at the same time; of course, she is a dancer and got it perfectly, but for us more challenged folk, it took a lot of focus and a lot more beers to get the rhythm.
We moved along through the floats all through the night dancing to music. On one side of the street there were stands high above the ground. These were boxes for the VIP’s that paid money to drink for free and watch the performers from eye-level. We made it our mission to be at eye-level as well, so on one of the floats, Scott bribed a security guard with a beer who then let me climb up the ladder on the side of the truck. I got to the top of the float and overlooked the hoards of people below. Millions stretched for as far as you could see. I danced up a storm with some random girl next to me then eventually turned and saw another security guard with his arms crossed, shaking his head at me. Busted. I laughed sheepishly and he smiled before taking me down the stairs and booting me out of the side of the float. I didn’t care: MISSION COMPLETE! I partied on top of a float at Carnival! Bucket list, check! And we all cheered about it before running down to the next float.
The place was madness. Men and women held large Styrofoam coolers full of beer: 3 or 4 beers for 5reais ($2.50). Street meat was sold for pennies, and food was everywhere you turned. Shaking empty beer cans with the tabs rattling inside meant beer girls were near to sell Skol, Brahma or Shin. People, men mostly, avoided the wretched port-o-potties and peed in the streets. The place was smelly, overwhelming, crazy and wonderful all at the same time! There’s really no other way to describe it.
When we finally got tired, we realized we had danced the entire length of the parade. We fought back against the crowd for about an hour before reaching the apartment. It was 6AM. Oh my God! The party outside was still in full force and it was 6AM! Adam and I crashed at the apartment, not having the strength to make it home, and I didn’t move until 10:00AM when I was woken by a party upstairs. By 1:00 that afternoon we were ready to face the world again. We decided to head to the beach and check out the surf; a quiet activity for the daytime. However, when we got down to the main road by the beach, what did we find? The parade!!! It absolutely NEVER stops! I had heard that the parade went from 5pm to 5am (which is crazy enough), but no! It goes from 5pm to 5am then continues from 5am to 5pm again: 24 hours a day, for the entire week. And people were dancing, and drinking and crowded together, singing to the music just like the night before. So we joined them…
At one point we walked by a float that was so loud I thought my head was going to explode. The bass was beyond anything I’ve ever witnessed. My chest was vibrating so much I could hardly breathe. Adam held up his water bottle and it was like the scene in Jurrasic Park where the water vibrated on the dashboard… Except to the equivalent of 100 T-Rex’s. I don’t know how people don’t go deaf during this week long event!
We kept walking until we found the beginning of the parade at Campo Grande. The people were in full party mode, and we joined them with eager enthusiasm. We stood on the sidewalk and danced with the performers as the parade crawled along. Then it began to rain, and the people embraced it. We all danced harder as the rain poured down and soaked us all. It cooled everyone off from the heat of the day and refreshed our tired bodies. We danced in the raid with 10s of thousands of people until all of a sudden it was 6:30 again. We all hit a wall at the same time. Standing alone was an impossible task. We walked back to the apartment and then Adam and I cabbed back to our favela. Definitely called it an early night.
Monday was our last day in Salvador. Not quite sure how four days had passed so quickly, but there we were. We decided to take it easy; we flew out at half past midnight and had already arranged for transportation that evening. We agreed that our last day we would take some photos, as we hadn’t dared take our cameras with us any other day (sorry about the lack of photo evidence from this part of the trip), spend some time at our favourite Internet cafe and then end our trip with a fancy seafood dinner: the prawns in Salvador are supposed to be second to none. And we did do that… for a while.
We walked the Pelo district for a while and checked out a wonderful craft market at the bottom of the elevator. We took a mid afternoon break and shared a snack and beer on the patio of a restaurant overlooking the ocean, and then set up camp in an Internet cafe. We both sipped on coffee; Adam wrote emails and caught up on the financial news in the world while I discovered my newfound love for the game “Animals vs. Zombies” on my iPod.
But then, the parade went by. That irresistible samba music and rhythmic drumming floated past us: the dancing and singing throng of people that you can’t help but join. We grabbed a beer each and watched. Then we started dancing on the spot. Then we saw a truck that played music we liked and chased it down. Before we knew it, it was dinner time and we were 4kms from our restaurant. We had bought one too many Brahmas, and Adam had been propositioned by several too many cross-dressing men. All in all, it was time to go. We pushed through the crowds, dancing all the while, and made it back the Pelorinho in record time.
We then sat down to the best seafood dinner I have had in a long time! Yes, this is another lengthy description of delicious food. We started with a baguette of garlic bread and a surprisingly tasty Chardonnay. We then ordered the “tropical style” prawns, which were prawns cooked in a pineapple cream sauce, inside a hollowed out pineapple half. A delicious white cheese was broiled on top, and then sliced tomatoes on top of that. It was served with a side of yellow curried rice with chunks of pineapple in it. It was absolutely to die for! Afterwards, we had a light chocolate mousse and little coconut cakes for dessert. I promise you we don’t spoil ourselves often with dinners out (I have 400 stale/eaten sandwiches that can attest to that) but when we do, it’s awesome!
After dinner we rounded up, caught our flight and got into Salvador at 2am local time (3am ours). We had finally made it to the mouth of the mighty Amazon!!!