THIS PLACE IS INSANE. That’s the only one word I can use to describe Rio that catches it all. It’s insanely beautiful — perfect white sand that goes on for miles, warm aquamarine water with strong rolling waves that you can and do stay in for hours. It’s insanely hot and humid (I’ve been averaging three showers a day since arriving in Brazil one week ago), with insanely beautiful bodies (I’m never eating again) and an insane energy on and off the beach that does not stop. And the people partying right now are the definition of insanity. They don’t stop. As it’s Carnival, undoubtedly Brazil’s biggest celebration, people stay on the beach long after sunset and throughout the night and party in the streets at all hours. We got off the plane in Rio last Friday to an airport that was approximately 675 degrees and teeming with people, and before I could complain, a girl behind a promotional stand handed me an icy can of some sort of alcohol and we were on our way. A second drink followed once we got into baggage claim. Our set-up here is perfect, right on Ipanema beach — Hotel Arpoador, the only place directly on the praia (one of the few Portuguese words I’ve learned). To our left is Copacabana beach and to our right, Leblon. The last three nights have been insane (that word again). I didn’t really understand what Carnival was, so this has been a learning experience. I can’t compare it to New Orleans for Mardi Gras because the celebration runs throughout the entire city as opposed to a few streets, no one is showing their rack for beads and it is just a complete shitshow, because there’s NO GETTING AWAY FROM IT. Blocos, or block parties, are the big thing, and every neighborhood has them. People gather at one place and move together to the next, singing along with bands that are leading the way.There are an estimated 450 blocos in the city from Friday to Fat Tuesday, and while I’m told there are smaller, more intimate ones up north, with only about 500-1000 people in attendance, the ones we have seen and taken part in are enormous. We went to one yesterday, Simpatia e Quase Amor, with more than 10,000 bodies, joined in the procession, followed the people which are a mix of cariocas and tourists, sweated our asses off and drank beer bought from the street vendors. Anthony found a guy selling tequila and we did shots just before getting crushed by the masses. I went from fearing for my life — I seriously thought at one point that I was going to be trampled by men dressed as Tinkerbell and Snow White — to laughing my ass off as we danced around to brazilian music and Anthony cooled off with a bag of ice lent by another partier on the street. Last night, the skies opened up and it poured — POURED. The rain cooled off the city, but it also made an already hard-to-navigate area even more difficult: no open cabs, mobbed streets and the buses and trains overrun with people. After mucho jaleo, as my mother would say, we finally got to the Sambadrome, an open-air stadium built just for Carnival where the city’s samba schools compete and 90,000 people come to watch it happen. It’s in the form of an all-night parade — it starts around 10pm, there are 6 schools and each school gets one hour to show their stuff. The crowd sings along to the same song that repeats over and over again for 60 minutes (I still can’t get the last tune out of my head) and cheers for their favorites. It’s a 2-night deal, so the whole thing happens again tonight with 6 other schools, then the winner of those 12 is announced and wins a lifetime supply of samba music (I actually have no idea what the winner gets). I pictured a parade along the lines of my high school or college Homecomings, and as per usual, I was completely wrong. Naked dancers, people hanging upside-down and strapped into what looked like amusement park rides on a float and constant fireworks were among the ooooh and ahhhh things we saw. The rain did zero to dampen the spirits of the masses. The people were so happy and just wanted to celebrate. We were soaked before we even got there, got lost just trying to get in and a generous cop left his post on the highway where we had wandered (don’t ask) and walked us what felt like a mile to our entrance. Anthony got shocked along the way – the Olympic committee is going to have to address the exposed wires in the rain business before 2016 – and I’m pretty sure we stepped in sewer water in the alleys behind the stadium. Multiple times. But we finally arrived. And it was a grand spectacle, like watching a gigantic moving circus set to samba music. It was worth all of the headache to get there. Afterwards we took the subway back to our hotel and talked to some Aussies on the way. They were the SECOND and THIRD couples we’ve met in one week who have done or are doing the same thing we are – quit their jobs and traveling around the world. I can’t believe it. It makes me think we’re not so crazy after all. We’ve picked up some good ideas from the people we’ve met for places to go next – we leave Rio on Thursday – and will deal with that in a bit. For now, we’re heading downstairs for complimentary foot massages from our hotel. Should help prepare us for whatever insanity is in store tonight….
Where we are staying in Rio:
Arpoador Hotel, on Ipanema Beach