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Squeezin’ in a little pre-Carnival action

If you are ever in Rio and it’s the month before Carnival, then you’re in for an added bonus. You can have a mini Carnival experience by heading to any of the street parties or ‘blocos’ that happen in the weeks leading up to the main event.

What’s a bloco? Well, it’s best experienced, but in its simplest form, it’s a group of people getting together in the street. There’s music, usually a band, or a large group of drums & percussion, plenty of drinking and even more dancing. Bring costumes, smiles and a sense of fun and you’ll fit right in.

(The picture above is from my 2005 trip but it will give you the idea…)

Ask around when in Rio, the locals tend to have a pretty good idea of where and when the street parties are happening… The most famous one, and possibly the most debaucherous, is the ‘Banda de Ipanema’ which starts at the General Osorio park and then take over the streets of Ipanema.

Start drinking early, but pace yourself, as the truck with the huge speakers pumping out the tunes goes pretty slowly around the streets for four hours or more. First hour – drinking/dancing. Second hour – drinking/dancing. Third hour – flirting/drinking/dancing. And the fourth hour? Well it’s is best viewed in person…

Everyone wears a costume or ‘fantasia’ and you can buy pretty much anything you’d need on the streets, so take just some cash and not much else for a worry-free Carnival experience.

This time, I was wearing some shorts which were hanging quite loose on me, so I was glad for the belt I had on to keep them up. That was until I went to the bathroom and the belt buckle broke! (Of all the days…) So I raced around to all the shops in Ipanema, which were rapidly closing their doors before the street filled will revelers. I found myself a new belt, and was back on track for a pants-on bloco experience. 🙂 

Banda de Ipanema usually happens each Saturday in the month leading up to Carnival and starts around 4 or 5pm in the afternoon at the General Osorio park, just next to the metro stop. Follow the drum beat if you get lost or turn up late…



Just one of the myriad of floats appearing at Carnaval 2005!

Just one of the myriad of floats appearing at Carnaval 2005!

The number of foreigners exponentially exploded and the streets were overflowing with tourist shirts, cameras and different languages.

The frocks were out and about in the streets at the annual ‘Banda de Ipanema’.

Basically the idea is everyone gets behind a giant truck with speakers and dances around the streets for about 5 hours. It’s a great day out as everyone goes crazy with the costumes and is happy to enjoy themselves for the day.

The street parties or ‘Blocos’ each have a different flavour in the different suburbs around Rio. There’s always something happening somewhere so you can never be bored or sit still in this town during Carnaval!

I don’t know if you have ever seen pictures of the giant Carnaval parade, or Desfiles de Escolas de Sambas in Rio. All I can say is wow! Danny, Aija and I jumped onto a train on Monday night and walked down to the Sambodromo, the purpose-built Samba stadium designed by Oscar Niemeyer.

We had to hang out and look for scalpers on the night as we hadn’t bought tickets beforehand. Eventually we came across one that we felt might not be ripping us off by much and went to meet a friend of a friend with a suitcase full of tickets. But the uneasy feeling passed when the magnetic strip worked and we made it through the gates.

The parade begins at 9.00pm and usually finishes around 7.00 the next morning. Each group or ‘school’ of samba takes an hour and a quarter to get through and can have up to 8 floats of gigantic proportions and thousands of people in costume to dance and parade. There were 14 samba schools in the main parade over two nights. The floats were amazing, the dancing was intense and the atmosphere was juicy.

On the train ride home all I could think about was all the costume shops in Brazil, bereft of anything glittery or sparkly for the next three months!

Carnaval isn’t just a huge party. The Government in Rio use it to promote community spirit. Communities will decide to pay to set up a school of samba, and then pay to create floats and costumes and write a new song to march to. The Carnaval parade has a number of judges that look at things like harmony and quality of the dancing, the roles of the different people, the floats and a whole host of other aspects.

The winner of the parade gains a large sum of money from the Government to put towards their local community. This year saw the Beija-Flor school of samba win again. They’ve now won three years in a row.