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…
Brazilians are really into their black and white rocks… Many of the cities have ornate sidewalks which must take days to create out of small pieces of colored rock.
In Rio, two designs in particular mark the calçadãoes (sidewalk promenades) of its most famous beaches, Copacabana and Ipanema. The designs have been adopted with a sense of pride and place by its inhabitants, and have come to symbolize the spirit of the beachside communities.
For Rio, beach life is kind of like Australia’s cafes… People meet here to chat, drink and share lifes moments together.
It’s sometimes hard to know where to meet amongst the crowds, but everyones so easygoing that it doesnt matter if you don’t end up finding them!
My advice for a great day on the beach in Rio…
– Choose a ‘barraca’ or serviced tent and grab a chair and umbrella. It’s a good idea if you plan to stay there a while.
– Tents are the best way to find someone as well. Let your friends know which tent you plan on staying in front of and it makes it a little easier to find you.
– Take only what you need for a great day at the beach. Sunscreen, sarong, some money, a book. Everything else you can get there and ask someone to mind your stuff while you take a dip. It’s common practice…
– Forget the boardshorts. The speedo or square ‘sunga’ is the way to go here…
– Try the foods on offer. Queijo coalho (haloumi like cheese) and açai are my favorites. Oh and agua de coco, the coconut water!
– You can almost buy ANYTHING on the beach in Rio. I’ve seen people selling carpet, no joke…
Rio has changed so much in the past six years since I was the Boy from Ipanema… And it’s a change for the better!
The city is far safer (in most of the tourist spots) than it was during my last visit. Which means that all there is for you to do is enjoy the marvelous life that the ‘cidade maravilhoso’ has to offer.
My first day I spent connecting with all the places I had missed so much… Ipanema, my old apartment, my favorite cafe, and of course having an açai with banana by the beach!
No matter how prepared you are, the first time you go to the beaches here, you always feel like a complete foreigner… But the feeling passes overnight and then you can just relax and enjoy this stretch of paradise.
Cariocas, Rio’s locals, can be profoundly annoying to tie down to times, as a general rule, but once you accept this and move on, you’ll find the other Carioca characteristics that make them so charming. Wide smiles, good humoured, friendly and always with their finely tuned bodies on display, the Cariocas are excellent at making tourists feel welcome.
And just when you think that nothing else can go wrong I get mugged again. This time it was only for money in the street no drugs or chewing gums. But it was more of the timing that was annoying. I was still waiting for my replacement Visa card from the last robbery, leaving my apartment the next day, and down to my last $150 in cash. I had transferred some money through to my emergency card but it takes up to 72 hours to arrive here in Brazil.
The irony was that I was walking down the street at night to give away my pillows and sheets and sleeping mat to the people who were living on the street. For some reason, there were none to be found and I had to walk to the next suburb to finally relieve myself of all of the bedding. On the way back, someone else kindly relieved me of my last $150. I had been careless and in a rush to get my apartment cleaned up and I hadn’t thought about how much money I had in my pockets before I left.
I was due to go to Miracema the next day. Miracema is like the outback of the state of Rio de Janeiro and it was going to cost around $35 for the bus. I also needed to catch a taxi to the bus station which was going to cost between $10-18. Having had my last money stolen and only having $9 in notes I was feeling a little worried. Then I remembered my coin collection I had counted it earlier and it had come to $42. Picture granny at the bank counting out 1,000 five-cent coins and you might get a better idea of what I was working with.
I didn’t sleep very well that night, being financially unsure about everything that was to happen the next day, and I only had a packet of biscuits to eat which left me pretty hungry. It really made me stop and think what it must be like to be down to your last dollar and have no option of a place to go but the street. At least I had options of friends that I could stay with if it came to the worst.
But the next morning I signed out of the apartment, went to the bank and found that my transferred money had come through just in time to help me keep me off the streets.
Some of you may be reading this and thinking, Get out of that country you crazy traveller you! Not a chance. I wouldn’t swap the experiences I’ve had for anything. Overcoming our problems makes us stronger and wiser. I also don’t want to put you off coming to Brazil. The two bad people I met in Rio are nothing in comparison to the hundreds and thousands of other friendly, genuine people I met here.
“Young and tanned and toned and lovely, the girl from Ipanema goes walking. And when she passes, each one she passes goes Ahhhh.”
If you don’t know the song ‘The Girl from Ipanema’ then you obviously haven’t spent enough time listening to music in elevators. This song was composed by Tom Jobim in a bar in Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro, which is now named after his famous tune. However the food there is a little expensive and nothing inspirational for future musicians so I only recommend a moments thoughtful reflection at the entrance….
I may not make everyone go, “Ahhh”, when I walk past, but I have become something of a boy from Ipanema, by moving into an apartment there a few weeks ago. Originally I had another apartment lined up with someone for Carnaval, but at the last moment, she changed her mind and backed out of the deal. Finding a new apartment took a lot of time, and I ended up having to wait out my time in a dodgy hotel… complete with questionable sheets and a perilous staircase of death.
Big thanks have to go to my friends Fernando and Ricardo for helping me to find the new apartment!
Stay at the ‘Adventure Hostel’ in Ipanema. It’s close to the beach, to transport and in a safe location two doors down from where I was robbed (hehehe). The staff are great and the included breakfast isn’t half bad either!