It’s bumper to bumper as we slowly crawl our way towards the historic centre of Olinda, just a few kms away from Recife. We’re moving at the rate of a car length every 5 minutes, so we bid farewell to our taxi driver, and leave him stranded in a one-way gridlock. (He did make a good amount of money though, so we don’t feel too bad)
Then we’re on to the streets, picking up a few drinks and nibbles along the way as we make our way up the cobblestone streets for the awesome Carnival street party that is Olinda. It never seems to end!
Frevo is the order of the day – all other music styles have been banned by order of the historians and traditionalists, in order to preserve the cultural heritage of the area. No one seems to mind, they are too busy going crazy on the streets, dancing, drinking and having an absolute ball…
And of course it would be remiss of me not to mention the Bonecas of Olinda. Those giant oversized dolls that are worn by individual dancers. This is their home. And they roam the streets towering above all else throughout the Carnival period, bringing a few smiles and raising cheers from the crowds.
Apparently the idea with the giant dolls is that with them towering above over the top of you, it makes you feel that they are the adults of the carnival, and you are just a child again, and can feel free to have fun and muck around like you did when you were a child.
I must have been taller than most in Olinda, because I distinctly recall hearing at least two times, someone commenting to look at the ‘Boneca of Olinda’ passing in front of them… hehehe Of course, I often used that height to my advantage, to spot people from afar, act as a mobile point for friends to meet at, and yes, even use the height to strike up a conversation or two with a playful and cheeky local. 🙂
Each street has a different vibe and feel, and there’s bound to be an atmosphere in Olinda to match every person that comes to celebrate. Anything goes on the streets of Olinda and for a utopian moment, love, peace and joy abound regardless of race, gender, religion or sexuality.
Think you’ve got what it takes to dance Frevo? Check out these dancers and see how you compare…
One of Brazil’s biggest street parties (blocos) is Recife’s Galo de Madrugada (the early rooster) on Saturday morning. In fact it’s considered by the Guiness Book of World Records as the world’s largest Carnival parade. This year, almost 1.7 million people took part in this year’s parade as participants.
It’s the biggest drawcard on a very packed calendar of events on Recife’s Carnival calendar.
The Galo began in 1978, and focuses around a set path in Recife’s Historic Centre. The locals are pretty proud of their musical heritage, so usually the style of music revolves around the locally created ‘frevo’ style.
Brazilian Paulo Montezuma wrote some thoughts down about this carnival parade which makes complete sense once you’ve been part of it – it translates roughly to…
“The Galo da Madrugada invades the city center so that it becomes unclear who is the Galo, who sees the Galo, who is not of the Galo, which is the Galo. The Galo is the people. It is the people dreaming, singing, playing, without prejudice or restriction, under sun or rain, with money or without money. “
It’s not called the early rooster for nothing, an early start is definitely required to beat the crowds and get to your vantage point. (Well an early start considering the night before… so let’s say around 9-10am). The best way to view the Galo is in a VIP area or ‘camarote’. Each VIP area has its own style, services and pricetag to match. What all of them pretty much guarantee is security, and somewhere to base yourself for a very full day’s worth of dancing , drinking and general debauchery.
The action slowly winds its way around a set path, and the giant carnival trucks or ‘trio eletricos’ take their time ambling by with performers on top singing down to the crowds below. The giant dolls, or ‘Bonecas of Olinda’ also make an appearance or two throughout the parade.
It gets a little messy towards the end of the day when the drink kicks in a few fights break out over who’s looking at whose girlfriend, but largely with a cautious eye, you can let your hair down and party up – if you’ve got hair that is.
Check out this link for some awesome photos of past parades from over the years.
The bus station in Recife is 17km south west outside the city limits for some insane reason, so unless you plan on paying a bucketload of cash on cabs, then I recommend jumping out earlier if you are coming down from the north. Picking up my backpack, I hunted for a cab that was free and could take me quickly where I wanted to be. After all, this was Recife, a city with one of the highest murder rates per capita in Brazil.
Nothing to worry about though as everyone was in a fine mood preparing for the first night of Carnival! I found the hotel, and checked myself in, freshened up and headed out to grab a pre-Carnival haircut and pick up a few much-needed sleeveless tees for the remainder of the celebrations.
I gave my mates Robson and Eliseu a call to see where they were at and around 8 or 9pm we headed into Recife Antigo (or the older historical centre of the city). This is where it all happens in Recife for Carnival. On the way in, we pass a giant statue of a rooster – the Galo da Magrugada (the early rooster). It’s the city’s symbol for Carnival and celebration and clearly it had crowed already. Hordes of revellers made their way into the historic centre in time for Marco Zero, the opening show – with a whole host of great singers.
My personal favourite was Maria Gadu, who was sporting some very fetching pink hair and a yellow feather. Everyone was wearing some kind of ‘fantasia’ or costume and drinking and having a good time. The vibe in the city was fun and the crowds were fresh with anticipation for the next five days partying for Carnival. There were numerous zones around the city and areas where performances were happening. Plenty of space to become part of this huge party in the streets and get up close and personal with the maracatu – or the drumming beat!
Check out some of these clips from Youtube which give you a good dose of what the nightlife was like. Also there’s an ad from the Recife government which paints a fairly toned down but comprehensive version of the Carnaval celebrations…
AD FOR CARNIVAL
The only downside to this amazingly vibrant street festival – not enough toilets… so of course some streets ended up smelling like you just didn’t want to go down them… while others seemed to be overflowing with beer that just wanted to get out of the body as quick as it could. All in all thought, well worth braving the ‘xixi na rua’.