The next day it was up bright and early for Sugar Loaf mountain, one of the most notable landmarks in Rio and perfect for great views of the city.
The upside of being up that damn early in Rio during Carnival is that you get to be the very first people to go up the mountain and bypass the line – because no one else wakes up at 7 in the morning in the middle of Carnival to climb a hill. On the other hand, we had an awesome tour guide that wore a habit but claimed not to be a nun, and then sang us a traditional Brazilian song in Portuguese, English and Spanish. The lyrics consisted of the words “Cachaca is not water, water comes from the stream” or something like that. I didn’t know Brazilians couldn’t tell the difference between the two – but then again, they are the same price in Rio.
Complaints aside, the view was absolutely stunning. After the second tram ride to the summit of the hill, the view was spectacular. There’s not much more I can say that pictures don’t describe.
After that it was back to the full time job of getting to the beach and getting my pasty white ass that had never seen the light of day to turn a nice golden brown to match the rest of my tan. Needless to say, I got sunburnt, and sitting would not be pleasant for the next 24 hours.
But there was no time for whining. It was Sambadrome night and also Chinese New Year! Accordingly I dragged half the group to a Chinese restaurant for a celebratory lunch, and had also decided that my Sambadrome costume would be something Serpentine-ish in honor of the year of the snake. Gung Hay Fat Choy bitches.
As soon as everyone got back from the beach we started pregaming in anticipatoin of high drink prices at the Sambadrome. Which might have gone a little too well since by the time we got to the Sambadrome the groups biggest concern was finding a bathroom – for which they gladly paid some random person to use their home facilities. Sketchy? yes. Relieving? I suppose so.
The walk to the Sambadrome took a while – how long you may ask…I have no clue, as I had drank a lot and only eaten a little. What I do know is each section has its own separate entrance accessible from a completely different street – which shot down our idea of sneaking CIA into our section. The neighborhood through which you have to walk is also kind of shady – but I’m sure that was just paranoia since thousands of people clearly walk through it just fine. Plus there are tons vendors selling last minute beers and caipirinhas along the way which keeps things lively and interesting.
Actually getting into the Sambadrome wasn’t bad either, and as it turned out despite getting there almost and hour and a half later than we had anticipated we were still early and the first samba school was just starting to parade when we walked in. As soon as we got up to ours seats I was awestruck. The Sambadrome is unlike anything I ever have and probably will ever see. Giant grandstands line both sides of a wide alley down which the samba schools could parade. Thousands of people fill the stands dancing along to the samba music being blasted throughout the stadium. Huge sections of drummers keep both the crowds and the dancers moving to a steady beat. The cohesiveness of the crowd assembling to enjoy the parade was beyond words and its no wonder Carnival is considered to be one of the biggest and best parties in the world. The whole vibe is unmatchable and I cannot suggest strongly enough that everyone in the would should make it down to the Sambadrome at least once during their lifetime. You will absolutely not regret it.
And while the grandstands alone were highly impressive, I can’t even begin to describe the enormity of the samba school performances. We arrived just as the first school was starting to parade- which awesomely enough for me appeared to be a Chinese New Year theme – tank you velly much.
As the schools paraded down the lane we were presented with an auditory and visual experience that was mind blowing. Each school consisted of a combination of hundreds of dancers in insanely elaborate costumes designed to match the theme of the connected float. And when I say elaborate I don’t mean sequins and feathers elaborate. I mean the costumes could be anything from a thong and bra that would put the VS “million dollar bra to shame” to a giant slice of cake in which people danced down the lane disjointing and reassembling to create elaborate pictures as they paraded. And in addition to the people dancing and walking, there were dancers that were part of the float -like the people dressed as mushrooms that would pop up out of holes in the float and dance in accordance with the music. Not to mention the dancing skills of the girls leading each group. Their feet moved so fast burning hot coals wouldn’t even have affected them.
The floats themselves would also put any float I’ve seen in NY in a pit of shame do deep that we’d pop out in China. There were of course amazing dancers strutting and samba-ing on platforms and creating dancing art components of the constructed scenes, but the floats alone were so elaborate that they were works of art in and of their own right. There were moving mechanic pieces, doors, windows, stages, light shows, giant beer glasses, pyrotechnics, and even a functional water slide. And that doesn’t even cover a fraction of the amazingness. The amount of money, planning, design and skill that goes into creating the samba school performances is absolutely fucking insane. And worth every penny you would pay to get in to see the show. Seriously. I’ve never seen anything cooler and I can say with confidence that the Sambadrome is one of the top 3 experiences ever in my life.
Second side note: Don’t drink too heavily before the Sambadrome. It is a long night, the beers are still reasonably priced in the stadium, and you don’t want to do something like I don’t know, spend half an hour puking in the bathroom between performances (at least I timed it right!) and then having to leave early. I mean theoretically speaking.