Insights & Experiences

Carnaval Spirit

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A friend from Rio sent photos of the floats from the parades

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Another photo from Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro

Finally, Carnaval befell the country last week. I finally got to see how the holiday is celebrated here in this country, which is world renowned for their over-the-top festivities. Traditionally, Carnaval has been a Christian celebration used to mark the beginning of the Lenten season—a last “hoorah!” before people’s attitudes change to that of somberness and depravity as they entered into the 40 days and nights of abstinence from meat and other indulgences. As time has gone on, the religious aspect of Carnaval has lost most of its significance, but people still relish in the celebrations. Of course, as a gringa, or foreigner, the first place that I think of when Carnaval is mentioned is Rio de Janeiro. This city is ultra-famous for its parades full of floats, adorned with bejeweled, feather-crowned professionals dancing samba.

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Other friends celebrated in camarotes in Salvador, Bahia and sent this photo of the trio electrico in the street

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Another trio electrico in Bahia, Salvador’s Carnaval

However, since living here in Brasília, I finally have understood that Carnaval is celebrated in many different ways throughout the country, and even has a variety of celebrations throughout Rio itself. Within Rio, there is another way of enjoying Carnaval, different from what we think of because of the media does not cover many things other than the fancy parades—which I discovered is actually quite an elitist event that people pay an arm and a leg to attend. In fact, the rest of Rio de Janeiro celebrates Carnaval in the different blocos, or street squares which have been partitioned and stopped to traffic. Within these blocos, large masses of locals (and not-so-locals) gather to listen to the trio electricos, or big moving cars whose main purpose is to play loud music, and drink all types of alcohol, including one famous Brazilian sweet wine made of bark called catuaba. Of course, as you might imagine, with music and alcohol pumping in the atmosphere, people dance and flirt with friends and strangers they meet.

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Celebrating as a sailor with my cat friend in Brasília’s bloco called “Babydoll de Nylon”

This type of celebration is prevalent all throughout Brazil for Carnaval—much more so than the parades that we see on foreign television. In Brasília, the blocos are really the only way to celebrate Carnaval, and I found myself partaking in the festivities on several different days of the Carnaval week. In Salvador, Bahia (in the Northeast of Brazil) we see another type of Carnaval celebration, though. The people go into the streets, of course, but the events are on a much larger scale, and the trio electricos often have famous singers aloft—giving concerts throughout the streets for (paying) followers to enjoy. Another interesting part of the Carnaval in Salvador is this place called a camarote, or a type of VIP lounge/club, offering all types of foods, drinks, massages, and even make-up artists to take care of all your wants and needs while watching the people down below in the street.  Although I wasn’t able to go to either of the most famous Carnaval cities, Rio or Salvador, I found myself enjoying Carnaval in Brasília, anyway!

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