Enter The Sambadrome


This blog entry about the events of Sunday, February 22, 2004 was originally posted on February 26, 2004.

DAY 127:  Carnaval, like New Orleans’ Mardi Gras and the U.K.‘s Pancake Day, is the celebration just before Ash Wednesday and the Christian season of Lent.  During Lent you are supposed to give up your vices and pleasantries and suffer for forty days in preparation of Easter, and so, Carnaval was designed as a way to party your ass off before having to give it all up.  In Rio, partying is done in the form of samba, where you party your ass off by shaking it as fast as you can.

Samba parades in Rio de Janeiro began in 1932 and over the decades, evolved into a huge spectacle that attracted people from around the world.  By the early 1980s, there were so many people coming down to Rio for the festival and so, in 1984, a huge venue known as the Sambadrome was created in order to contain the masses.  With the 20th anniversary of the Sambadrome, to be in the Carnaval parade was only the more special; as touristy as it was, I couldn’t wait to be down there in costume, marching the parade route.  However, experiencing the touristy Sambadrome that night would have to come after seeing another tourist attraction in the day.

I WOKE UP AROUND 9:30 IN THE SANTA TERESA APARTMENT when the sun worked its way above the houses and through the blinds, lighting up the room enough that I couldn’t sleep anymore.  I opened my eyes and saw that Sharon was at my left, just waking up as well.  Lying in bed, we ended up talking for an hour about independent travel and independent life until our laughter woke up the others.

Everyone eventually woke up and got ready for a new day.  The sky looked pretty clear so we figured it was a good day to check out Cristo Redentor, the famous statue of Jesus Christ in Corcovado, high above the city — the tourist attraction of Rio if you had to single one out.  Rather than call a taxi as usual, we decided to take advantage of the nice weather and walk down the hilly neighborhood of Santa Teresa.  A huge stairwell took us down to the base, where we split up into two groups in two taxis:  Mark and Paul in one and Terence, Sharon and me in the other. 

“We’ll just meet at the top,” Mark said before our taxi took off.

Our cab driver was a nice Uruguayan man who was easy to get along with since he knew Spanish.  He pointed out the clouds hovering around the Christ statue and suggested that maybe it wasn’t a clear enough day to see it.  We had no choice but to go anyway since that was the meeting place, and none of us had mobile phones to call or text my brother’s. 

The taxi driver took us to the base of the mountain, where tourists can choose one of two options to go to the top:  the train that brings you straight to the top, or a taxi that takes the winding road, stopping at overlooks along the way.  As soon as we stepped out of our taxi, we were approached by a nice man named Ronaldo who offered us his taxi service.  He showed us a map of his route:  it included going to another mirador that overlooked the Pão de Açucar in addition to seeing the Christ figure for just five reais more.  We told him we were waiting for two more friends, but after waiting close to an hour with no word from Paul or Mark, Ronaldo suggested that perhaps they went straight up with their street taxi.

We hopped in a minivan with a family of five, and Ronaldo took us all up the hill Corcovado, first to the lookout point near the heliport.  The clouds were really coming in, obstructing the view of anything — looking out towards the famous Pão de Açucar rock formation, all we could see was grayTerence posed for a photo to tell me how it made him feel. 

On the bright side, this lookout point gave us taxi-travelers something that I don’t think the train-travelers got:  walking stick insects and, more cuddly, lemurs.  They sort of made up for the crappy view, but not really.

Back in the van, we drove up to Jesus Christ himself, where Mark and Paul were in fact waiting, for an hour and a half by the time we got there — their street taxi did take them all the way up.  The facility around the statue was fairly touristy, with multiple concessions stands and souvenir stores.  The weather was so cloudy that even two flights of stairs down from the base of the statue, Jesus was nowhere to be found.  I sufficed the disappearance of Jesus by posing as him myself.  I would have thought it was the thing everyone did, but I was the only one.

At the base of the statue, the Christ figure was a little bit more distinguishable, only by a tad, but it didn’t stop the hordes of tourists from taking photos of it anyway.  The view of the city from high above was essentially non-existent; the map that displayed all the points of interest in town was useless.

Ronaldo the Cariocan taxi driver extended his service to Mark and Paul since the family we had ascended up with had left already.  Ronaldo blasted his Brazilian tunes for us to bop our heads to as we made our way back down Corcovado.  He was a popular guy, waving at all the people along the way — one of them gave us some jackfruit to eat in the car.  On the way down, we stopped at the other lookout point for my brother and Paul.  Although it started pouring rain, the cloud coverage over the Pão de Açucar had lightened, giving us a better shot for a photo.

The minivan took the five of us back to Copacabana.  I split up with the others to go my apartment to take a nap for the long night ahead in the Carnaval parade.

LARA CAME HOME AFTER HANGING OUT with her friends in the daytime around 6:30.  We sat around watching TV, wondering when we were supposed to meet at the tour agency for our transport to the Sambadrome — they had neglected to tell us.  I took a walk over to find out and Carlos told me “7:40.”  I rushed back home to tell my samba schoolmate.

“Seven forty,” I announced right away.

Lara looked at her watch.  “We have less than an hour then!”

“We have forty minutes until we meet to be in the Carnaval.”

Lara smiled and let it sink in.  “AAAAAH!” she screamed in excitement before heading into the shower.  I head out for a bit to do a quick email check and get my watch band replaced.

Forty minutes later, we were both out the door with our “Carlitos Carnaval” muscle shirts Carlos asked us to wear to represent his company.  We waited outside his building with others — most were only going to the Sambadrome as spectators and admired us for actually being in the parade.  The group was big enough that multiple transports had to be taken.  Lara and I ended up in a minibus with an Argentine, a Japanese, and a big group of guys from New Jersey, U.S.A.  One of them met a girl from Albany and asked her to come along — it was an ordeal to pick her up because the guy couldn’t remember what hotel she was staying in exactly.

A DRIZZLE CAME DOWN FROM THE SKY as we approached the Sambadrome.  Traffic built up en route to the venue as spot lights shone up at the sky (picture above), and it looked like we were headed for the Super Bowl — a Super Bowl of Samba, that is.  After finding a place to stand the car, we were led by one of the tour agency guys that we really didn’t know to Sector 13, right at the end of the parade route near the Sambadrome arch.  We arrived just in time for the beginning of the first school’s performance and cheered them on and dance amongst the crowd of people that only got more packed as the night wore on.  The rain really started coming down, but it was all good with the rounds of beers. 

The people at Angramar Turismo neglected to inform us of the place and time Lara and I were to meet to change into our costumes.  During the second school’s performance, I kept a watch outside the Sambadrome for anyone that looked familiar, but no avail.  After the second school — we were to be fifth — Lara and I left the stands to go and try and find someone, anyone who could help us out.

With the rain turned to drizzle, we wandered around the areas surrounding the Sambadrome, using broken Portuguese to ask where the fantasies were, or where to line up to be in the Carnival.  We never really seemed to get consistent answers and were just really wandering around aimlessly.  The third school was coming to a close and we still had no idea were to go.  Lara was on the verge of crying.

I stopped to ask a police officer where to go, and while he was trying to explain his answer about walking all the way to the far end of the Sambadrome, Lara spotted a familiar shirt:  the “Carlitos Carnaval” shirt, and in it was Carlos himself.  He was all smiles as usual and led us to where we needed to go. 

He passed us off to Luis who led us on the other side of the Sambadrome to an staging area — in a place far enough that there was no way we would have found it on our own.  Most people were putting on their costumes before queuing for the parade route.  While waiting for our costumes to arrive by taxi, we befriended a bathroom attendant who absolutely loved the fact that we actually knew most of the lyrics for the theme song of our school, Beija-Flor

Eventually our tribal warrior costumes came and we suited up in our shin guards, wrist bands, torso harnesses, headdresses — and for me, a pair of really tight red Speedos — and followed the rest of the gladiators of samba to the entrance of the Sambadrome.  We looked around for others with the same orange and red costumes as ours amongst the dozen others, each of which represented a different aspect of Beija-Flor’s 2004 theme, the magic of the Amazon. 

Lara and I were at the front line of our block with about a hundred others in the same tribal warrior garb behind us.  A Beija-FLor conductor kept everyone in line and arranged people so everything looked perfect from above.  He told me that I should only concentrate on dancing and not take pictures with the camera dangling from my neck, so I just hid it to take some when he wasn’t looking. 

Sooner than I thought, the group ahead of us started their procession and we followed right behind them towards the colosseum of samba.  The drizzle from the sky had turned into a pouring rain, and it only made the mission into the Sambadrome only the more dramatic.

“It’s showtime,” I said.

Once in the Sambadrome, I heard the same theme song (5.5 MB MP3 file) Lara and I had tried to learn by playing it over and over the week before.  Soon we were marching along the same parade route I had seen only as a spectator before, for the tens of thousands to cheer on.  With all my energy, I sang along while moving my legs to the beat, staff in hand, raining pouring down my face. 

Being at the front lines, the Beija-Flor conductor continued to, very strictly, kept everyone in line like a drill sergeant — he really reminded me that we were in a competition and that I should give it my all.  We eventually made it to center stage after marching for about 45 minutes, right by the Sambadrome arch for the final leg.  We continued to sing and dance our hearts out until we exited stage left of the arch.  There was still another half an hour before our last float made its way to the end, so we continued the festivities with the others by the stage.  Eventually the last float and the last group of drummers came on by, bringing our performance to a close. 

When the music stopped, the only thing we could hear was the applause and cheers from the tens of thousands of people cheering from the stands.  Despite the fact that the rain was still pouring down, it was a really momentous event.

“There’s no way I’m doing this again on Saturday,” Lara said, wanting to leave the Sambadrome on a high note.  (The top six teams would close the ceremony the following Saturday.)  I agreed.

WITH THE RAIN STILL POURING, we wandered around looking for Luis, who was to pick us up outside.  I left my headdress with Lara at a street corner and eventually found Luis, who led us to the pick-up point for our transport back to Copacabana.  However, because of some confusion or something, the taxi never came, leaving us standing in the pouring rain for 45 minutes.  After all that waiting, it sort of killed the buzz and I almost forgot where I had been just hours before. 

The taxi never came, so we just hopped in a taxi, leaving the costumes with Luis to pick up later.  As we entered our apartment, Lara said, “You think Touched By An Angel is on?” 

“Oh, that would only make the night even better.”

The show we tried to watch religiously to poke fun of — no pun intended — wasn’t on, so instead — after the once-in-a-lifetime event — we just had some ramen noodles.

Ah, ramen noodles after a night of boozing and partying in the Rio Carnaval — life couldn’t get any better.

Next entry: Fun With Foam

Previous entry: The Chaperone

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Comments for “Enter The Sambadrome”

  • I just read in my yahoo news that beija flor won the crown for the samba contest for the second year in a row.  (and that beija flor means “hummingbird”) So you were with the winning samba school?  That’s pretty cool!  It was in the “oddly enough” section because another samba school got in trouble for the lewd floats.  thanks for the first-hand report!  And I LOVE the costumes.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/26  at  06:44 PM

  • Congrats on a great completing a great experience

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/26  at  06:46 PM

  • made it all worth while, looks like you both had an AMAZING time!!!! have a good weekend blog readers! n smile

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/26  at  07:50 PM

  • SARA:  Ha… you spoiled my surprise for the next entries!

    Now that the cat’s out of the bag, here’s the CNN report:


    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/26  at  09:00 PM

  • ROBBY:  Thanks, and welcome to The Fellowship of The Blog…  pass the word on!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/26  at  09:04 PM

  • ALL:  Sorry, the MP3 wasn’t working correctly before, but it works now…

    MARKYT:  No need to QA it anymore.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/26  at  09:28 PM

  • Paul, Mark & Terence - It was a pleasure, sorry I didn?t get the chance to say good-bye.

    Take care

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/26  at  09:29 PM

  • congrats on being the beija flor champs!

    EXCELLENT pics!!! you & lara look grrrreat in costume!!! those head pieces sure do look heavy though!

    “At least 100 people died in traffic accidents around the country during the celebrations” (cnn)  ..YIKES!!!

    (i’m jealous)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/26  at  10:23 PM

  • ERIK & LARA: The costumes looked awesome! Cheers to a great performance!

    LARA: Sorry I (and we) didn’t get to say goodbye either. Have great fun in the rest of your travels…caprihinas (sp) in NYC?  By the way, MARMITE 4 LIFE!!!!!!!!!

    ALL: more pics, enjoy!


    (disregard the pics of markyt and myself in paris & amsterdam…go straight to the ‘rio de janeiro’ pages)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/26  at  11:56 PM

  • Fab costumes!  Sounds like you guys had a great time!  So, are you going back on Saturday since your school won?
    BTW - the pic of Jesus in the fog looked cool.

    Posted by Liz  on  02/27  at  12:09 AM

  • LARA - it was a pleasure!  you rock!  let us know about nyc if you’re up for a meal and some drinks….

    enjoy the rest of your stay down in SA….

    ERIK: the costume looks better on than on the floor drying….

    ALL: memorize the words to the song, so we can parade next year!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/27  at  12:24 AM

  • marmite 4 life!  lara, def. let us know when ur comin up to nyc so we can all hang.  i’ll keep an eye out for that “touch of an angel” dvd collection that u were inquiring about.  j/k.  have fun on the rest of ur trip!

    yo b, agua de alma b. 

    murtinho nombre

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/27  at  07:26 AM

  • marmite 4 life!  lara, def. let us know when ur comin up to nyc so we can all hang.  i’ll keep an eye out for that “touch of an angel” dvd collection that u were inquiring about.  j/k.  have fun on the rest of ur trip!

    yo b, agua de alma b. 

    murtinho nombre

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/27  at  07:26 AM

  • Wow. You impress me. Truly. Besides the costumes, and great pics, how much time does it take you to do this blog?

    Posted by Jen Leo  on  02/27  at  03:12 PM

  • JEN LEO:  Minus the time being in Rio (where I was on “vacation”), I spend a good 1-2 hours per daily entry.  A pain I know, but you know better than I do that practice makes perfect.  In the end, this is all “raw footage” to be edited into stories down the line.

    BTW, Rolf was in Beija-Flor too, but I never got to catch up with him.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/28  at  01:02 AM

  • That was seriously AMAZING!! YOu guys looked Awsome! I hope someone got some video!

    MarkyT, where’s the .mpeg?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/28  at  02:34 AM

  • Td0t - the mpeg is in this entry highlighted as “theme song”

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/28  at  08:35 AM

  • MARKYT:  I think TD0T means video…  sorry, don’t have the time for it yet… still playing catch up and this damn computer I’m at won’t accept form submissions!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/28  at  10:19 AM

  • TD0T and ALL:  The only video footage is from wheat:


    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/28  at  02:07 PM

  • oops!  Sorry for spoiling your surprise!  congrats, though.  That is so cool.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/29  at  01:04 PM

  • Looks like an amazing time had by all. Good to hear that it all worked out for you in the end, despite the confusion!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/29  at  07:08 PM

  • DEWBIE:  Thanks!  The confusion in the beginning only built up the drama to made the end even better.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/01  at  08:41 AM

  • That was worth the wait! Those pics down in the fray were so cool. You two look ridiculous, I mean awesome! Kudos for going the extra mile, just getting in that place would have been amazing, but the fantasies, learning the song, and actually dancing in the rain with thousands of people must have been a truly unique experince… even for you guys!

    Beats the heck out of my road trip to Boston this past weekend. At least the weather here is looking up!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/01  at  02:30 PM

  • Erik-
    Most of my friends went to the parade but you were actually IN the parade! Awesome. Quick question:  If I decide to go to Carnaval next year, is it safe for two girls going alone?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/02  at  05:48 PM

  • LISA - it’s more than safe….just don’t go fall in love with some smooth talking cab driver named, marcello….oh and learn a little portuguese so you can bargain with prices….

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/02  at  06:04 PM

  • LISA:  Yes, I’ve met many girls travelling solo in South America…  it’s okay as long as you have a “hard as nails” personality and don’t take shit from anyone, particularly the men—like Lara.  Sam and Zoe (see “Day 88: Now Entering Dali World” or “Day 97:  Kids In The Park”) travelled solo through Brazil, Chile and Bolivia, and had no major problems.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/02  at  06:13 PM

  • LISA:  BTW, Rio isn’t as nearly as unsafe as its reputation would tell you… although you shouldn’t let your guard down at all.  Lara’s friend Esther had her bag taken right from her hands when she went to go pay for something at a food stand—luckily she chased the culprit down and grabbed it back.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/02  at  06:16 PM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by BootsnAll.com. It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

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Next entry:
Fun With Foam

Previous entry:
The Chaperone


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