Fantasies From The Thirteenth Floor


This blog entry about the events of Friday, February 13, 2004 was originally posted on February 17, 2004.

DAY 118:  For my first full day in Rio de Janeiro, the goal was to figure out the plan of attack for the rest of the stay through Carnaval.  Lara and I had two mission objectives:  1) to find a place to stay since our Botofogo hostel was already booked for Carnaval time — at three times the price of the regular rate — and 2) to try and figure out a way to join a samba school and actually march in the Carnaval parade rather than be a spectator.

Both objectives were hard to achieve because: 1) every hostel and hotel in Rio had been booked in advance for the world’s most famous party and 2) no one that we had asked so far had any clue how to suddenly become a participant in the parade — I thought it would have been easy since I saw host Ian Wright do it on the Globe Trekker show.

We figured our two objectives could easily be handled by simply looking up things on the internet, but with only one computer for about thirty people on a slow connection, doing it in the comfort of our hostel was near impossible.  Being in the Botofogo neighborhood of Rio, there weren’t many tourists, and thus not many internet cafes — we only found one place in a shopping mall that had a five-minute limit. 

We walked about a mile to Copacabana, the main tourist area by the beach and immediately the multiple cafes with entry points into cyberspace.  We looked up samba schools, but no site told us about getting into the actual Rio Carnivale — only about samba schools in other countries and one lame internet-based one.  We eventually gave up on finding a school via the web and left the cafe, but not without working on a third, minor mission of the day:  email The Four British Girls that we met in Foz do Iguaçu to meet up later since it was one of their birthdays.

IN MY FIRST ADVENTURE WITH “MS. CROFT,” the two of us split a cab from central Lima, Peru to the beach suburb of Miraflores overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  (It broke down in the middle of a highway and we ended up hitching a ride from a random stranger.)  Two months later, although we had gone different routes, we arrived together on the other side of the continent on the Atlantic.  We walked across the scorching sand of the beach to the water to come full circle — but didn’t stay long.  Lara was determined with the mission at hand.

We went to try and find The Four British College Girls’ hostel with only a hostel name and bad directions, but couldn’t find it.  Along the way, we looked at other hostels in the Lonely Planet — one was charging R$160/night for a really shabby-looking place.  We thought we could do better.

As for the other mission objective — getting into the famous parade — we investigated at a tour agency near the beach.  We were led to a desk of a woman named Gisele, who spoke English with a thick Brazilian accent.

“Okay, what do you want?” she asked us.

“We want to join a samba school,” Lara said.

“For tonight we have…” Gisele started, before mentioning some places.  It started to dawn on me that “samba school” was merely a club or group that you go to any time of the year.

“No, we want to be in the actual Carnival,” Lara interjected.

“Ah,” Gisele said.  “We have different fantasies.  What kind of fantasy?”  It took me a while, but I soon realized that “fantasy” was a costume.  It took Lara a little more time because later she told me she was thinking, Well, every person’s fantasy is different.

“What does the fantasy look like?” we asked.

Gisele pointed outside to a display and almost immediately Lara pouted in digust.  “Are there any other costumes?”

Gisele looked up things in the back room, but the tacky costume outside was our only choice.  As much as Lara hated the costume, we were ready to sign up.  The costume warehouse wouldn’t be open until Monday, so Gisele told us to come back two days later.

THE SUN CAME DOWN ON COPACABANA BEACH as people of varied builds just walked around in bikinis or Speedos.  Contrary to popular belief, not every person was fit and attractive — in fact, there were a lot of people who shouldn’t have been in Speedos at all.  Lara said they shouldn’t even be at the beach in the first place. 

We had lunch and a Valentine’s Day toast at a sidewalk cafe across the street from the beach and then wandered into an internet cafe to see if The Four British College Girls emailed us back.  Lara was on her computer longer than I was on mine, and so I killed time talking with the Brazilian girl that was working the desk.  I asked her about samba schools to enter the Carnaval and she pointed me to a single flyer posted on their bulletin board.  I wrote the address in my notepad.

The address turned out to be for a high-rise apartment building.  We asked directions from the doorman and still got lost, but managed to find the tour agency up a solitary stairwell from the twelve floor.  “Angramar Turismo” was actually a small-run business based out of some guy’s apartment — well hidden from the masses of tourists (picture above).

Inside we were greeted by Luis, a hairy man who was still in his tight Speedos from spending some time at the beach.  We asked him about being in the Carnaval procession and soon discovered we had come to the right place; unlike the other touristy tour agencies, Luis and his associate (and/or life partner, I couldn’t tell) had contacts into the actual competing samba schools which would march into the center stage of the Sambadrome — the lesser groups would only be in the street procession.  They explained their package deals that would include fantasies, admission into the Sambadrome as a spectator and as a dancer in the competition.

Luis showed us the catalog of fantasies — all from the top competing schools — and tried to sell me on a very gay biker costume with cheesy hearts around the head, but Lara fancied a different one.  “I really like that one,” she aid, pointing to an orange tribal-looking thing, complete with a walking staff to twirl around.

“Beija Flor,” Luis said.  “They were the winners of last year’s Carnaval.”  Leave it to Lara to have chosen the winners.  She got even more excited and turned to me to see what I thought.

“I’m in,” I said.

Using our Portuguese for Travellers phrasebook, we converted our American and British sizes to Brazilian ones.  Luis called the warehouse to check the availability and gave our sizes for the Monday delivery two days later. 

With one mission objective accomplished, Lara asked about our other one:  “Do you deal with hostels?”

“No, sorry, we don’t work with hostels,” Luis said apologetically.  “We only rent apartments.”

Our faces lit up again.

Luis told us about one with a view of Copacabana beach that would open up in a couple of days.  He gave us a price and and Lara worked it out on her calculator — per day it came to about half of what any hostel or hotel was charging.  The whole thing was almost too good to be true.

“Can you sell us anything else?” Lara joked.  Luis told us about a trip they were doing that night to Manguiera, one of the major competing samba schools in the slums outside of town.  There would be a huge samba party there where we could learn and practice the Brazilian dance.  We took Luis’ flyer to try and convince The Four British College Girls to join us.

WITH BOTH MISSION OBJECTIVES accomplished with the help of The Magic Tour Agency on the Thirteenth Floor, Lara and I went out for a celebratory drink on the beach.  We toasted and joked about already being winners in the 2004 Rio Carnaval.  We were even more excited at the prospect that, being in one of the top schools, we could be called back on the Saturday after Carnaval for the final ceremony.  Luis told us with Beija Flor, we had a 90% chance of that happening since they were the 2003 champions.

After our high of the day, we started the walk back to Botofogo, passed the guys in the streets performing the Brazilian dance/martial art capoeira, and got lost — or so we thought.  We hopped in a cab to take us near the hostel and discovered we were only four blocks away.  Surely not the move of a champion, but we were learning. 

Lara promised in an email to The Four British College Girls that we’d get in contact with them at 8 p.m. in Copacabana, leaving us just an hour to get ready for a night out.  I tried to get Joe the Irishman, David the Aussie and Pascal the Belgian to come out to the samba school, but none of them were enthused about it at all.  Lara and I got dressed and took a cab back to Copacabana to check out email — not one of The Four British College Girls had written us back.  Lara felt bad about not being with them on one of their birthdays, but I pointed out that we made way more an effort than they did and we should probably just do our own thing. 

We went back to The Magic Tour Agency on the Thirteenth Floor and asked to use the phone to call our hostel to see if anyone had changed their minds — none of them had.  So it was just me and Lara and a handful of friends of the tour agency.  We met Carlos, the owner of the company — and the apartment — and went with him in a shuttle bus to pick up other clients from hotels around town.  Most of them were from the older, package vacation crowd.

WHAT MANGUEIRA LACKED IN ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT being one of the slums outside of Rio de Janeiro, it made up for in pride of being one of the major contenders in the samba competition.  The shuttle bus took us through Mangueira’s crowded street stands to the “Palace of Samba,” a big dance hall where musicians performed for the estimated 4,000 Brazilian dancers — and tourists learning to dance.  At first the party was a little lame — it felt like being a kid in a boring adult party — but things started to pick up after a couple of caipifrutas.  Lara and I stood in front near the band and watched the Brazilian girls shake what their mamas gave them.  About an hour later, I finished another drink.

“Okay, I think I’m drunk enough to go out there now.”

Samba is a really fast-paced movement of the lower body which is really hard to do if you think about it.  It’s better to just feel the music and go with the rhythm and sing along with the lyrics if you know them.  Lara joined me on the dance floor and we shaked our booties amongst the Brazilians of varied ages.  A middle-aged woman starting bumping and grinding with me — I was too drunk to care — and it was all fun and game until she took my hand and led me somewhere off the dance floor.  Lara started laughing about me getting pulled by an old woman.

The woman brought me to a table and soon I realized her intentions.  She wanted to introduce me to two teenage girls who were too shy to get on the dance floor.  She figured it would take an English-speaking American to convince them, although I managed to figure out she was telling her other friends something to the effect of “Can you believe it?  He has Asian eyes and he speaks English!”

The two girls must have been about thirteen or fourteen and looked like they wished they were both back at band camp if you know what I mean.  The old woman probably pulled me over thinking I was in their age range, but I shocked her when I told her I was 29.  I tried to get the band camp girls out on the floor but they still wouldn’t budge, so I just said I had to go to the bathroom and left them.  The old woman thanked me for my efforts.

I wandered up the stairs to the mezzanine level for a photo of the 4,000 or so people partying away.  Men were asking me things in Portuguese and I didn’t know what was going on.  I just said “sim” a lot and shook some hands.  Later I learned I was in the emcee’s booth and where only authorized personnel was supposed to be. 

I regrouped with Lara who told me that in my absence, an old Italian man tried to pick her up, even though his wife was sitting at a nearby table.  “She’s dumb,” he told her.  Lara made the excuse that she had to meet her friend and left him.

More and more people crowded into the Palace of Samba up to the point where you couldn’t even walk around without spilling a drink.  Lara befriended three Brazilian girls who taught her how to move around and dance.  We danced with them as about twenty guys banged away on different kinds of drums, conducted by a man with a whistle.  As the hard hitting percussion filled our ears, Lara made a great impression on her new friends — one of them gave her some of her bracelets as a token of new friendship.

For a night out it was a surprisingly great night since the beginning of it was sort of lame.  For the entire day, it was a surprisingly great day, having accomplished the two mission objectives we had.  And we owed it all to The Magic Tour Agency on The Thirteenth Floor.

Who think’s that number is unlucky anyway?

Next entry: And The Crowd Goes Wild

Previous entry: Welcome to Rio

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.

Comments for “Fantasies From The Thirteenth Floor”

  • Hi, son.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/17  at  12:27 PM

  • Hi, son.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/17  at  12:27 PM

  • That party looked cool!  Sounds like you are lucking out in Rio!
    Confused about how you just join teams for Carnivale - don’ t they have try-outs or whatever?  I mean as a team you could be really unlucky and end up with a bunch of totally uncooridinated people like me on it LOL

    Posted by Liz  on  02/17  at  12:50 PM

  • 13th Floor Rocks!

    WHEAT: you can get all the old ladies, man!

    PAUL: i smell trouble…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/17  at  12:51 PM

  • Liz - From the end of one year’s Carnivale celebration to the next, Samba dance teams practice year round.  There are teams that allow for outsiders to participate in the parades come Carnivale time, where join the school prior to that school’s parade time.

    Hope that info helps out.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/17  at  02:33 PM

  • markyt: you joining?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/17  at  03:12 PM

  • I need a movie clip of you dancing samba in your fantasy.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/17  at  03:30 PM

  • SIM - it’s doubtful cuz i’m getting there on saturday when everything starts, so there will probably be no time to join in and learn with a school…but i’ll be sure to go watch erik…

    oh….and…i’ll be starting my own damn samba team, a one man show! HAH

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/17  at  03:32 PM

  • Yo!! Best story yet man. I’m soooo freaking jealous!! I love the picture from the beach, you can see the contrast of the quite shapely, tanned Brazilian booty—compared to the the pale blimp wearing the bikini. I’m glad you went to the favellas (ghettos) as well! As I’ve said a million times, there are some interesting things going on in areas considered off the beaten path by tourists.  I’m gald you ran into a Moman equivalent down there (who seem to be more enterprising than I!!)!!

    And yeah—it’s Rolf Potts who is down in Rio, you should most def catch up!!

    Good luck in the parade!!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/17  at  04:41 PM

  • jealous….so JEALOUS!

    Markyt -  are you going to the SamboDrome to watch? Take ALOT of pictures.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/17  at  06:35 PM

  • Dtella - I’ll take plenty of pics and post them up the funniest ones of Erik! (the ones that he’s not showing you readers!)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/17  at  06:47 PM

  • Sweet! I’ll be waiting. Have an excellent time!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/17  at  06:58 PM

  • MOMAN/DTELLA:  Jealous?  I haven’t even DONE any of the major things yet… It’s funny how little touristy things you do when you LIVE somewhere…hahaha…

    I’m waiting until markyt and wheat get here…  It’ll be like Fox’s “Paradise Hotel” where the audience become a part of the show…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/17  at  11:41 PM

  • ALL: Still playing catch up… bear with me!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/18  at  12:07 AM

  • Markyt: Are you going to be contributing to the blog during your appearance on the Trinidad Show?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/18  at  01:13 AM

  • Another question: How come Lara, the undisputed co-star of the Show doesn’t post comments?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/18  at  01:23 AM

  • your stories are even better when it’s about some place i’v been. 

    missions accomplished!  you’re livin’ the life!!!  you get to be in carnivale & you have an apartment in copacabana!!!!! can it get better than that??? (i’m jealous)

    a year ago you were samba-ing at sob’s.. now you’re doing the real thing!!

    markyt: have a great trip!!! don’t forget to pack your speedo. haha. 

    (i’m jealous)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/18  at  01:31 AM

  • Td0t: Yes, I plan still to be FIRST from Carnivale!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/18  at  08:51 AM

  • TD0T:  Lara is a SBR (Silent Blog Reader.)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/18  at  12:31 PM

  • As am I, but I still enjoy every day of it smile

    I definitely want to seem some footage of you two sambaing in carnivale!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/19  at  09:42 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 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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And The Crowd Goes Wild

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Welcome to Rio


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