The Wanderer travel blog

First of the samba schools come through

Non-stop partying

Amazing costumes

Never ending procession

Copacabana Beach top left from Sugarloaf

Cristo looking over the city

Taking it all in

Amazing sunset


Statue at Catedral Metropolitana

Me 'n Cristo

The Redeemer

Ipanema and Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas

Cooling off the MonoBloco party on Copacabana

At the football at Maracana

Movie Clips - Playback Requirements - Problems?

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Partying until the wee hours

I've seen him at least a hundred times before, in books, magazines, on TV and even in some movies. But nothing prepared me for seeing him in person. The moment was instant goosebump material, the hairs slowly raising on the back of my neck, a small lump in my throat and tear almost welling in my eye. I didn't think that Cristo the Redeemer would have such an impact, but it was akin to stepping foot inside the Colloseum, or climbing the Great Wall. The view over the whole city is immense. You're 710m above the centre of the city with 360 degree views. Emotions and adrenelin were running high. I was in Rio and it was Carnival!!!!!

To say that 30 hours in the air between Sydney and Rio's Antonio Carlos Jobim International Airport (tell me that's not a mouthful) didn't take it out of me would be an understatement. Add to that not sleeping a wink the night before leaving - it would have been unfair of me to have a farewell and then leave early. It was a case of either getting a couple of hours sleep or none at all and given I had to drive to Sydney to return the hire car, I summised that with no sleep I would actually feel less tired on my way to the airport with a 7am check-in. From the time I left home in Newcastle until arriving at the Rio Backpackers I had been on the go for close to 45 hours. The day was still young though and as it turned out, jet-lag would work in my favour.

The day I arrived in Rio, being the Monday of Carnival was the first of the two finals parades. These are the best of the best Samba schools; the night/morning culminating with the long running champion school, Beija-Flor, performing until around 6am. Unlike your standard St Paddy's day parade which is run at reasonable hours usually involving daylight, Carnival parades don't start until 9pm with the best of the schools running last, scheduled for 3:30am, but invariably running late and into the wrong end of the day. The scale of these parades is incredible - 10s of thousands of performers in each school, and 7 schools performing on the night I arrived in Rio. Add to that, the fans in the Sambódromo, at least 100,000 inside and countless more outside milling around at various Bloc parties, drinking and dancing the morning away. What instantly hit me, with it being a school night, don't all these people have jobs to go to in the morning. Apparently not, the city seems to go into a kind of hibernation where only shops selling beer and essentials remain open. Anything that fits under the title 'needs' will be open - including beer, ingredients for capirinahs and drug stores. Anything that fits under wants, ie luxuries including food and clothing, will have to wait until carnival is over - simple...

So there I was alone in a strange city, but made so welcome so long as I got into the groove so to speak. A few Skols and I was lighting up the stands with the best of them. I only splashed out on the cheap seats at the end of the Sambódromo, but this turned out to be one of the best spots. As the perfomers left the Sambódromo proper, they gravitated towards our stand for some impromtu dancing and celebrating. Costumes were flung up to us to wear for the remainder of the night.

On the way back to the hostel I very quickly discovered the very hostile and unsavory side of Rio. I had been warned countless times about this side of the city, and to only carry the bare essentials with you when travelling, especially late at night or very early in the morning. An English chap not 5 metres from me was taking a picture of his girlfriend when a local thug approached him grabbed his camera, pushed him aside and ran off. It all happenned so fast, and so soon after arriving in the country that I was especially alert the remainer of my time here. It turned out that every single traveller I spoke with has either been robbed, or someone they know has been robbed or they have seen a robbery. I fit into two of those categories; luckily I wasn't actually robbed myself. One poor guy had just arrived in town was planning to ride his bike from Rio, south along the coast, but had a knife held to his throat on his second day in town, at 9pm on a busy street, and so cut short his trip deciding to go cycling in Australia instead. He only lasted 4 days here. If you're a bit smart about things though, not wearing any jewellery, don't carry a bag unless your really need to, and only carry a minimum of cash you're usually fine, but these guys are so opportunistic, so you're never really safe. There was always an air of unease in Rio, but I didn't let that stop me from having a great time.

The second day I popped up to Sugarloaf to get a view of the city at sunset. In reality I had only just woken up from the night before at the Sambódromo so it was the only thing I could really do anyway. I'd seen an awesome picture from the same spot on Flickr and wanted to get a few of my own. After this I popped down to Copacabana (took ages to get the song out of my head) for some of the infamous Bloc parties. A Bloc party is a kind of improptu event where a small truck - no bigger than a Coke delivery truck, is kitted out full of speakers and some other music equipment. The power needed to run all the speakers has the truck running around 3000rpm, high for a diesel, but the sounds that resonates around the streets is the life of the city during Carnival. Locals come out of the woodwork - maybe because a bloody big truck has just pulled out the front of their apartment blaring music - but the streets are filled with people dancing and drinking and eating, from 7 to 70. So yet again, Attari style (India), I was dancing in the streets with the locals. When that one wound up around midnight, another one got started across the road on the beach. This is where I got my first taste of capirinhas, the national coctail, comprised of half a lime Lime, heaps of sugar, ice and a very generous measure of Cachaça. By the time the sun was coming up I'd run out of fingers and toes couting how many I'd had and yet I was somehow still able to teach a couple of female Swedish packpackers how to bodysurf. Very hard life indeed....

Later nights included similar parties at Ipanema (of the same song), a Lapa street party and two nights at Maracaná, the home of Brazilian soccer. This is the stadium where Pelé played his last match in front of 200,000 fans. Both matches I went to see saw the local team, Flamengo, play. The Sunday match was especially important being a semi-final against Vasco, so I splashed out a cheap seat amongst the local fanatics, the ones who let off flares and firecrackers, fight and never stop chanting throughout the match. So there I was, chanting and waving, trying not to get stabbed when Flamengo scored in the first minute. I was safe. 40 minutes in Vasco equalised, and the score remained like that until full time. The Brazilians don't muck around, so it went straight to penalties - no need for extra time. Flamengo missed their first and Vasco got theirs. I was starting to feel a bit nervous. Flamengo got their next. Vasco missed..... One all.... Flamengo scores again... Vasco misses again... Flamego up by one, I'm feeling lucky again. Flamengo Scores and then in true Mark Swartzer, the Flamengo keeper saves the next Vasco strike. The crowd goes wild, as do I. Flamengo wins and I'm almost sure to make it out in one piece. What a match. Story book stuff...

That's what travelling is all about though - getting amongst it - experiencing how the other 99% lives and hopefully living to tell the tale.

Oh and for the guys at work - I got a couple of ton's against Sweden and Brazil and an easy half century against France.


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