Brazil is home to one of the world’s biggest street parties, Carnival and Rio De Janeiro hosts the most famous one of all. Held on the last Tuesday before lent begins, it is a chance for everyone to indulge themselves before six long weeks of deprivation. The whole city becomes one huge party zone, and everybody is welcome. The easiest way to get involved? Join a bloco!
The Failed Church Visit
On our first day in Rio, guidebook clutched tightly in his hand, Karl guided us, on the metro system, to a church we thought sounded worth a look. When we approached the front door, we found it locked. I was sure the book had listed it as open, but maybe it had changed since it had gone to print.
We thought we would have a wander around the neighbourhood to see if we could find something interesting. We began to pick our way down the street amidst the rubbish, which was getting more plentiful. Around the corner we passed a group of people giggling and swaying happily. The lane we were following curved and we came out into a huge street party. Music, that the buildings had blocked out filled the air and the crowd moved to the samba rhythm. Street sellers sold cold drinks and hot sweetcorn…and so we partied. This happened a LOT. This may be unsurprising when you learn that there can be anything up to 300 blocos dotted throughout the city at any point during Carnival week.
So What Is A Bloco?
Blocos (also know as bandas) are neighbourhood street parties that centre around a band. This band will either be parading through the streets or on a stationary float. These are parties for the people, none of the formality of the arranged balls exists and people just use the chance to let loose in the summer sun. Samba music is the main rhythm of Carnival, especially batucada, but can feature other genres such as Sambass (a heady mix of Samba & Drum and Bass). All the blocos are completely free and so anyone can jump in at anytime and join in. This meant we could, party, sight see, party, sight see to our hearts content.
A Day at the Bloco
We spent a whole day at one of Rio’s biggest blocos, Cinlandia Square. It was absolutely heaving! The band, atop their double-decker bus, kept a constant playlist of samba and pop hits flowing through the crowd. Hips jiggled, swayed and popped. We danced along and were soon adopted by a group of friendly Brazilians who took it upon themselves to teach us how to dance. This was before twerking was a thing and I was as useless then as I am now. They thought our enthusiastic but unsuccessful attempts were hilarious. Poor British “gringos” and their immobile lower spines.
Everyone was drinking cold cans of beer from the street vendors who had huge buckets full of ice to keep them chilled. These canned drink prices are fixed throughout the Carnival, which I think is great.
As I’m sure I’ve mentioned, neither Karl or I like beer. To our delight, we realised that they were also selling cans of Smirnoff Ice, a lemonade style alcopop, something we hadn’t drunk since we were teenagers. We were very excited because we had never seen it in cans before! In the extreme heat coming from the blazing sun, and radiating from the dancing crowd, anything stronger would have floored us.
The Bloco Goes To The Beach
After about three hours of non-stop dancing, we were swept up by our new friends and jumped onto a bus, headed for Ipanema beach. En route we were accosted by a slightly dubious Amy Winehouse lookalike. The whole bus rang out to the songs of the Carnival and we did our best to bellow along. Our transient friends bundled us off at the beach and there the drinking and revelry continued. We had such a fantastic day, and all for about £3 each for a few drinks (really, it was so hot we only managed about three each).
Your Bloco Questions Answered
Where should I go?
Blocos happen all over Rio and a quick look at a website like rio-carnival.net will have a good list of all Carnivals’ events. We made a point of going to the big one but we came across four or five parties randomly and that was all part of the fun. Just keep an ear out for that distinctive beat and let your feet samba their way there.
What should I wear?
Whatever you like! Personally, I think the brighter the better. Colours, feathers, wigs, face paint, hot pants and patterns bring the party atmosphere to life. There was quite a bit of rubbish (and quite a bit of wee) on the streets and so shoes that protect your feet and/or wash easily would be a good plan. Apparently the police have clamped down on the public urination, but you know what drunk boys are like…!
Will I be safe?
Blocos are all-inclusive. All shapes, sizes, colours and sexual preferences shake their stuff together. The party atmosphere didn’t feel violent at all, even later in the evening. The normal rules for pickpockets apply, where there is a large crowd, and you stand out, you are prime for the picking. Keep your valuables hidden away and attached to you. Don’t flash a silly amount of cash (you won’t need that much). If someone comes and hugs you, just be aware of where their hands are wandering. And finally, if you stick to a happy (and legal) alcohol buzz and you aren’t inviting trouble.
What should I take?
Plenty of suntan cream. We both ended up a bit pink around the edges. A little water. You can buy cold drinks whilst you are out, soft drinks are just as available as beer. You won’t want to be lugging too much with you as it may hamper your dancing and the more you carry, the less spontaneous you can be. Some sort of map. You need to be able to get home at the end of the day. You may be quite a long way from where you started.
Any other tips?
Get stuck in and don’t worry if you look silly trying to twerk, they will love you for trying!