If you do not know what Carnaval is (or maybe if you think you know what Carnaval is), you are missing out.
In short, this event can be described as nothing short of the offspring of Oktoberfest, St. Patrick’s Day, your 21st birthday (for Americans), and Halloween (indeed, it is quite the beast).
So now that Carnaval is over and I have spent the necessary 48 hours in a coma as a means of recovering from the irreversible physical and mental damage I have inflicted upon myself, I can finally share its majesty with you (or at least as much as I can remember).
Here is a quick briefing on Carnaval in Brazil: Carnaval comes 46 days before Lent and is (officially) a five-day celebration dating back to 1723 when the first festivals were held in Rio (supposedly). During Carnaval, the sum of things accomplished in Brazilian cities equates to approximately zero (unless you count the exploitation of gringos and the copious amount of cachaça, beer and street food consumption), and when you think about it, the country might actually need to take a few extra days to recover from the damage done during the celebration.
As good of a job as Rio de Janeiro does maintaining clean streets and beaches, things get so bad during the festivities that you cannot even go in the water (as in the ocean) following Carnaval (at least it is not suggested, and judging by the number of people I watched stand and pee and/or do other unspeakable things into the water, I would say that you should let nature take its course and wash away the grime before attempting to solicit attention in your sunga again).
All around the city of Rio, starting as early as 7:00am or as late as 8:00pm, you can find events known as “blocos“.
A bloco is essentially a samba parade where bands and samba groups take to the streets parading around Rio (accompanied by huge double-decker buses and elaborate floats). They go on all day and all over and are really the heart of “Carnaval de Rua” since the streets are literally overwhelmed by drunkards and samba (attempting to use public transportation is futile, especially after you account for your drunk bus driver – true story).
However, the blocos are mere babies compared to what takes place in the Sambódromo – a stadium for samba if there ever was one. The Sambódromo facilitates the annual competition between the samba schools of Rio, all of which train the entire year to compete during Carnaval.
What you can expect to see during a night at the Sambódromo (in the most American terms possible) is the Macy’s Day Parade on all of the MLB’s steroids mixed with the beer consumption of the Superbowl/The Fourth combined, showered in rainbows, costumes and of course, samba music.
The city runs aggressive campaigns to deter people from urinating in the streets (they even have television spots), and to their credit they do a relatively decent job of providing accessible restroom facilities throughout the city (although I must say, the griminess and straight unconscionable acts I witnesses on, in and around said facilities could deter even the most well-intentioned partygoers from using them).
I believe I heard that somewhere in the neighborhood of six to eight hundred people were detained for public urination, and I can proudly say that I was not one of them (caught, that is), and if I was, I don’t remember (so it doesn’t count).
Carnaval is not for everyone though, and you must know your limits when signing up for this one of a kind have-the-best-time-ever contest.
When the AM rolls around (sunrise was I think around seven? maybe earlier?) people make their way down the beach where the party continues for some and stops for others; but no matter what someone’s status may be at the end of the night (DOA, MIA, BAC, NPC), they all go forward with the knowledge that once awoken, they will have the chance to do it all over again.
They can then choose to right any wrongs they may have committed, to keep up the good work or to simply dig themselves into a deeper hole of shame and regret.
Watching the sunrise over the ocean is more sobering than all the water and bread I could ever consume while napping on the bathroom floor, and it is also a great indicator of when to take a nap as it means that you have lapped the festivities and need to slow down in order to keep pace.
Ultimately, I have to say that Carnaval is, in fact, the largest party I have ever been a part of and I encourage you all to come experience it for yourselves.