Tuesday 12 February 2013

Crazy Carnival!

Hello from Salvador, Carnival capital of Brazil. Forget Rio where all of the tourists go for carnival, carnival in Salvador de Bahia is probably the largest in the world with 1.5 - 2 million dancing on the street at any one time. We arrived on Thursday to catch the start of Carnival and will be staying in Salvador for the full 6 days of partying. Thankfully I am not camping, but staying in an apartment for the week. It is normally a student flat so has no mod cons (not even hot water), but it is well located and quite homely.

So what is Carnival in Brazil all about. As far as I can see so far it is about drinking lots and lots of beer, dancing to very loud street music and generally going wild for the full 6 days. Alcohol plays a huge role in carnival, so it is lucky that in Brazil beer is cheaper than chocolate milk and you can pick up a bottle of finest Brazilian Vodka for less than £2. Not sure if they understand the concept of exercise duty, or binge drinking!   

Central to Carnival is the music, where there are two distinct musical formats. The Afro Blocos are large drum based groupes accompanied by singers atop mobile sound trucks. The best known of these groups is probably the Olodum drummers who have collaborated with the likes of Michael Jackson and Paul Simon in the past. They played on Sunday afternoon and I was lucky enough to secure a ticket to be an official member of their bloco, dancing along the Dodo carnival route.

The other format are enormous sound trucks with bands atop belting out Brazilian music. These trucks have to be heard to be believed as they all seem to be competing with each other to see who has the loudest truck. The truck will then slowly make its way along the carnival route, followed by hundreds of official dancers in matching T-shirts.

There are three carnival routes in Salvador, Osmar which is the oldest and goes through the old town, Dodo which goes along the coast in the more upmarket part of town and a new route of Batatinha around the streets of Pelourinho, which is the historic centre of the city and the main tourist attraction. Each has its own distinctive feel and I have been to all three while I have been here.

So what is my verdict on carnival after being here for 5 of the 6 days. It is good fun, but three aspects have rather spoilt it for me. Security, transport and the heat.

Security; after dark you simply do not feel safe, with groups of drunken youths and criminal gangs roaming the city. Pick pocketing and bag/jewellery is a major problem where you have to be extremely careful with any valuables. Basically you only go out with your nights spending money, nothing else. Myself and a number of the group have had their pockets picked and jewellery stolen (luckily they did not get into my internal security pocket and so only got away with a map and packet of tissues). There are lots of Police around, but they only seem to be interested in breaking up fights and basically doing as little as possible.

Transport: Because of the road closures due to the two main carnival routes the city is basically gridlocked for 6 days. No buses and it is very difficult and expensive to get a taxi. Basically you have to walk everywhere, which is not great during the day because it is 35 degrees and at night due to the security concerns. It is also very, very slow progress if you have to go anywhere near the carnival routes while carnival is in progress.

Heat: Maybe you get use to it eventually, but 35 degrees during the day is just too hot to be partying out in the open air, with absolutely no shade available. Even at night it remains 25-30 degrees, so you are still constantly drenched in sweat.

Would I recommend coming to carnival? If I am being totally honest, no. Unless you want to party for 6 full days, get robbed, get ripped off and get very hot and bothered, I would give it a miss. Sorry Salvador, but I would rather visit Cromer Carnival.

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