The heat was unbearable as I stood gripping on to the roof rail of the packed Rio Metro. Recently applied glitter was dripping from my face and I was a clear outsider in the carriage. My priorities were to stay upright and to guard my purse with my remaining hand. With each stop more Brazilian’s pushed their way onto the tram wearing little clothes but carrying large instruments and wild feathered head dresses. Some were coming from the cities many Bloccos (Carinval street parties) while others were heading with us towards the main event. A chant started by a group of young people spread along the tram, until everyone was singing a song I didn’t know, but wanted to.
Sitting in front of me an old lady clutched a flamboyant metallic costume. She attempted to speak to me in Portuguese, but I apologised, I couldn’t understand. She took out her phone and proudly showed me a photograph of her wearing said costume. Beaming, she pointed at herself indicating that she would be a star in the parade I was heading to see.
We disembarked from the tram and with no idea which exit to take but followed more brightly dressed locals and set off in search of the Sambodromo for the main event of the Rio Carnival. We must have taken a wrong turn, because the road turned dark and eerie with some families sitting outside on plastic garden furniture watching as the two “Gringos” tried to navigate the streets of Central Rio de Janeiro. Eventually we saw the signs and once we were sure we had the right place, we stopped in a small canteen for some food. I found it bizarre that group of four heavily armed police men sat balancing assault riffles on their laps while enjoying ice cream and Acai. But why not? It was 10pm and 31 degrees.
As soon as we arrived in the great Sambodromo, we found a “seat” on a concrete step and before long the show began with a bouquet of fireworks. The samba schools began their displays of music, dance and pageantry of which I have never seen the like of before. Bright colours, energetic samba dancing and gigantic floats slowly passed by the estimated half a million people who moved with every note.
It seemed like each group were bigger and better and more flamboyant than the last. Acrobatics followed and stilts and hundreds of similarly dressed women swirling their skirts in a mesmerizing fashion. My legs were aching from walking but we still danced and much as we could dance. The show went on until six in the morning, but sadly, by the time the music stopped, I was sound asleep back at the hostel, safe in the knowledge that Rio Carnival deserves its place on many a bucket list.