The Greatest Show on Earth

The Start

Due to a strange but convenient arrangement of semesters in the German academic calendar, Jo is able to join me for my first month of travelling. We marched into Heathrow airport, a pair of keen sisters ready to go.

The journey with which I began my travels threw up several obstacles of various difficulty. The airline wouldn’t allow me on until I had proof of a travel means out of Brazil so I had to buy a refundable flight. I fell asleep on the plane and woke up to an awkward bout of pins and needles in both legs. The driver of the bus we took from the airport in Rio to get to our hostel forgot to let us know which was our stop, so we had to loop back round for a second tour of the city, spending more than 4 hours on the bus. And finally, the street our hostel is on continues both sides of a square which even locals and tourist information did not know, so a local woman adopted us and walked around trying to help us find it for more than an hour in the 30°C+ heat  of the day.

But, after more than 27 hours of travelling, we did eventually find our hostel, and after checking in promptly fell asleep.

Rio Take Two

Round two of sightseeing Rio de Janeiro, having visited nearly 4 years ago now, has proved just as fantastic, full-on and exuberant.

Jo and I began with a tour which transported us to various points around the sprawling city. We did a short hike through the Floresta de Tijuca, the rainforest which makes up 8% of the city and helps to balance the climate and prevent landslides, and came to a waterfall with black-and-blue butterflies the size of small birds swooping around. We also stopped by a certain beach to watch the landings of hangliders and paragliders, who launch off the forested mountains of the city.

We climbed down the Escadaria Selarón, the tiled steps of Lapa made by artist Jorge Selarón, who over the course of more than 20 years covered the set of 250 steps in fragments of red, blue and green tiles, and then began incorporating tiles sent to him from countries all over the world. At the bottom we ate traditional Brazilian food at the oldest Portuguese restaurant in the city.

We visited Christ the Redeemer, and this time rather than scaffolding and a picture of the monument hung across the actual monument, I saw him properly in all his soapstone glory, tall and outstretched, his fingertips already fixed from his flirtation with lightening a couple of months ago.

The day ended with the two of us riding the two sets of cablecars up to the summit of Sugarloaf mountain, where we quickly claimed a bench and sat for a good two hours watching the sun set over the city. As darkness descended, Christ the Redeemer was lit up so that he glowed, a white cross seemingly floating in the sky above the flickering lights of the favelas, which sprawled down and around the base of the mountains and merged with the lights of the city and the curves of the beaches.

Deetz and Carl, school friends, joined us over the next couple of days and we had relaxing sessions on the famous Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, visited the cultural centre for an exhibition on the 1960-85 dictatorship of Brazil, and wandered around the Copacabana fort, admiring cannons and the view. We were also taken on a tour of Rocinha, the largest favela by population in South America, by a resident, who answered all our questions about the electricity, water, police presence, took us to the best Brazilian per-kilo buffet we’ve had so far, and showed us a DJ school, one of the social projects which the tours fund.


And so to the greatest show on Earth, as the carnaval in Rio is advertised, and blimey it doesn’t disappoint.

The first two nights we joined in with crowds in the main square of Lapa and under the arches of the large, white Lapa aquaduct, both right outside our hostel. The crowds gathered around groups of drums or bands which set up in the streets. Fancy dress ranged from full pirate, native Indian, or film character outfits, to men dressed as women, to ridiculous additions to normal clothes such as masks, feathers, bunny ears, horns, bows. Blocos, or streets parties, happened throughout the day across the city, we joined in the shuffling parade of one and I ended up being given a drumstick and joining in with the marching band in the heart of the party for a bit. The blocos made its way along a couple of streets and into an empty mechanics garage where everyone paired off and began samba dancing, fluidly weaving and spinning around each other. A local offered himself up as my teacher and showed me a few basics steps, the only one of which I was any good at being the somewhat basic twirling.

The climax of the whole mad party was the parade of the 12 samba schools through the Sambadrome. It was split across two nights, starting at 9 in the evening and going on until way past 5 in the morning on both nights. Each samba school has 64-82 minutes to get from one end of the Sambadrome to the other, and the thousands of dancers and multiple floats which comprise each school are marked by judges on 10 different categories such as costume, theme, floats, harmony, flow and spirit, percussion and their samba song which they sung the whole time. The competition is taken so seriously that once the judges cast their ballot, the votes are transported by the police. Each Samba school chooses a theme, which this year ranged from childhood toys and games, to the diversity of Brazil, to outer space, and each was utterly spectacular, an overload of colour, sparkle, noise, shuffling and gyrating hips, each float a feat of engineering and imagination, each costume so detailed that it was impossible to take it all in. At this points words are definitely not the medium which works in my favour, and the photos can hardly do this spectacle justice either. We purchased sequined, very mini hat headpieces to look a little ridiculous as you should during carnaval, and sat in the touristy section for the first night and got to grips with the whole event, then the second night we were in among the locals who each supported a specific Samba school and showed it with their singing and dancing.

Which brings me up to the present, and a somewhat dazed, over-tired, but happy state of existence. More to come at some point next week!

2 thoughts on “The Greatest Show on Earth

  1. Andrianna says:

    Your hat is hilarious! Loving this blog malarkey. I’ve never had the pleasure of following anyone’s adventures like this before. As I drown in a plethora of bloody boring lesson plans, it’s rather nice to escape into your oh-so- colourful world of mayhem and madness. Take care and be safe xxxx

    • helenmaimaris says:

      Thank you Andrianna, glad we amuse you and really hope the teaching is going well. Please send a lot of love to your family from us! xxxx

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s