Carnaval in Brazil: either samba & sweat or leave to relax
Carnaval in Brazil is usually about going out in the streets, drinking large amounts of cold beer under the burning sun or the bit cooler night, drenched in sweat, flirting and making out, wearing a costume or an “abadá” (purchased clothing for participating in certain street parties). There is a brief phrase in Portuguese that says it all: samba, sweat and beer. Sometimes it’s axé (music style from the northeastern part of Brazil) and not samba, but there’s always sweat and beer.
This year, despite I have been away for the past 10 carnavals or so, I decided for a much more relaxed five days. In Rio, most people have five days off, starting on Saturday until Ash Wednesday. In Salvador some people start their long holiday as early as Thursday. Since the celebration days happen according to the Catholic calendar, the dates change every year and it officially ends on Ash Wednesday. Unofficially parties can go on as far as the following two weekends. So yeah, some stereotypes do prove to be true – Brazilians like to party.
So what is celebrated during carnival anyways? The largest party celebrated by Brazilians is about a big feast before lent, a time when people give something up, traditionally meat. The word carnival comes from the word carnelevare or “raise meat” or remove meat. So why not go all out right before we deprive ourselves of something, forty days before Easter.
Clothing, ways of participation, music and rhythm vary greatly among the different regions of Brazil. In Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo the samba schools resembling huge parades happen in a closed area, a stadium like arena which you pay to either watch or be part of the show.
In Salvador, huge trucks called trios with a band and singer on top lead the way through main avenues with people dancing behind it. They have paid a fee for their abadás to be part of that party, which is sort of a smaller parade called blocos.
In Rio, many blocos are for free and different from Salvador, people wear costumes; real costumes like clown, pirates, jesters and there are, most of the time, small bands instead of huge trucks.
Back to MY carnival, in the small town of Itacaré in Bahia… This little treasure hidden in the southern part of the state, characterized by the cocoa plantations is the perfect beach getaway.
The long beaches have plenty of sand space for long walks with the postcard supplement of surrounding coconut trees. But it’s not only the pristine beaches that attract visitors and surfers to Itacaré. I’ve heard it is the best place for surfing in Bahia, but since I’m not a surfer myself, I’d rather not affirm that. It also offers the perfect scenery for adventure sports (rafting, climbing, paragliding, zipline), nature walks, waterfalls…
At night, most people walk around the village center to visit restaurants, bars and handcraft stores. But if you are really in the partying mood, there are places with different music styles, from “forró” to samba to electronic music. Restaurants also vary from the very simple mom and pop kitchen with wooden tables to trendy, colorful places.
No matter what mood you are in – dancing, just drinks, walk around or taste local food; it’s a simple place where all you have to pack is loose, comfortable clothes, flip-flops, maybe a closed-toe shoe if you want to go hiking.
What was fun and touching on this second trip to Itacaré was seeing recently hatched sea turtles on their long journey from holes in the sand – their “nests” until shore, but that will be on the next post.
As I prepared to go back I realized what an effort I had to make to put on jeans and shoes. It was time to go back to reality and the city.