About Me

I ramble about a number of things - but travel experiences, movies and music feature prominently. See my label cloud for a better idea. All comnments and opinions on this blog are my own, and do not in any way reflect the opinions/position of my employer (past/current/future).

01 February 2008

Carnaval Day 0 ... Introduction to the madness

By reputation, Salvador has the best carnaval in Brazil. Off course the samba schools of Rio are world famous, but as Brazilians and others constantly point out - in Rio, it is all a big a show: people sit (or stand) in "stadiums" and watch the floats go past, doing their thing. In Salvador, Olinda and Recife (the other two big carnavals) it is a big party - oh there are floats - but you are welcome to come and join the party.

Officially, carnaval is supposed to start at midnight Friday ... still 12 hours from now. But, as carnaval has become increasingly commercialised, it has increased in size and time, and the concept of a "pre-party" has been taken to ridiculous levels.


When I started my late search for accommodation in Salvador, I came across a post on the Thorn Tree Forums (at Lonely Planet) offering accommodation. I contacted the email address, and was quoted a price, which seemed at the time ridiculously expensive, especially as I was still in Peru. But Paolo, the person at the other end, replied that he understood the constraints but urged me come to Salvador if I could. When I reached Manaus, I contacted him again, and he had one space in a slightly cheaper alternative, and I grabbed it.

Both apartments are penthouses in Barra, a suburb of Salvador and one of the main locations of the Carnaval festivities. The more expensive apartment is certainly nicer, and even features a roof top pool (part of the apartment), but the cheaper apartment is not bad at all.

But what has been great is Paolo's involvement in taking all the people staying at the two apartments (combined) through Day 0 (my term, not sure what the official term is) as well as going out on previous nights. He has really put some thought into organising everything, and since everyone (including his Brazilian friends and with the exception of Paolo himself) is doing this for the first time, he has really been great at explaining the dos, donts, dangers etc.

The Group

Apart from Paolo and myself, there are 4 Irish girls, 1 English girl, 1 Greek girl, 1 American girl, 1 Australian girl, 1 English guy, 3 Brazilian guys and 4 Australian guys (one of them actually emigrated from SA, before 1994). We managed to keep loosing the Australian guys (or maybe they wanted to get lost), but the rest of us managed to stay as a group for most of the night.


I do not expect to take any pictures of carnaval. It is just too difficult and dangerous to carry a camera in the crowds. My verbose descriptions will have to do.


I suppose in Rio, blocos would be called schools. Except in Salvador, there is less of a show. Each bloco has at least two massive trucks - the first truck has the musical performers (and their invited guests) and the second truck as the paid "guests". For many blocos, you can purchase a T-Shirt (with the lowest costing around 250 Brazilian Reals or about 100 Euros, per day. There are cheaper deals for multiple days though, and it is possible to get discounted shirts. By joining a bloco, you basically party with the band as they go down the route: the route in Barra is about 5 Km long, and takes about 3 hours to go through.


If you are not in the bloco, you can still party with the bloco as they walk down the road, and be part of the "popcorn". Popcorn is intense - it is like a giant, moving moshpit, but about 10 times as intense as any other moshpit that I have come across - and I have seen a few. The energy is intense, and is one of the most intense partying experiences I have ever had (although, I am hardly a veteran of parties). It is a tiring experience - I went through over 2 litres of water!

Pickpocketing is rife - and although I had a money belt, one cannot keep everything in the money belt, and even though I swatted away a lot of hands, I managed to lose some money. I have decided to buy a hydration pack (they are fairly cheap) which I can fill with water, and then not have to carry too much money.


Off course you can escape all the bustle and take a seat in one of the many stands next to the road. These are almost as expensive as the blocos, but many are catered and some of them have unlimited drinks as part of the equation. While the music is great, there is no real show (there was only one float that had people dressed up in costumes), and it seems a bit of a waste - especially when I don't have much knowledge or understanding of the differences in Brazilian music.

So that was Day 0

We got to the parade around 8pm, and got back to the apartments about 2pm ... the party was hardly over, but most of us were. The main event starts tonight, and apparently, there will be double the number of people. I will post again, assuming I am in a position to do so ...

30 January 2008

In Salvador ...

I have given up going all the way down the Amazon - it is just too damn boring! Instead, I am currently in Salvador, where I will stay for the next 10 days, through Carnaval. The move has proved to be an expensive exercise - not only in terms of the expense of staying at the "best" carnaval city in Brazil, but also the cost of flying to Salvador from Manaus.

Brazil is a massive country, and my original plan of traveling down the coast is just not practical for the time I have. So, I have decided to focus on a few cities and stay there for a longer time, and really explore the cities.

And a rant - Gol is a completely unreliable airline. In this leg, I had two flights: Manaus to Brasilia and Brasilia to Salvador. Both were late, and it was not that the flights were late, but at neither times were the passengers informed that the plane was late, untile about 30 minutes after the plane was supposed to leave! And my flight between Sao Paolo and Lima, was also on Gol, and was also late (by over two hours). In fact, at both Manaus and Brasilia, there did not seem to be a single Gol flight that was running on time!

Voe Gol? Nunca Mais uma vez!

29 January 2008


Just over 100 years ago, Manaus and Iquitos were two of the most important cities in the world. As the Amazon was the sole supply of rubber to the world (back then, before rubber tree seeds were smuggled out to the far east), the two cities grew rich, particularly Manaus. Much of the colonial architecture remains, and makes it a somewhat fascinating city to walk around in. The highlight is off course the Opera Theatre, built materials almost completely imported from Europe. It is supposedly magnificent inside, but I could not go in as there are Carnaval preparations underway outside.

Manaus is now known as the "Hong Kong of South America", because of the cheap costs of electronic goods. Most electronic goods manufactured in South America take place in Manaus, and coupled with a low tax rate, it is no wonder that almost every street corner seems to have an electronic store, while malls seem to have more electronic stores than clothing stores.

Apart from the docks (which have massive ocean going cargo vessels, docking over 1000 Km from the ocean), Manaus becomes a rather boring city. Most travelers come here for jungle tours, and after sunset the city seems to go to sleep. That said, when there is a party, it seems like everyone joins in: a club here had a band playing, and there seemed to be more people partying outside more than inside, complete with street vendors selling alcohol and food outside. It was a great vibe actually.