I recently posted about being in Rio for the Canival street parties. They were, understandably, awesome…each and every one of them. But you can’t really go to Rio for Carnival and not see the biggest and most colourful show in the world – the Sambadrome Parade.
I only got round to booking my Sambadrome tickets a few weeks before the event, but our seats in sector 5 turned out to be among the best for getting a panoramic view of each of the schools as their floats passed by, followed by thousands of dancers in elaborate costumes.
Despite the hype that surrounds this event, though, I found that there were quite a few surprises in store…
Each parade lasts roughly 10 hours
With each of six schools taking pretty much bang on their allocated time of 82 minutes to get from one end to the other, and with a short break in between, the whole parade runs roughly from 9 pm until 7 am. Take it from me, that’s a long time to sit on a concrete step.
Our genius plan to stay out at one of the street blocos and then a seedy Lapa night club until it got light that morning and to sleep all day so that we were well rested totally backfired. I reckon I could have happily crawled into bed at 9 pm that night and slept for a solid 12 hours.
Despite being wrecked, we still managed to stay up for the full show, outlasting hoards of fresh-faced youngsters, which just goes to show how exciting and gripping a spectacle the parade is.
The schools plan their entire presentation around a theme
Every year, each samba school comes up with a theme. The ones I witnessed ranged from the evolution of the horse to soap operas. It wasn’t always clear to see how every costume fitted in with the theme, but my favourite by far was ‘Grande Rio’, who told the story of the importance of oil royalties in the socioeconomic organisation of Brazil’s cities. Odd right? But no matter how much I’d anticipated unique performances that night, nothing had prepared me for dancing deep sea divers…
Each school has its own song
On the way in, you’re handed a brochure with information about all of the schools and alongside a description of each one’s theme are the printed lyrics that correspond to that school’s song for the year.
Judging by how well some of the local Brazilians in the crowd knew the tunes and mouthed the words from the word go, they’d been practicing in their showers for weeks.
Even if you don’t speak Portuguese, you have 82 minutes of each song being on repeat and they’re pretty basic. You should find yourself joining in with the best of them after a few rounds.
The costumes are seriously elaborate
I knew about the scantily clad ladies and impressive floats, but the sheer variety of costumes that passed us by, from fish to pencils to skeletons, was astonishing…
One of the street cleaners is famous
After each school has passed through, a bunch of cleaners in traditional Rio street sweeper orange uniforms work their way along the strip tidying up debris. A few years ago, one such guy called Renato Sorriso danced his way along using his sweeping brush as a prop and gained worlwide fame for his moves. He even opened the Brazilian section of the 2012 Olypics closing ceremony. I’m not 100% sure this is the same guy, but I can’t imagine anyone else having moves as good as this!
You can get private seating in an apartment-style room
With tickets going for around US$2500 a pop, I didn’t have to think too hard about whether or not to book seats in one of these booths, but I did end up sitting directly opposite them on a hard concrete step with someone’s feet permanently digging into my back. Oh, how the other half live! The rich and famous were busy being pampered by personal waiters with expensive bottles of champagne as they leant back on sofas or dangled their legs precariously over the edges of their boxes.
In contrast, after the sun had beaten down on our ‘seats’ all day, they were warm enough to cook an egg when we first arrived and hard enough to give us chronic back pain by the time the last of the performers had wiggled their asses round the final corner.
The Sambadrome has some interesting alternative uses
Not only is the venue used for concerts throughout the rest of the year, some of the booth areas become classrooms during the day. This year, reconstruction of some of the bleachers increased the Sambadrome’s capacity by 18,000 seats in preparation for the 2016 Olympics. The street will be used for archery and, apparently, also the marathon, although, at a length of 700 metres, I’m assuming it will only make for an exciting end point, rather than a relay of 60 cramped laps…
The male performers are just as hot as the females
‘Nuff said. But, in the interest of not being sexist, here’s one for the boys as well…
Where to stay in Rio
I tried out a few hostels in Rio and my favourite, by a long shot, was Books Hostel in Lapa. In fact, it was one of my favourite hostels in South America. I went back to it twice after visiting other parts of Brazil, and I visited it in the evenings when I made the mistake of trying out a hostel near Copacabana Beach for a few nights. The guy who runs is – Felipe – is awesome, and there is a sense of homeliness to it that makes almost every backpacker extend their stay. Decorated with quirky graffiti murals and left-behind shoes, and with a small bar serving cachaca and beers every evening, it’s the perfect place to socialise with new friends before checking out the famous street parties of Lapa.