Disclaimer: This post is super long but I’m not sorry about it!
As soon as I found out that my orientation in Brazil was before Carnaval, I was excited. Then, when I found out I was placed in the nordeste, I knew immediately that I wanted to spend Carnaval in Salvador, Bahia.
I arrived late Friday night and was lucky enough to stay with my good friend, Luize. When I studied abroad in 2011, I spent my first month in Brazil in Salvador and Luize lived in the apartment above me! She’s come to NOVA twice since then (she was an au pair in NOVA for two years a while back) and I love getting to spend time with her! But back to carnaval…
Most of the images we see in the U.S. of carnaval consist of scantily clad women in super high heels dancing samba on giant floats, right? Well, for those of you who don’t know, Salvador is nothing like that. Those images are representative of the different samba schools in Rio (and in São Paulo, although it’s not as huge as Rio). In Salvador, carnaval is essentially a citywide block party and the “parade” consists of different trios electrónicos (giant trucks covered in speakers with a stage on top for a famous performer) surrounded by a bloco, or huge group of people following the act.
The trios go through the Barra/Ondina neighborhoods and through Campo Grande, with different singers performing each day. The Pelourinho, or historic center of Salvador, also has smaller percussion groups and bands playing.
On Saturday, we spent from 3-7pm in Barra, right on Avenida Oceânica, waiting to see Ivete Sangalô, Gusttavo Lima, Chiclete com Banana, and Claudia Leitte, among other performers. For those un-familiar with Brazilian music, Gusttavo Lima sings Balada Boa (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z1ZKaR-9Kt4), Ivete is from Salvador and is one of Brazil’s most famous singers, and Claudia Leitte is going to be singing the World Cup anthem! That should give you an idea of how insane Carnaval is!
We went home around 7, ate a quick dinner, and then went off to Ondina (another close neighborhood) to see the same acts. We stayed until 11:30 and ended up following the final bloco in the middle with everyone for most of the way. It was insane!
The next day, we decided to do something different and go see the trios in Campo Grande. While nothing in Salvador is that far (I always walked everywhere), it would have taken us about 30 minutes of uphill walking to get there. So what did we do? The only logical option: take a moto-taxi! Is it possible to feel terrified and exhilarated at the same time? Because that’s exactly how it felt! It was insane! What would have been a long, uphill, and hot walk turned into a 3 minute (and R$5!!!!) motorcycle ride!
We arrived just in time to see the trio with Saulo, another famous baiano singer, pass! We ended up joining the bloco and stayed with Saulo for almost four hours! It was insane!
Then, we walked to the Pelourinho and wandered while listening to a number of percussion groups. It was a great way to relax after following Saulo for so long! To get home, we went for moto-taxi ride round 2! In comparison, the first ride was a piece of cake! This one was legitimately terrifying (sorry Mom…). Brazilian moto-taxis don’t really have a concept of lanes or of which side of the street they should/shouln’t be driving on. So at one point, we were driving on the wrong side of the street, uphill, and going between a bus and a truck. It was awful. The good news, is that Luize also thought it was terrifying, so I guess that makes me pretty normal.
We took a quick break for dinner back at Luize’s with some delicious feijoada but then bolted out the door to catch Olodum in Ondina. Olodum is an Afro-Brazilian bloco that plays axé and samba-reggae music. They also appeared in Michael Jackson’s “They Don’t Care About Us” music video and are the most famous of the blocos afros.
Once we arrived in Ondina, Luize cleverly asked the guys securing the outside of the bloco with a rope is we could cross through to the other side and then we just stayed in the middle! Normally, you have to pay to be in a bloco (so you get a sweet shirt and end up following the trio the entire way!) but we just snuck in. It was amazing!
After following Olodum for a while, Luize and I stayed on the sides and waited for Jorge e Matheus, a sertanejo group who I happen to love! After Jorge e Matheus, Chiclete com Banana passed again, and then we took a break for dinner at one of my favorite Salvador spots: the gas station restaurant/bar. You may be asking yourself, what do you mean gas station bar? It is exactly what is sounds like: a bunch of tables and chairs at a gas station where they serve crepes and espeitos (kabob-like skewers of grilled meat) and drinks. It’s glorious. Anyway, we took a quick break there and then went back to Barra to see Daniela Mercury, a super-famous baiana and Axé singer! She was incredible! Again, we ended up back at home around midnight, hung out, and went to sleep
Even though I was in Salvador until Tuesday, Monday was my last day of Carnaval because of my flight time. I met up with Alon, one of my cos from NFTY in Israel and hung out (talk about small world) before going back to Barra with Luize. We got there just in time to see the famous Filhos de Gandhy bloco pass by.
We stayed in Barra for a few more hours, saw Chiclete pass by again, and then met up with another Fulbright-er, Moriah, for the rest of the night! Moriah is placed in Ilhéus, in the south of Bahia, but the other person she came to Salvador with had left. It was awesome to meet up with another Fulbrighter, especially because she was at the other orientation so we hadn’t met before. Even better, she studied abroad in Fortaleza!
We stayed in Barra just long enough to see Ivete again and then hopped on more moto-taxi’s back to Campo Grande to see the blocos afros go out. This year was extra special, because it was the 40th anniversary of the blocos afros in Carnaval! The first to go was the famous Ilê Aiyê. It was amazing…the outfits, the percussion, the dancing, everything! We stayed until about midnight watching the some of the other Afro-Brazilian blocos go bye, and then moto-taxied home.
So, in conclusion, Carnaval was amazing. I’m going to post more photos on facebook (probably right after this is uploaded). I just hope this isn’t my last carnaval in Brazil! Thank you Luize for letting me stay with you! I had an amazing time!