The week of February 6th started a little early because it was marked by one of the most remarkable and wildly celebrated events in Brasil:
On February 4th, we arrived in Rio de Janeiro just before our haggard friends arrived from the United States and what little energy we had was put forth in the excitement of being in RIO!
We were led to our hotel by Cesar, our (somewhat) English speaking guide that was to be responsible for getting us to and from the airport as well as an arranged tour the next day. Our hotel, the Praia Ipanema Hotel, was a 16 story monolith placed at the edge of the sand of Ipanema beach. Our view from the 13th floor was only eclipsed by the view from poolside, on the 16th floor. Needless to say, we found ourselves in very luxurious surroundings.
A few of the group christened the 16th floor bar and sauna (I will not mention names) and had a rather rough start the next day. And, seeing as our start was a tad early, a few of the group were as cloudy as the sky. With Cesar, we booked a private tour for the day so we could see the Pao de Acucar and Corcovado (Sugarloaf mountain and The Redeemer- famous Christ statue). We also wanted a traditional Brazilian lunch and a tour through the city.
We had a magnificent view from atop Pao de Acucar and the clouds broke just long enough to expose The Redeemer on the other side of the valley. As the day progressed, we decided to alter our plans and instead of visiting Corcovado, we chose to enjoy a futbol game (Flamengo vs. Fluminense) in the world-famous Maracana stadium (Mario Filho stadium). So, after finishing lunch at a fantastic churrascaria, we headed to the stadium.
What is known as the Maracana Stadium can hold over 200,000 participants for the futbol games. I say "participants" because these people really get into the games and definitely their non-stop, body-rattling, stadium-shaking chanting and pounding inspires the teams' play. We almost had more fun watching the crowd than the game. The final score was tied at an exciting 2-2.
Knowing that we had much more to come in Rio (as well as that I am getting old), I took to bed earlier than most so I cannot report the goings on that night. However, I can say that we did not see much of the crew until very late the next morning and one particular member (Chris) did not return to the hotel until the afternoon. I will leave his whereabouts to your imagination!
One of the reasons why I turned to bed early is that on the next day, Sunday, there was going to be a volleyball tournament right in front of our hotel. The combatants were none other than Brasil vs. USA for a "King of the Beach" title. From our 16th story pool-perch, we watched Brasil beat the USA 2-1 and listened to the crowd erupt in cheers.
We also received a visit from a good friend of Gerson's, Alex and his wife and daughter (Liria and Barbara). Alex used to work in the United States and has since transferred back to Rio. We had but a short visit, but very pleasant indeed.
Now, this Sunday for some of you was an important day as it was Superbowl Sunday. Yes, we were fortunate enough to find the only bar in Rio that was showing the game - and unfortunate enough to be in the only bar in Rio showing the game (IE: it was jammmmmmmed!). We were disappointed in Philadelphia but we enjoyed our glimpses at the various TVs in the bar.
Again, the next day, not seeing any life within the group until mid-day and of course, not seeing Chris until later in the day, we just hung by the pool and wandered down to the beach for a bit. Whatever you have heard about the Brazilian bikinis and the Brazilian women is quite true. I felt overdressed in my bikini as it covered about 80% of my backside. Little did I realize that in Brasil, it's more like 20% that should be covered.
During our time in Rio, we also got to watch a game of Footvolley where the participants play what looks like volleyball, yet they cannot use their hands and they can use their torso, feet, knees, head, etc. Definitely fun to watch and much more difficult than the traditional volleyball. We also got to see a typical dance (Capoeira) displayed in Brasil wherein the dancers mimick "martial art" moves in a choreographed dance. The dance hails from the Africans that were brought to Brasil as slaves (many more slaves were brought to Brasil than the United States) and who were forbidden to practice their defensive moves. So, unbeknownst to their captors, they disguised their practice by creating an elegantly physical dance that incorporated their defensive art into the dance moves. Quite brilliant!
Now, so far, we have ventured around the city, watched important futbol and football games, met friendly people and been filled with food and drink. All of this pales in comparison to the night of celebration that brought us to Rio in the first place: Carnaval! For those of you who do not know what Carnaval is about, here is the background:
Carnaval begins the weekend before Ash Wednesday and continues throughout the week. Brasil just about shuts down for seemingly everyone is on vacation until that Wednesday. Parades occur throughout the country and every state (remember, it is the United States of Brasil) and each with their own character (or characters). Rio, being known for the largest parade in the country, is definitely the most celebrated and from what I could see, the most colorful.
The parade consists of many Samba school (dance) teams that compete in the parades over a period of several days. There is an "A" group and a "B" group as well as juniors and "minis". We signed up to watch one of the two nights of the "A" groups as they are the top schools in Rio. Supporting a Samba school is much like supporting a local football or soccer team and these fans are rabid about their schools.
Anyone can buy the costumes and participate in the parade (as the number of costumes allow) and the money goes to support the school. The costumes go from the simple to the elaborate and all are vividly colorful. Each school has one hour to play their one song (repeatedly by their bateria) and complete the march through the Sambadromo. Depending on how well the music is received, how much the crowd participates and how well the costumes and choreography fit the music, will combine to determine the champion of Carnaval.
At the signal of fireworks and the sound of drums, the parade comes to life with the first school. Each school has several floats with many groups of costumed-dancers in between. The floats, the costumes and the dancers all have to represent the music in some way. Without knowing the words to the songs, the floats and costumes seem a bit strange; however, once you get caught up in the momentum of the parade, not understanding just does not matter. It was all spectacular!
Now, there are those of you that have seen pictures or have heard stories about Carnaval and know there are a few rather scantily clad women to be found. In keeping with tradition, there was much skin exposed.
The parade starts at 9:00 pm and goes until the six or seven schools complete their march (into the wee hours of the morning). We were able to watch three of the very long parades (as each school went over its one hour allotment) and to enjoy dancing with the crowd.
One of the highlights was that Gerson had arranged to have silly string brought to the parade. This pressurized gooey string was sprayed on the unsuspecting crowd, the great majority of which had never seen its like before. Their reactions were priceless as this string webbed over them from out of nowhere. Of course, the people above us saw all, and when Gerson returned from making a beer run, they upper tiers laughed uncontrollably when several of us let loose on Gerson himself.
Now, for the story of the night. Gerson, who does not suffer fools gladly, was beyond his patience limit with a smallish, rather pissy young man that insisted (along with his friends) upon standing in a "yellow" zone that is to be kept clear for people to enter and exit. As we were sitting directly next to the stairway down to the refreshment stands and the restrooms, the area next to us was to remain clear. Every time any one of us exited and entered the stands, we were forced to maneuver around this twit and several times he would make quite rude remarks.
Well, upon a departure by Gerson, the little man planted his feet and would not allow Gerson to easily pass. Gerson being of above-average size, pushed himself around the nuisance and the young man proceeded to point his finger into Gerson's face and muttering some foul comments. Gerson, having enough of his antics, waved off and dismissed the pointed finger and its attached arm and subsequently hit the annoyer's face, knocking his granny-glasses to the concrete. Gerson continued down the steps and into the bathroom.
Upon exiting the bathroom, the bothersome toad was there with two police officers, loudly accusing Gerson of brutally hitting him and damaging his glasses. As a result, Gerson was escorted to the security offices until further information was received. Having been told that Gerson was "arrested" and "taken to jail" by a somewhat drunk man in the stands, we ventured out of our seats to find where Gerson was held.
On my way out of the stands, I was approached by the "victim" who proceeded to tell me two different accounts as to what happened and try as I might, I could not locate a mark or even a blush on the man's face. His glasses were smudged but other than that, I could only see money in his eyes. And, when he stated that I had walked by him several times and "rubbed" against him, I knew his story was false - for I had not left my seat once during the entire parade event, but for to find Gerson.
So, with that in mind and with the great detective work by Robert, we located Gerson sitting in the office with a rather large grin on his face. Apparently, when asked if he hit the young man in the face, Gerson replied "if I hit him, he would not be standing". Not the best thing to say but it was the truth and the police humorously knew the right of it.
In leaving Gerson with the weakling and a "sheriff", the police outside the office grinned at me and gave me the distinct feeling that they thought it was funny. It was so obvious that Gerson did not hit the man as he was accused of doing and there was nothing to do but find out how much the man wanted to be paid so as to avoid waiting until the morning to plead the matter before a judge. So, $100 later, Gerson walked away with the police smiling at him and Gerson saying that he wished he really did hit the weasel...
Ok, I wanted to be really mad at Gerson but I just couldn't. The guy was such an ass that we felt that we are only out $100 once where the man will be a little prick the rest of his lonely life.
So, we decided to end our night on the humorous note and engage in a wild taxi ride up and around the slums to get back to our hotel. But what a night it was and next year, we hope to buy a costume and actually be in the parade. How excellent would that be?
We lazily enjoyed the following day and took a walk along Copacabana beach. We retired to the hotel earlier than usual as we had a very early flight to Foz do Iguassu the next morning. If you do not like waterfalls, then do not bother reading the next page; however, if you are interested in seeing a waterfall that pushes through the largest volume of water in the world, read on...