Saturday, 23 February 2013

Carnaval in Olinda, Brazil

Once the Carnaval started, it was pretty much impossible to get the views from the previous couple of days again, there was never a moment when the streets were even close to been clear, maybe in the early morning hours, say 5am. The thing that made this Carnaval different from those in Salvador, Rio ad Recife nearby is that it didn't go on into the early hours. The odd night might have had some road where things didn't quieten down until 2am or so, but by and large come midnight, most people were tucked away in the their homes and hostels and getting ready to start again in the morning. Come 8am, horns blaring, fireworks exploding and drums pounding sounded the alarm to get moving and start again.

Having met some great people in the hostel, we tried to arrange it that we'd do our own thing during the day and then meet up later in the afternoon. During the heat of the day, the party never let up, with many of the surrounding roads always packed with blocos streaming through the crowds; some pulling a float, others with a puppet at the front with a flag bearer and brass band behind playing the local frevo music that Olinda, and the Pernambuco region is famous for. It was just up to you whether you joined in their party or carried on chatting/ drinking/ dancing where you were.

Wherever you looked, there was a street vendor selling water and cans of Skol or Brahma, the beers of choice up north. Both watery badness that goes down well in the heat when cold, quite horrific when they are mildly chilled and horrendous at room temp. Best to get them down quickly then. When the beer gets to much, there are always the mixed drinks and when in Brazil, why look any further than the fabled Caipirinha, the most sugary drink on the planet, surely.

To make a Caipirinha you need:

Crushed Ice,
Cachaça (Brazilian sugar cane based alcohol)

Simply put some sliced lime in a canister, add 2 heaped table spoons of sugar (some of them had even more, it's a sweet drink in case you hadn't noticed). Use a crusher to mix the two together. Add some Cachaça, a couple of shots or so depending on how strong you want it, then add some crushed ice. Cover the canister and shake the living daylights out of it. Pour, drink, wince, get used to it, repeat.

There are other drinks of choice, but this would be the one I would go for. There's the chocolaty Capeta (not my favourite) or a Caprioska (think Caipirinha but with vodka instead). You can also mix up the fruit too, it doesn't always have to be limes. If you can handle the seeds, the passion fruit one is delicious.

Various squares throughout the town were set up with stages and at varying times throughout the day, there would be performances by different bands all pretty much playing the same music. It's not often you hear the same six or seven songs and like them even more at the end than at the start, something about them just makes you want to stamp you feet, raise your glass and dance. Of course the problem here is you look  a total gringo, as even the most ungifted Brazilian native can dance the samba and beyond and make it look easy. It's not, I just ended up stamping myself so I'll carry on with my generic clubbing moves. 

Down the bottom end of town, there is an area reserved for stalls selling drinks and food. It's also a decent place to rendezvous with lost friends, have a breather and prepare for another dance party or bloco. The food is pretty basic but who doesn't love beans and rice, and then there's the old family classic, Macaxeira (ma-ca-she-ra), meat and stodge, perfect to prepare for the next round of celebrating.

When you aren't dancing in a plaza by the stage or following a bloco and tapping away to the rhythm of the drums, you can quite happily stand to the side and watch as the revelry passes you by. This is one of the many reasons I chose this Carnaval as you can just watch a sea of colour pass you by and as it is so small and intimate, it was safe too, so taking pictures couldn't be easier. The people are also super friendly, so if you see someone in the parade who you think looks awesome, or you want to join in with them and dance, it isn't a problem, they are only too happy to accommodate you and dance and pose with you.

A genuinely pleasurable experience and one I would only be too happy to do again. However, if that were the case, next time I would bring an array of costumes and accessories. The amount of people dressed up in random regalia and genuinely original costumes was incredible. Besides that, there's not much more I would change about the way I celebrated Carnaval here in Olinda. A real treat and something I would recommend to anyone.

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