After partying too much in Rio, the 28 hour bus journey to Salvador (Bahia) was amazingly blissful. I read through most of the giant Narnia book my mother brought me (no way I´m watching a big movie like that in Spanish/Portuguese) and caught up on days of sleep. The bus stopped a couple times a day for us to eat at kilogram places which are like pay by weight salad bars except that they serve meat, rice dessert, everything. Not too bad, and I got a chance to sample feijoada which is basically beans and rice, something of a staple here. Got to the apartment and was thoroughly welcomed by Bob and Dee and 2 Australians also sharing the apartment. I´ve even got a bed. Prices sky rocket in most places in Brazil for Carnaval but Dee and Bob go us a bargain place close to the historical center. The owner showed us around and gave us some good tips for the week. The money we pay him for the week is equivalent to 6 or 7 months rent for him. Nice deal. After he left, we went for a walk around the historical center and saw all the decorations and food tents set up. We tried some street food, some sort of fried dough with some shrimps and vegetables on the side. Not my favorite dish but cheap and filling and you can wash anything down after a few caipirinhas.
The next day was the first day of Carnaval but we spent most of the day on errands. We did huge food shop for the apartment so we could make most of our meals and purchased our bus tickets for our next stop. That night and the following one, after some lounging with all the roommates, 4 Australians and an Israeli, we headed out to check out the action at Barra, one of the 3 parade routes. The route lines the beach and we got out of our cabs near the end of the route and walked down towards the beginning, about a 4 km stretch. It was only about 6pm but there were lots of people dancing and singing in the streets. Lining the streets on both sides are camarotes which are just balconies usually attached to bars where you can get a good view of the parade going by. To get into one you need a ticket which you exchange for a t-shirt called an abada which you wear so as you pass by the camarotes you see lots of people hanging out the sides all wearing the same colorful gear. Pretty cool but they all looked bored so we decide to pass. For the actual parade floats there are giant trucks on top of which have a live band singing for the most part, all the songs that Brazilians know by heart and usually another smaller truck behind with dancers and a bar. There are even little movements and dances that go with the songs for those in the know. Both in front and behind the truck is a roped off section where people who have bought tickets for this ´bloco´ hang out and dance. It´s packed and people are walking, jumping, dancing and sometimes if the song calls for it, running within the ropes. It´s a crazy affair. We were happy to watch from the side and follow some of the better ones like Timbalada and Daniela Mercury and Ivete Sangalo. On the way out a motorcade carrying Bono drove past us we heard a rumour that he would be on a float the next day but he never materialized.
Carnaval is hard work, let me tell you. Most of us spent day 3 lounging around the house and using our free access to an Internet connection (it was $5 and hour in Rio) as much as possible. We decided to take the night off and stay close to home but after a big communal dinner, 5 girls that I´d met in Rio dropped by and a bit of a party broke out. After 5 bottles of Cachaça, the sugar can alcohol used to make caipirinhas, we somehow found the energy to head out at 2am to Campo Grande, a parade route nearby. Because this route is a circuit, well more of a figure 8, there were many more people crammed into the edges than at Barra. It was insane and we lost most everyone in the end. The next day as you can probably figure was spent firmly tucked into bed which would be a good thing but the apartment was hotter than hell but no one was in much shape to do anything about it. Avish and I made it out to the historical center for a few hours in the late evening but there wasn´t much going on. It was fortuitous though because I ran into Sean, a friend of Robert´s from SF. Robert had emailed me that his friend was traveling in Brazil for a few months but I didn´t know he was in Salvador. I had run into another friend, Chad, from my Patagonia days the day before. Seems like everyone is in Salvador right now.
Fully recovered I spent the day hanging out in the historic center walking around and enjoying the atmosphere. Little parades pass by all the time. Sometimes drum bands, sometimes dancers. You never know. There are also performers in the main square including a very bad Michael Jackson impersonator. I ordered some beans and rice at a cheap place around the corner from where all the tourists eat. Food is expensive here which is why we´ve chosen to cook and eat communal meals but I hate spaghetti and I couldn´t face it again. The beans were excellent and came with so fire-starting hot sauce that I thought was guacamole. Big mistake. Juice places aren´t as prolific as in Rio but I´ve finally found a few to satiate my needs. Mike and Viv tracked down bloco tickets for Fat Boy Slim for the last night, every gringo worth his salt is going. I wasn´t so into going but everyone else is and I´m such a joiner.
Last night. Mardi Gras. This week has just whipped by. The Australian couple in the house has been driving me absolutely batty so I had to get out of the house. I ran in to Sean again and devised a plan for the afternoon. I ran back to the house to drop off my things to find that Dee had had her bag stolen in the dangerous alley by the house. Mike had been robbed at knife point the night before, 5 minutes after I´d walked down the alley by myself. They were all off at the police station so I legged it to Campo Grande on my own to check out Timbalada one last time. It took forever to get though the madness of Campo Grande but I finally found him just as he started his set and followed the bloco for about 2 hours before heading up into the the thick of it to catch Olodum a famous drumming troupe. It took me about an hour and a half to make it to the beginning of the parade circuit to find that Olodum wouldn´t be on for another hour or so. I found some food stalls and pointed at what someone else was having and ended up with a pretty decent dish of food. We´ve been eating meat and cheese sticks late in the night but have now sworn off them due to the uncomfortable side effects. Looking for the Olodum bloco took an hour in itself. They decided to start from a different starting point than all the other blocos, probably because they had so many people. But I was psyched when I finally found them. I got to watch they play for about an hour before I had to head back to meet the gang at the house.
When everyone was finished eating (spaghetti again) and we dove into our fashion projects, making our bloco shirts look decent. There are made from the worst polyester and hang terribly. Because we got them so late, they only had extra larges so we look even worse in them. People do amazing things with them though. They tailor them into cute tank tops or 2 piece sets but we had only about 30 minutes to brainstorms before heading out. I went for the sleeveless dress look which took a bit of cutting and stitching. We all looked fabulous in the end and headed out. We got to Barra lighthouse about 10pm and had missed Daniela Mercury´s float by about 30 minutes. I ran down the side streets til I finally caught up with her bloco only to find out that she wasn´t performing the entire time. Her backup singers were amazing though. She finally came out to perform and I followed the bloco singing her tunes all the way. When she finished her set I booked it back down to the lighthouse, near the start of the parade route. I didn´t see the Fat Boy Slim bloco so I ran off to get a caipirinha. They take forever to make and buying one on the street costs the same as buying an entire bottle of the alcohol at the store. A cute young Irish guy came up to me and said in an Portuguese accent crappier than mine ´De donde es Fat Boy Slim´. ´Shit I don´t know´, I replied. He looked so shocked that I could speak English. As I was walking back I saw the bloco just ahead of me. There was a huge crowd but as soon as they saw my shirt they all let me through. The bloco was huge and everyone was having a great time when all of a sudden it started to rain. No one was sure for a while because it´s common for people in bloco to spray water and beer everywhere but this was an honest to God rainstorm in the middle of a heatwave. Everyone went crazy! The music was great, a bit dated though, and I caught up with Mike and Dee after only about 10 minutes of looking. A big song came on and everyone went crazy. I was turned the wrong way and lost my shoe, my shoe with my $25 emergency cash in it. I went diving for it but to no avail. I waited til the entire bloco passed and scoured the area. I finally found it sans money but I was just so bloody happy not to be walking on that disgusting ground anymore. I caught up with everyone and we danced the rest of the way down the street. By the end my legs were like jelly. We hailed a cab home and were in bed by 7am. These Brazilians really know how to party!