In Britain the start of Lent is marked with paltry pancakes. In Brazil, the whole country throws one of the biggest parties known to this planet, and we are quivering like a whippet at a racetrack in excitement. Baby, it's carnival time, and here's how to do it.
Celebrations happen all over the country (this year running from February 13th to 18th), but Rio is where you want to be. The Carnival capital has it all: both the official, traditional side of carnival and a flurry of street parties - or blocos - to bounce between. It's imperative at some point in your lifetime that you go to the Sambódromo and see the samba-school floats sashaying down the centre of the stadium: 4,000 people at a time, drums cracking, feathers waggling and hips wiggling. But that need only be one night of five. Yes, that's right, going from Saturday to Wednesday carnival is most definitely a marathon not a sprint. Try not to forget that.
Deliriously dancing in the midst of the blocos is where you'll find BarChick. The street parties crop up all over the city, from the shores of Ipanema to the deserted back streets of Centro, each with their own identity, style, music and crowd. They range in size from a few hundred to what seems like all of humanity - best to avoid those ones. Instead, go in search of the smaller, sexier parties, where the cool Cariocas are doing their thang.
TOP BLOCO TIPS
- Kick start it all with Bloco Céu na Terra, in the gorgeous, cobbled, crumbling Santa Teresa at 8am on Saturday morning. Go with the flow and let newfound friends help you work out where to go next.
- Dressing up is obligatory. Cross-dressing is optional, but advisable. Boys, don't fret; the girls love it. Swapping, sharing and abandoning apparel is all par for the course. Don't expect to come home wearing what you went out in.
- You do want to return home with the important stuff though, so stash your money in your socks/bra/pants and keep your camera oh-so-close. Light fingers are in operation.
- "Beijo, beijo, beijo!" Kissing is obligatory. Seriously. Everyone does it and it is by no means binding, so don't be a prude and get involved.
- Buy beer from the boots of the cars that lead many of the blocos or from the street vendors you will sweep by. Suck on a "caipi-condom" (dodgily shaped frozen Caipirinha popsicles) when you start to flag. The shot of sugar and cachaça will have you shaking your hips again in no time.
- Can't dance? Don't worry. The incessant, intoxicating patter of drums and squeals of brass will have you jiggling your feet all day long, and even probably after the music has ended.
- It's hot. No really. That hot and then some. Hear your mother in your head and take her advice: wear sunscreen and drink water.
- Last, make as many friends as you can with the wonderful Brazilians and marvel at the brilliance of it all. People plan and practice for the entire year for free, for this moment, for everyone's pleasure. Enjoy it as much as they do.
ALL GETTING TOO MUCH? HERE'S WHERE TO ESCAPE
Long used to revellers seeking refuge, a beer and a bite to eat as the sun comes up, Cervantes is a Copacabana institution that is most definitely open for business over carnival. It's not really BarChick's thing, but if you are so inclined, the house speciality is a steak, cheese and pineapple sandwich.
Go home, clean up, dress up and head out again - this time to the Copacabana Palace. With a huge courtyard taken up with a glassy-calm pool, come here to regroup and recuperate. Hit up the Martinis and forget about the rabble on the street for a few hours.
Inevitably you will find yourself in Santa Teresa, so be sure to stop by Bar do Mineiro for a shot of their ginger, aphrodisiac (easy boys!) cachaça and some sustenance. It will be heaving but sit on the street and watch the fray going by.
Exhausted? Dirty? Deaf? Craving clean streets, quiet and calm seas? It's Urca time. This little neighbourhood has a simple bar tucked away on the water's edge with views out over Guanabara Bay. Along with beer, Caipirinhas and some snacks, it will provide the tranquillity that you'll desperately need by day five.
Leblon is spared much of the madness, although the party vibes still swim down its streets. Many revellers will wash up at Jobi, a long-suffering and much-loved neighbourhood establishment. The doors rarely close and the waiters rarely sleep. For this reason it's always fun and usually a hotbed of new friends.