About two hours north from Rio de Janeiro by plane, Salvador is the capital of Bahia state and arguably home to Brazil's biggest authentic Carnaval celebration. Or at least that's what we read beforehand - that while Rio's parades are flashier and splashier, Salvador's Carnaval is still the big neighborhood party. We hoped the latter was more our style.
Luckily, we've been staying in Pelourinho, Salvador's gorgeous old part of town. It's half-trendy, half-crumbling, and exploring its architecture (especially Catholic churches) makes for a wonderful afternoon on foot. That is, if it's not raining buckets. Which it has been every single day, at least for an hour or two. Never leave the house without an umbrella in Salvador, no matter how sunny it looks at the time! Thankfully the weather always passes and we've never been stuck indoors all day. But it's hot, hot, hot all the time. Sticky, steamy hot.
We arrived a few days before Carnaval officially began (Feb 15), in order to get situated and figure out how to participate. At first, the choices were daunting. At any given time over a six-day period, there are several different parades in full-swing throughout the city, though the main two happen in Campo Grande and Barra. If you want to join a parade (bloco), you choose which band-on-a-float (trio) you want to walk with, pay the requisite fee, at which point you get a special day-glo t-shirt that will identify you as belonging there come parade time. Our problem was that we weren't familiar with any of the acts playing, and didn't want to choose unwisely only to be stuck with crappy music for six hours. But the organizers at the offical "Carnaval ticket store" assured us that all the parades were fun and there'd be so many people it wouldn't make much of a difference who we chose. So in the interest of diversity, we decided to join a nighttime parade Thursday night on the Barra Circuit, sit in bandstand seats all day Sunday in Campo Grande, and then walk in a daytime parade in Campo Grande on Tuesday, and paid no attention to the musical selections.
Obviously, we couldn't possibly have realized how big of a deal Carnaval really is in Salvador. Every parade is huge, packed with thousands of people of all ages dancing and screaming along with the band, hugging each other and spraying, beer, water, and shaving cream in the air. Mayhem. And you start hearing the same tunes over and over as the hours pass by. It's as if the entire country learns five songs beforehand word for word, and then goes ape-shit every time they hear one of them. I'm not sure if these are official "Carnaval" songs played year after year (ala Jingle Bells), or if it's just the latest pop tune everybody wants to hear. Either way, the energy is infectious, and on that first night Brendan and I danced our asses off with the rest of the world, hugged strangers, and politely dodged sloppy tongue kisses.
I will say that the Carnaval mood is one of true happiness. I saw a lot of spandex, heavy petting, and public urination, but not once during the entire week did I witness a fight or even a negative exchange between anybody (and these people can drink). The masses come out to dance and sing and share in the craziness, pure and simple. It's so much fun. That said, I had to leave my camera at home to avoid having it lifted by pickpockets, who have a particularly nasty reputation in Salvador. That was a huge bummer since now I just have a few shots around the ´hood, and none that illustrate the major parades themselves. Oh well. Better safe than sans Nikon, and you gotta love these guys. One of them offered to pay me $2 for Brendan. I declined.
Tomorrow we fly south to the point where Brazil meets both Paraguay and Argentina, to see world´s most impressive waterfall, Foz do Iguaçu. They say it makes Niagara look like a trickle. If that´s true, I´m stoked!