It is impossible not to feel the excitement of the Carnaval in Rio long before one arrives in the bay of Rio de Janeiro. Though it is 6am, almost the entire lot of passengers of Silver Spirit are on the upper decks to witness our entry into a city caught up in the frenzy of the biggest party on earth. As trays of champagne do the rounds, the pre-dawn light reveals tall mountains reaching skywards on the shore. The sights are instantly recognizable. The gigantic Christ the Redeemer statue stands atop a hill, hands stretched out to protect the bay of Rio and the towering Sugarloaf Mountain. Around the golden waters, Rio’s healthy set is out jogging in the lagoon areas and the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema.
It is easy to get into the party mood here. The city has turned out in millions to head to the Sambadrome. In 1984, some 250 years after the annual celebrations first began, the city realized that Carnaval had become too big a deal for the streets of Rio. So a special Sambadrome was built. Twelve samba schools parade through the Sambadrome over two nights.
As soon as the first float makes its way down, one is aware that this must be one of the world’s great spectacles. Under a sky lit up with fireworks, 40,000 dancers create a river of colour, creativity and festivity. Madonna has come to watch the show from her suite at the Copacabana Palace. Earlier in the day, I visited the renowned hotel to see its fabulous pool for myself. Back in the Sambadrome, midway through one of the parades, Beyoncé glides past, encircled by beefy bodyguards. But neither Madonna nor Beyoncé can overshadow what is happening on the million-dollar floats that glide past. The display is unbelievable. It takes a year to make the floats and costumes. One samba school sends out a parade called Mystical Magical, with dancers changing clothes magically in less than 3 seconds, a towering Pleasure Garden of Babylon and Batmen skiing down a four-storey incline between thousands of feathered and sequinned dancers. No wonder they win. I go to sleep with music in my head and feet still tapping to the samba beat.
Also Read The first three parts
High in the hills away from Rio is a hidden treasure called Petrópolis. An imperial city founded by King Pedro I on fleeing from Napoleon in Europe, it is a unique historical indulgence. Since the entire court moved here from Portugal, there are many mini palaces. We visit the main palace, now a museum, to marvel at the jewels, robes and furniture of the emperor who made Brazil a sovereign country in the early 19th century. Even today, Petrópolis maintains its wide plazas, European-style homes and well-tended gardens.
La vida loca: (clockwise from above right) Colonia del Sacramento is known for its historic quarter; the city is the main water thoroughfare from Argentina to Uruguay; and Carnaval celebrations in Rio. Bruno Dominigos / Reuters
Two days at sea take us to what must be one of the few places on earth rarely visited by Asians: Uruguay, sandwiched between Brazil and Argentina. Capital Montevideo is bustling, dirty and in need of a drastic facelift, and we give it a miss and head to the Unesco-protected city of Colonia del Sacramento. Three centuries older than Petrópolis, this city of charming cobblestoned streets and brightly coloured homes is definitely worth a visit.
The best of Uruguay, though, is compressed into the port city of Punta del Este. After Brazil, it feels like Switzerland on the coast and looks like a crime-free Beverly Hills. The homes are beautifully designed. There are no boundary walls on the estates of 2-acre plots of pine trees and flowering hibiscus. The countryside is studded with lush, green hills, sparkling rivers and horses grazing peacefully. In the port, one can see sea lions and seals. Truly, Uruguay’s Punta del Este is a traveller’s delight. Visit this heaven. Or apply for the friendly immigration plan which accepts investments and is aimed at a population increase. Not many places in the world to match this!
Fashion designer Wendell Rodricks writes a cruise column exclusively for Lounge from on board the ‘Silver Spirit’.(www.silversea.com)
This is the fourth of an eight-part series.
Write to email@example.com