Holiday Postmortem | Samba on the streets4 min read . Updated: 24 May 2008, 12:05 AM IST
Holiday Postmortem | Samba on the streets
Yahoo! India head of audience Gopal Krishna, 39, travelled to Brazil with wife Meghna for the Rio carnival. And continued the adventure with a visit to the Amazon rainforest and the Iguazu waterfalls during their 10-day holiday
Why would you go to another developing country for a holiday?
Brazil has it all. It has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, very friendly people who seem to truly enjoy life to the fullest, the mother of all events in the Rio carnival, the Amazon rainforests, where one can still spot a prehistoric bird with two stomachs, waterfalls more breathtaking than the Niagara, and under-appreciated vistas of Rio from the Corcovado. We planned our visit ahead of Lent, since the carnival is held four days ahead of the Christian period of abstinence, and that was the only dated event on our itinerary.
You know, I can’t think of a single word that sums up the carnival. Think of the atmosphere during a nail-biting finish to an India-Pakistan cricket match and multiply it by a 100 and you’ll come close—though, of course, there are no people on the streets in India at such a time whereas no one is at home in Brazil during the carnival.
The focal point of the carnival is the Sambadrome, a large, open space in downtown Rio, where all the floats and dancers of various samba schools parade through. There is a strict order of appearance, but Latin American time is perennially behind clock time and no one minds, especially at carnival time. Each school mobilizes between 3,000 and 10,000 people and choreographs its dancers and music, according to a theme. The music, the colour, the camaraderie is something I’ve never experienced elsewhere, though I’ve attended mega events such as the Mardi Gras parade and the Kumbh Mela.
While the Sambadrome event is a well-planned show, we could take part in impromptu streetside samba parades and mingle with the parade participants.
Did you get to see anything of Rio apart from the carnival?
Oh, yes! We were in Rio for three days and we spent a lot of time at the world-famous Copacabana beach, took the cable car to the Sugar Loaf mountain and the Corcovado, which is topped by the imposing statue of Christ the Redeemer, now one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. The views from the Corcovado are truly unparalleled.
And you left Rio for…
Manaus, the largest manufacturing hub in this part of the world. But we were more interested in it for its proximity to the meeting of the rivers, where the distinctly different coloured waters of the Rio Negro and the Rio Solimoes run parallel for miles together before merging completely to form the widest river in the world. Manaus is also the airport closest to the rainforest.
Did you go on the river at all?
Oh, yes! In fact, we put up at a resort a 2-hour motorboat ride away from Manaus, and built completely on stilts in the dense jungle. We spent four days in the rainforest, waking up at 4am to see prehistoric birds and even went on a night boat trip to play with caimans. The Amazon is really like an ocean, so vast you can’t see either of the banks, and the jungles are absolutely quiet. Using motorboats is out of the question in the interiors, so we went on rowing boats. We weren’t allowed to use flash photography either. The birds and animals here are largely unique to the Amazon, but the most amazing was the hoatzin, a bird with a digestive system similar to a cow—that is, it has two stomachs. The caimans were quite a sight, too—if you found them upside down and rubbed them on the stomach, they’d drop off to sleep immediately!
Could anything top the rainforest experience?
The Iguazu Falls come close. These are horseshoe-shaped waterfalls located on the border of Brazil and Argentina and beat the Niagara hands down, both in terms of grandeur and the opportunity they offer for experiencing the falls at close quarters. It’s quite a scary experience—there are about six of us in a high-speed boat and they steer us very close to one wall of water. We spend barely 2 minutes at the spot, but the sight and sound of the sheer volume of water is nothing short of overwhelming; you feel anything can happen. This is an experience you could never have in, say, the US—the authorities simply wouldn’t allow such risks.
Was language an issue in Brazil?
I think the most memorable anecdote relates to buying tickets for the Sambadrome. Carnival tickets are normally sold out months in advance and scalpers sell them for 5-10 times the face value. We were cornered by a tout who took us down a dark alley—he didn’t understand a word of English, we didn’t understand any Portuguese.
Somehow, we ended up buying two front-row tickets for less than the cost price. It was a truly hair-raising experience—anything could have happened. Rio is not the safest of cities. In retrospect, I think we could have got the tickets for even less, but the stakes were too high and there was too much drama happening.
Fly a European or West Asian carrier with a stopover at their hub to Rio. British Airways offers tax-inclusive fares upwards of Rs86,000 (ex-Bangalore) and Rs87,000 (ex-Delhi, Mumbai).
As told to Sumana Mukherjee. Share your last holiday with us at email@example.com