February 23, 2012

Carnival Part 2: Salvador

For the last week, we’ve been celebrating Carnival in Salvador – Brazil’s 3rd largest city about a 2.5 hour flight north of Rio. Carnival is celebrated all over the world, and every town in Brazil – from the largest to the smallest – seems to have some sort of celebration going on. Even though Rio de Janeiro is the most well-known internationally, if you ask a Brazilian, they’ll tell you that you must come to Salvador!

Salvador’s Carnival is a completely different version from Rio’s. In simple terms…
Rio is a parade of costumes, dancers and floats. Salvador is “the world’s largest street party”. In Rio, you are a spectator of the parade. In Salvador, you are the parade. In Rio, the festivities last 3 days. In Salvador, they last 7. In Rio, the parades are confined to the Sambadrome. In Salvador, 3 separate parade circuits nearly shut the city down.

The heart of Salvador’s Carnival is the “trio electrios”. These are big trucks, driven very slowly, loaded with thousands of watts of sound equipment, with a band playing on the top. Many of Brazil’s most famous musicians hail from Salvador, so very popular performers are in abundance. Every day, about 20 trucks parade down a circuit that’s approximately 2 miles long, from 2:30 in the afternoon until 5:00 the following morning.

There are 3 ways to participate in Salvador’s Carnival:

Camarote – VIP boxes that are built up on each side of the road along the entire circuit, allowing you to see the bands at eye-level. Normally at music festivals, spectators have to move among stages to see different performers. Here, the performers come to you. They parade right in front of you – in essence giving you front row seats to 20 different concerts. Most camarotes are all-inclusive so that you can eat and drink all day and night without having to leave. The only way into a camarote is to buy an “abada”, a specially-designed shirt that is your ticket in.

Bloco – a large area surrounding the trio electrio truck on the street-level that is contained by a rope being carried by hundreds of security guards. This allows you to follow one particular performer down the entire circuit, which takes about 5 hours. Inside the ropes, the security and the situation are reasonably organized. Like the camarotes, your ticket inside the rope is your bloco’s unique shirt.

Pipoca – the Portuguese word for “popcorn” because you get bounced around. These are the people who want to follow along with a particular performer, but they don’t want to pay to be inside the bloco ropes. They get tossed around in the small space between the bloco ropes and the camarote walls. A free-for-all in every essence of the phrase.

We wanted to experiment with all three options, so we blew our budget and bought some camarote and bloco shirts. Picking up the shirts at the mall was an adventure in itself. For being an international event, everything was incredibly overcomplicated, unorganized, and not a single person spoke a language other than Portuguese. Based on this experience, we left the mall feeling that Brazil has a long way to go before the World Cup and Olympics.

These shirts cost as much as gold, yet they have no male/female designation and they only come in one size: manly. To fix this, most girls spend even more money and take their shirts to a seamstress. Luckily one of our new friend’s next door neighbors is an abada seamstress. In a matter of minutes, she fixed both of my shirts right up for a total cost of $10.

So Steve finally got some sleeveless shirts, and I got these 2 cute little numbers…

Both good and bad, Carnival was certainly an experience. If I had to sum up Salvador’s Carnival in one word, it would be “uncivilized”. There are no trash cans and very few restrooms. Beer is cheaper than water and it’s ever present – you can find it for $0.50 per can right along the parade route. It is not pleasant to see the destruction that mankind does to this city for one week out of the year. But, I suppose it’s to be expected for a party of this size, and boy did we have fun! We owe many of our best memories to the friends that we made...

Tais & Fernanda are two Brazilian girls that we met at Camarote Oceania on Friday. They spoke perfect English and helped explain a lot of what we were seeing and hearing. We arrived at the camarote right when it opened at 2:00pm, took our position along the front row, and didn’t move until 2:00am. We got to see some of Brazil’s most popular singers very close up, including Chiclete, Timbalada, Claudia Leitte, Daniela Mercury and Netinho. It was nice to be up off the craziness of the street, just enjoying the music and drinking our caipirinhas.

Another one of our friends, Mauricio, is originally from Salvador and has been living in Los Angeles for the past 7 years. We met him at our hostel in Rio and reconnected for our Daniela Mercury bloco on Monday night. Along with his American friends Taylor and Ricky, and our new Australian friend Bella, we had an absolute blast. The six of us stayed toward the front of the ropes, giving us a little more breathing room to dance, sing, drink and samba our way down the circuit for 5 amazing hours. Wow, what a seriously good time!

All-in-all, we made it out of Carnival with a much better appreciation for this annual celebration, new friends, only $10 pick-pocketed, and some pretty incredible memories.
Viva Carnival!


  1. Living the dream, Steve & Katie!! Sounds like Salvador is the place to be ;-)

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