Parade of mud

Obloco da lamane of the big carnival attractions here is the annual Bloco da Lama, the mud parade.

Saturday afternoon saw half the town saunter down to the distant end of the town beach, to the mangrove end where the sand gives way to thick dark grey mud.

Most just come to slide and plaster each other.  But some turn up with animal bones, vegetation and kelp and create fearsome monsters from the mess.

They then parade into the historic centre screaming the bloc chant of Uga, Uga, Ra.

bloco da lama

I didn´t jump in though.  I had underwear rather than trunks and had visions of my M&S pants sliding off under the weight of the silt.

While the Brazilians wander around in very little – incliuding those bikinis of your imagination –  there´s still a subtle code of decency. Top-less sunbathing is an absolute no-no.



Parati is another well-preserved colonial town and another World Heritage site. ParatiIt´s a grid of flag-stoned streets with a small port and a set of old churches.

Some of the roads closest to the port flood at high tide, as a planned cleaning system (not that the Brazilians are anything but fastidious with their cleaning; I´ve never seen such a litter-free environment, and the carnival-flecked streets are miraculously clean by the next morning).

The town is busy and inevitably touristy. It´s stuffed full of restaurants and boutiques and hordes of rich Brazilians from Rio and Sao Paulo. paratiAlso, quite a few foreigners; we saw very few in the North.

The town faces another bay of beaches and islands so much of the attraction here is to book a boat trip during the day and party at night.

Far more than Olinda, a lot of money has gone into restoring into pristine condition the two-storey whitewashed buildings, painting the woodwork primary colours and filling the interiors with antiques and paitings. So it feels much less edgy and real than Olinda but is still incredibly picturesque.

There´s an active festival throughout the year including a cachaca (sugar cane spirit) festival and a literary festival. We keep seeing photos of Salman Rushdie on restaurant walls; presumably here for the latter rather than the booze.

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Costa Verde

We flew south to Rio Map of Rioand then a four hour transfer down the coast to a small fishing village called Picinguaba. 

It´s a really beautiful coast where some of the last remaining parts of the Mata Atalantica – the Atlantic rain forest – follow the coast on high, and map of paratistrangely-shaped mountains covered in swirls of cloud. The uplands look across bays of islands and long beaches.  Much of it is very beautiful and reminds me of pictures of green-covered coastal mountains of Hawaii or the South Pacific.

We´ve gone to a small boutique hotel called Pousada Picinguaba.  Herbert Ypma – who came up with the whole hip hotels thing – has it as one of his favourites in South America and there´s a feature on it oin this month´s Vogue (OK, the Brazilian edition).Picinguaba beach

It has a wonderful setting, with a view over this bay.  Still a small and genuine fishing village, it´s hemmed in by one of the protected parts of the rain forest so it cannot get bigger. 



Night of the silent drums

[back online after 4 days in fishing village 250km SW of Rio. I still haven´t found a way of getting photos uploaded]

Maracuta blocoThe last big event we saw after leaving Olinda was a ceremony of memorial to the slaves who died in the Brazilian liberation. It usually runs as one of the highlights of the Recife Carnival but they were running it at a crossroads outside our hotel.

The music, dance and songs are very different from what we´ve seen before; far more African. These `Maracuta nations´ are very ritualised and have European and African references. Firstly there´s a standard bearer who is always dressed in Louis IV costume complete with wig and embroidered waistcoat. Then there´s a series of figures who represent the Court; ladies in waiting – often very elderly women – who twist and spin in large hooped dresses, one of then carrying a black doll representing African ancestry. There´s a king and queen and slave attendents (all in a European style costume) carrying an umbrella canopy over them.

These are accompanied by large troupes of drummers – the largest had 50 drums – and a singer who would chant verses about the ´nation´ or about returning to Africa. The chants would be returned by the entire ´nation´.

The beats were incredibly hypnotic and subtly-changing. A reason to carry a tape recorder, not a camera.


Boozy crab leads to pick-up

Leaving Kim snoozing in the hotel, I leave to chase a large masquerading crab swigging from a beer bottle.

Giant puppetsI lost it down the side streets so hung around a crossroads while the town filled up with remnants of the coastal parade. Two girls grabbed me there and essentially didn´t let go for the next three hours.

It took a remarkable amount of time for them to realise that I wasn´t Brazilian and we didn´t have a common language between us. But with smatterings of English, Portuguese, French, German, Spanish and Italian we managed to dance and kiss our way round a variety of drummers, acoustic and electronic blocos and frevos before leading me to the samba dance hall.

This was the likely downfall as my dancing style quickly got a lot of negative attention but they persisted with teaching my samba steps encouraging me with more kisses. And that was in between adjusting an accompanying transvestite´s make-up.

(Sweetly, they would encircle me and push me against a wall whenever a fight broke out pointing out the scuffle with shouts of brigante(?).)

I guess this is everyone´s carnival fantasy; to be captured by a pair of pretty twenty-something Brazilians and be taken on whirlwind tour of the town. In the end it was getting a bit too amorous and I made my excuses… Explaining I had a friend at the pousada that I needed to meet didn´t work so I had to admit, with stress, that it was uma amica, and the centavo dropped.


Sunday parade

Sunday was the true start of the Olinda carnival. The town was empty all morning until crowds gathered at the foot of the town, walking along the road that follows the Atlantic north.

Olinda drummerParked along there were about 15 huge lorries, each having an immense sound system built into the body of the vehicle and with a live band and singers on top. They made the sound systems of Notting Hill look quite homemade. These are the trios eletricos; unable to negotiate the narrow streets of the town where their vibrations would probably demolish some of the more vulnerable buildings, they are confined to the coast road

The parade is led by Virgens do Bairro Novo, a huge group of men who are dressed in drag by their wives and girlfriends and who are judged on their acheivements. Mixed in with them are the teenagers and the grannies, some in masquerade but most displaying vast quantities of wobbling, sweaty flesh.

There´s not really a sense of cool. It doesn´t matter what you wear (just as long as you are there); complete unselfconsciousness about body size and shape: just beer and communal singing and dancing. The music is popular songs rather than samba; and everyone knows the words but us.


Quatro Cantos

We spotted the hotel on the last visit.  our room in olindaIt´s an old villa of high ceilings, wood and antiques.  Some of rooms are basic and windowless (and cheap) but we´ve got the suite; a remnant of when we were going to bring a friend with us.  There are two rooms, two bathrooms and a huge balcony with a hammock for GBP80.

Olinda styles itself as an art town with seemingly half the houses occupied by painters.  The hotel is strewn with the stuff.



10km north of Brazil´s third biggest city, Olinda sits on a hill. It was settled by both the Dutch and the Portuguese and has some 22 churches and monasteries dating back to the beginning of the sixteenth century.

It´s ridiculously pretty with late C19th buildings on cobbled, curving streets, and heady views over Recife and the coast to the south.

It´s been on the Unesco list since 1982. There are a few formal `sites´ of tiled churches and grand, rotting buildings, but the main appeal is atmosphere and allegedly the best carnival in Brazil.

Arriving in the late evening the taxi hooted through parading blocos, and pavements lined with people selling drinks from large polystyrene ice boxes.

From the hotel we joined a small group shuffling up the streets. These blocos are small community groups, this one was a local college; the mix of people in them is quite astonishing. Little attempt at costumes: a simple banner, a group t-short and a small marching band towing a amp on wheels. The group would distribute streamers, confetti and song books, and move up the hills shuffling rather than dancing. The song – from I could work out – were about carnival and celebrated Olinda. The songs are often shared between the blocos to the extent that we could pick up the tunes and even some words.


Parade of champions

Carnival ticketThe day before we left I was emailed by the Rio hotel concierge about a parade at the Sambadrome that I had forgotten about. Most of the big set piece parades take place over a few days over the carnival weekend. But the Saturday after is the Parade of Champions when the winning school re-run their performance.

It´s cheaper that the main carnival shows, but that´s relative. The cheapest seats the hotel was offering came to about GBP160 each and some were into the 1000s. It´s galling when the real price is closer to GBP20. But unless you´re in Rio at the right time you´re left to the secondary market of hotels, agencies and touts. We decided to leave it as the budget is already burst.



[… lack of internet connections, so I need to catch up…]