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…]


The point of the trip…

Brazil for carnival is one of those travel mandatories. Balls and sequins, sambadromes and street dancing; and Rio or Salvador are the obvious focus. But Carnival is everywhere, and the idea was to visit it in a couple of the old colonial – and UNESCO-listed – towns. Olinda was an obvious choice because TAP fly direct to Recife, the nearest Brazilian city to Europe. It’s also supposed to have a carnival that is active the week before the others; though I’ve yet to see a program on the official site.

Four years ago

Kim and I were in Brazil four years ago, in the two weeks after Carnival. Olinda then was bright, hot and recovering from its two-week festival. monster in OlindaA week before hundreds of thousands of people had watched the blocos parade; the streets were now empty but for the streamers and bunting and the occasional papier mache grotesques hanging from street corners.

I don’t know whether it was a collective hangover or if the town had reverted to its normal pace. But it was fun; the kids were touting as guides round the tile-hung monasteries and the capoira dancers were performing for the remaining tourist dollars.