If anyone knows anything about Carnaval (Portuguese spelling) or Carnival (English spelling), you know that Brazil is world-famous for their pre-lent celebration, or maybe a better word to use would be crazy-over-the-top-country-wide-festival. The biggest cities, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, are famous for the competition of samba schools in their Sambodromos. While in northern Brazil the celebration is carried out in blocos, big groups of people following semi-like trucks calld trios topped by Brazilian bands. The party really isn’t complete without music, a very important part of Brazilian culture.
Well, when I decided I was going to study abroad in Peru, there was one vacation destination that I for sure was going to hit up–Brazil. I’ve taken Portuguese at UW, but that’s not the only reason I wanted to go. In fact, the reason I wanted to go to Brazil was the same reason why I wanted to learn Portuguese in the first place.
My senior year in high school I became good friends with an exchange student from Brazil, Carol. I figured if I was already in South America, I had to go and visit her in Brazil as I hadn´t seen her for two and a half years. I started saving money early on, as Brazil is pretty expensive, and when I got to South America I started planning my Brazilian adventure, deciding that I would go for Carnaval in March. After buying my flight, the trip was official and I was really excited! I decided to spend two weeks in Carol´s city, Joao Pessoa, located on the eastern most point of Brazil.
When I arrived, my thought was “this is paradise.” She lives really close to the beach and the sun shows its face all day long among the striking green palms and perfectly blue sky.
Here’s my top 10 from the trip (in no particular order).
1. Jet-skiing and eating crab in areias vermelhas (red sand) out in the ocean.
The ocean near João Pessoa isn’t very deep, so you can stand up in the ocean pretty far out. Oh yeah, and the Atlantic is warm unlike the Pacific!
I´ve taken three semesters of Portuguese at UW and it was great to practice. To me it sounds like a mixture of Spanish and French and I think it’s a beautiful language. Considering how easy Spanish is coming to me now, Portuguese was frustrating at times, but Brazilians LOVE speaking English so I was able to give my brain a rest every now and again.
This is a Brazilian pre-Carnaval party that takes place at night in a plaza with a live band. Cafuçu is known for its crazy costumes and outfits and Carol and I did not hold back.
Brazilian tunes are a key part to Carnaval, as it’s a huge part of their culture. A lot of the songs are summer hits that get repeated by various bands throughout the festivities. I was able to learn some songs and I even got a cd to bring back so I can keep jamming to hits brasileiros.
5. My going away/American food party.
The last night I was there, Carol and I threw a party and made American food aka cheeseburgers, fries and milkshakes and let me tell you it was delicious. Seven of her friends came over and besides pigging out, we talked and even had an impromptu sing-along as some of the guys brought guitars.
6. Trying lots of new food.
My favorite Brazilian treat was definitely açai, a fruit (kind of looks like a blueberry) that they freeze and then blend. It has an ice-cream like texture and is just the right amount of sweet. It’s very refreshing and apparently really good for you too. In Brazil they serve it as a drink or as a snack with whatever toppings you want. I had mine with strawberries and bananas, sweetened condensed milk, and different kinds of cereal. So yummy!
7. Carnaval in Olinda.
João Pessoa doesn’t have a Carnaval celebration, so Carol and I took a bus to Olinda, a city about two hours away. And while I was begging middle school boys to spray me with their squirt guns (it was super hot!), I really felt like I was experiencing culture at its finest as we danced through the streets to Brazilian music.
8. Virgens do Tambú.
This is a Carnaval party that takes place in the streets of João Pessoa at night. The best part of Virgens is that all the guys dress up as girls, complete with dresses, makeup and for the extra brave guys—heels. Needless to say, I was laughing all night.
9. Hanging out with Carol’s friends.
I had a blast spending time with Carol and her Brazilian friends. I really enjoyed not playing the role of tourist with my nose in my Lonely Planet book, as I could just let Carol be my guide to everything Brazil.
10. Staying with Carol’s family.
I felt so blessed to stay with Carol and her family in their home. They fed me amazing Brazilian food and treated me like I was one of their own. I couldn’t say “obrigada” enough!