Buenos Aires the Sequel and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
02.05.2013 - 02.10.2013 85 °F
Buenos Aires (take 2). After 8 days travelling though Patagonia, we headed back to Buenos Aires and stayed at a lively hostel called America del Sur. On our one full day in Buenos Aires, we walked to the Teatro Colon and went on a tour of the famous opera house. Our tour guide thought he was a bit of a comedian and kept singing excerpts from different operas. Apart from its seating capacity, the thing that makes the Teatro Colon so unique is that it is consistently ranked the #1 sound for operatic performances in the world and usually #1 or #2 for symphonic performance acoustics as well. Our tour guide also told us that Argentinians are a tough crowd, and they like to hiss if they do not like a new piece of work. Unfortunately, there were no performances while we were in Buenos Aires for us to get a chance to see some performers brave the BA crowds. Our day continued with a short walking tour to see the Plaza de Congress (interrupted by one of the protest marches BA is so widely-accepting of these days) and a few other points of interest around the city (Avenida 9 de Julio, the Obelisk). Walking through BA feels like being in a European city. The older buildings show tons of French and Italian influence due to the immigration history these countries (especially Italy) share with BA.
Throughout BA, graffiti is everywhere. There are two types of graffiti in BA: art and propaganda (Ryan has begun a photo collection of graffiti from our travels now as result of BA). The art is widely-appreciated and generally accepted by many of BA’s citizens. The political stuff is really interesting. Some of it is fairly basic (neo-Socialism pushes, people complaining about the current president) – but a fair amount of it was overly-metaphorical, or was just something a bit over our heads (or Ryan’s translating skills).
No trip to BA would be complete without a tango class or show. There are a lot of expensive packages for tourists to go “take a class,” and then eat dinner and watch a show. The going rate was about $130 per person for these events. The complaints about these packages were that the classes were a bit of an afterthought. Luckily Ryan promised me months ago he’d take a tango class with me, so I found a private Tango instructor and booked a class for us at his studio. Before our class we decided to take a taxi because we had not used the subway. WRONG CHOICE! BA’s seemingly endless road construction claimed another victim and caused us to run late to the class.
The stress of being late melted away once we arrived and started dancing. Our instructor was really patient and was able to teach us quite a bit in the hour we had with him. I know he was teaching us tango, but he kept getting really close to both of us. It was funny seeing a man cheek to cheek with Ryan. He would switch from being the man and woman to show us the moves. By the end of our lesson we had some vocabulary to put together a combination. The woman has no control with Tango, and the man has to communicate what moves he will do with different pressures on your back, different placement of his feet during the dance routine or subtle pushes and pulls during the performance. Considering I have danced my whole life it was a bit difficult for me to let Ryan control everything that we were going to do. The instructor picked up on the 20+ years of dance training that I have had and started doing complicated lifts and dips with me. He kept showing me photographs of professional tango couples, and then I would try to recreate the line. It felt great dancing again. On the way back to our hotel the subway took a fraction of the time our cab to the studio did. Ah well...
On the food scene, Ryan and I enjoyed two different meals at Bar el Federal in the San Telmo neighborhood. El Federal still had their original hardwood bar intact dating back to the 1850s and poured a “stout” on tap that was flavored with black olives! Federal is a very homey bar with a good local scene. We were able to snag a cheap bottle of wine and some homemade charcuterie and cheeses for our last dinner in BA. Another great find.
To round out our second trip, Ryan and I spent our last half-day in the city on a walking and picture-taking tour of San Telmo. We’d been staying in or near this neighborhood, but hadn’t really had a chance to get out and see it over our 5 days in the city. We stopped for a bit to browse the famous art and antique markets near the Plaza Dorrego and took in some more bizarre graffiti. With our day in San Telmo completed, it was time to say “Adios!” to speaking Spanish (Ryan was bummed – he made a lot of progress being immersed in it again for 3 weeks) and head off to our next stop – RIO!
Rio de Janeiro. Out of all of the countries that we travelled to, Brazil took the most leg work. In Atlanta, I had to book a meeting with the Brazilian consulate. Prior to that meeting I had to get paperwork showing our bank accounts, airline tickets, yellow fever vaccinations, and hotel accommodations. In addition to that paperwork, we also needed cashier’s checks from the post office for $160 per person to obtain a visa to visit for 3 days. But, we can come back anytime in the next 10 years.
*** WARNING *** Consider this the obligatory disclaimer that the remainder of the entry on Rio includes some adult-oriented carnival and Rio stories. We had to paint a picture!
So Rio… “Booty, booty, booty, booty, rockin’ everywhere.” The Ying Yang twins’ chorus from Bubba Sparxx’s song ‘Ms. New Booty’ popped into my mind after walking around Rio for a day. Our hotel was across the street from Copacabana beach. The beach began gaining fame years ago when the Rio’s famous sights started appearing in Hollywood movies and film stars such as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers began to frequent Copacabana. Countless celebrities have vacationed here since it became a popular destination.
Anyway, back to the booty song… While walking around, all the ladies were wearing thongs. Not just the young women - all ages. I admired their confidence relaxing on the beaches and the several blocks around the area. The amazing butts did not stop there. Once we went to the samba parade, each samba school had several Brazilian women dressed in headdresses and thongs pulsating and dancing their hearts out. We sat right in front of quite a bit of camera men, and the samba dancers would turn on the charm (and by charm, we mean booty-shaking and body-gyrating) full tilt when they were being broadcasted live to millions.
As the Carnival celebrations start to get under way, Rio has open street parties all over the city called “blocos” (a record of 492 approved blocos this year to be exact). Our first full night in Rio we had the treat of meeting several of Ryan’s work friends: Kevin, Rhonda, Mike and Mandy. They had just flown in from Seattle and Detroit respectively. We were excited to hang out with some fellow Americans and experience all that Rio has to offer. Right away we landed in the middle of a Bloco party next to the villa they rented for their vacation. Beer cost was roughly $0.50 each, and everyone was in full costume dancing. All ages attend these events, and the local Brazilians’ love of Carnival is extremely contagious. Before you know it you are attempting Samba and bouncing to the beat of the musician’s drums. Here is a video of a Bloco party that was on the street in front of our hotel earlier that day:
According to a paper that I got in the lobby of our hotel the observance of Carnival began (according to many historians) in Italy as a celebration by Catholics before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, a six-week period of fasting and abstinence that ends at Easter. Eating meat was prohibited during Lent, and the origin of the word “carnival” comes from either carne levare meaning to remove meat or carne vale – “farewell to meat” in Italian. Catholic Portuguese settlers of Brazil are credited with bringing the Pre-Lenton celebration to Rio de Janeiro with the first recorded Carnival taking place during either the 17th or 18th century. Now it is a huge event where Rio is expecting 1.5 million people to partake directly in the festivities and tens of millions of others watch the main events on TV.
Ryan and I took the subway to the Sambadrome (specifically built for Carnival) and the singing and dancing were already underway on the train. I did not expect the elaborate costumes from all ages of people in the stands. Among the 90,000 people cheering on the event were groups of people holding signs and wearing specific samba school shirts. Once making it to the huge Sambadrome we found our entrance amongst the madness and were pleased to have seats in a box close to the parade.
There was an underlying pulse of excited energy. Carnival is such a huge part of the Brazil’s culture, and it was an amazing experience to join them on the ride. The parade is also a serious competition of the Samba schools. Currently there are over seventy competitive samba schools in six divisions. Each school chooses a theme, a samba song, and creates upwards of 20 + different themed costumes and multiple floats to progress through the parade over a time period of 40-80 minutes. The samba song for each school is sung over and over again throughout the entirety of each school’s performance. We do not know Portuguese, but we were able to pick up on a few words that were sung and written in our program. The samba schools are judged in ten categories: Theme, Percussion Section (the “bateria” – these guys were a big deal), Harmony, Continued Spirit, Overall Impression, Float and Props, Costumes, Front dance group and The Flag Couple. Having seats across the parade from the judges’ box ensured that we got to see everyone at their highest energy.
We went on the first of the four nights of the Samba parade. The event started at 9pm. Our night was scheduled to go until around 6 AM, but over the course of the night things got delayed and I bet the 10th school on the program did not finish until after 7 AM the next morning. Ryan and I watched and danced to 6 full samba parades, and at 3 AM we were spent and left during the 7th school. Unfortunately we had to check out of our hotel the next morning, and that made pulling an all-nighter a bit uncomfortable. ***If you go to Carnival, plan to sleep the next day - Do not fly out!*** Traveling in a taxi away from the Sambadrome after 3 AM, we saw the next three schools queued up in costume with their floats preset. Each of these schools has around 5000 members performing. It was incredible experiencing Rio’s Carnival. The time, effort, creativity, and organization to pull of this event was executed flawlessly. *** Photo note: please forgive the slightly crummy pics from the samba parade. As a security precaution, we left all of Ryan’s stuff at the hotel and have relied upon our iPhone pics – and a few bootlegged photos from the local media – to supply the photos posted re: our samba parade experience ***
The next morning after sleeping very little, I kept dancing. It felt like after you have been in the waves for several hours: your body still feels the motion of the waves even though you are not in the water. (It wasn’t just me, when we went to the airport I kept seeing people dancing all over the streets.) Rio was like an alternate universe, and I am glad we got to visit during its most colorful festival!
After a brief walk around Rio to visit Ipanema and Copacabana one more time, Ryan and I drank one last caipirinha at the hotel, enjoyed our second tasty meal at our local food find – Bocado Belfonte (where Ryan was smitten by their local soups) and headed for the airport. Thank you South America – you were quite an experience! All of the food, culture, dancing, people and beauty will be forever remembered. Adios Peru, Argentina and Chile… Ciao Brazil! We are en route to the next big leg of our trip: Africa!