We were somewhat nervous before we arrived at our hostel, Pousada d´Olinda, as to confirm our reservation we´d had to transfer cash into a spanish bank account. We´d reserved an aircon double room for the carnival period and we knew from previous experience the room could be on either side of the acceptable scale. Luckily for us the owners, an Algerian family, had everything organised and the room turned out to be our means of escaping the heat and intensity of the non-stop party. With a pool opened 24-7 and a huge breakfast available we knew we´d found the right place to experience the drunked debauchery of Brazilian carnival.
The hostel had been fully booked for well over three months, and travellers from all over the world descended on the pousada to experience the renowned 'traditional' side of carnival, compared to the alleged 'tourist' parties in both Salvador and Rio. The party started early each day as revellers drank, danced and sang their way through the streets of Olinda before heading back into the city of Recife during the evenings.
Now, this made sense to us, as at night Recife came alive with various forms of music from a multitude of stages and marching bands. The only problem appeared to be whether we´d have the energy to get our butts in a cab, as we´d spend the majority of the day drinking copious amounts of fruit vodka drinks in 35 degree heat. We did manage on a couple of occasions to last the course and head into the city. If we expected a break from the crowds we´d obviously come to the wrong place, as it appeared to be just as packed as Olinda. During these visits we managed to catch a glimpse of the various shows and performances being displayed on huge stages. From rocking to a famous Brazilian bnd from Recife to the awesome hypnotic banging of drummers during 'The night of the silent drum'. On these occasions the following morning quickly merged into the afternoon.
We´d expected our budget to be blown out the water by the cost of alcohol in the carnival, so you can imagine how chuffed we were when we realised that a double shot of vodka or other spirit, mixed with your choice of fruit would cost a mere 60p... or 50p for a can of Skol. For this we have to thank the masses of drink stands that aligned the streets in both Olinda and Recife. Although our livers might not agree. These small, shabby looking stands also provided us with enough nourishment to enable us to dance 24-7. From cheese-sticks and kebabs to pizzas and empanadas (pasty like snacks).
We´d also been warned on a number of occassions that Olinda can be somewhat dangerous during carnival, especially after an Israeli girl had apparently been killed by a stray bullet the previous year. Luckily for us we only had a couple of dodgy situations. The first appeared a mere 100m from us when a probably pished/stoned gunman decided to fire a couple of shots into the crowd. As the masses sprinted towards us we realised that it couldn´t have been just an odd firecracker... yup, we legged it. Within a minute the police had arrived on the scene and led the shooter away.
The second incident happened in a crowded alley while trying to get back to our hostel. Blokes, beer, and soaring temperatures soon turned the cobbled street into something resembling a sardine can and before too long our flongs (flip-flops, thongs... etc) had been ripped off our feet as we became crushed in the crowd. Luckily we managed to squirm our way through only then to realise that during the crush Phil had had cash nicked from his zipped pocket. Sneaky buggers. Any other problem could easily be foreseen as crowds fled towards you from any trouble. We just continued to leg it.
So as day and night wore on we began to feel the effects of the drink, heat and lack of sleep. We´d been covered in foam, beer, water, pizzas and god knows what else. We needed an escape plan... and a climb up the hill behind our hostel did the job. From here we gazed down at the carnage in the streets, took in some well needed fresh air, drank agua de coca, and gazed over the awesome views of Recife and the Atlantic coastline. Igreja da Sé, a colonial church dating back to 1537, provided some great photo opportunities and for once we´d decided to take a gamble and bring the camera into the crowds.
During the quieter evenings in Olinda, a group of well 'ard, muscle bound local men gathered around in a circle to demonstrate the Brazilian martial art of Capoeira. Capoeira has been described as a martial art, a dance, an art form, a form of self-defense, or any hybrid of these. It involves two people kicking, flipping, and somersaulting to a drum and a berimbau.
A berimbau can be defined as "a musical bow with one string. Attached to the bow is a hollowed out gourd (cabaca) that acts as a resonator box. Tones are produced when the bowstring is struck by a thin flexible stick (vaqueta). A small rattle (caxixi) is held in the hand that holds the vaqueta. With its hypnotic sound, the berimbau is considered 'the soul of capoeira'".
These guys did try and coax Phil into a Capoeira-off but he politely declined as the best he'd probably be able to do is attempt to jump and fall on his arse. We've both bought a pair of the pants though, so at least we look the part. Ok... besides the beers guts and skinny arms.
It´s difficult to describe the rest of carnival as it passed that quickly, leaving just a drunken haze. During the five days we watched drum and marching parades, involving people of all ages, backgrounds and cultures dancing, drinking and patrying together. An awesome spectacle.
Quite simply, it´s an experience that if you have the chance you should jump at it.