I spent two weeks in Rio de Janeiro with Carnaval Transatlântico from 9-23 February 2014 - the build-up to carnival. We are a carnival bloco made up of members of Nova Guarda from Birmingham, Ziriguidum from Bristol and Toque Tambor from Hitchin, led by J P Courtney. We had some amazing experiences together. Here's my diary, which I wrote to help me remember what happened when and with whom. I may return to update this later with (other people's) photos.
Sunday 9 February: Travel day
Flew from Heathrow. Four movies on the plane. Shared a bed with Emma Reading because there was only a double and not two twins.
Monday 10 February: Day 1
Went out for breakfast and a bit of food shopping. Bought a TIM SIM card and set it up. Went out for a walk along Botafogo beach with Emma and Martin. Drink with Sam and others at a bar. Learned about the weird payment system with tally cards. Terrible dinner at Bar do Italiano. Waited for ages to get served - even for a drink. Shared bed with Emma again.
Tuesday 11 February: Day 2
Email from J P checking I was OK. Walking tour of Carioca, Centro and Lapa. Learned that young people in body paint are students who have qualified for university and want beer money. Saw amazing coloured tiled steps. Feijoada lunch in Lapa. Terrible service again. Evening rehearsal with Monobloco in Copacabana. Loved having section leaders. Spent third night sharing a bed with Emma.
Wednesday 12 February: Day 3
Best day in Rio so far. Emma moved out to Beth Chambers's room. Botanical Gardens with Emma and Martin. Hiked up to Christ the Redeemer with Emma. It was the hardest hike I'd ever done. I hit the red zone after 20 minutes due to Emma's fast pace. Took me about 50 minutes to recover but eventually got my second wind. Felt like quitting and turning back but I took my time. We reached the top in 1 hour 40 minutes! It usually takes 2-3 hours! It was so pleasing to have done it and we were rewarded with the most amazing views. Now every time I see Christ the Redeemer I can say I walked up there. Drinks near Botafogo metro after a shower. Feeling a glow of respect from the group. It's nice to feel noticed. First night with the double bed to myself.
Thursday 13 February: Day 4
Lazy morning after late night from the buzz of climbing Christ the Redeemer. Message from Tantse asking what my plans were for the day. She has a boyfriend in the band, I think: Dave Walter. Got surdos ready and walked down to Be Happy Studios for rehearsal. There were no lights or power because a power cable was down. Classic Brazilian incompetence. Waited around for hours and then eventually felt Dunkirk spirit when we walked to a nearby park to rehearse. Funny taxi driver back to Mercure. Liked English rock music, James Bond and Mr Bean. Gig at Circo Voador. Amazing venue. Enjoyed watching people dance. There was one wee bald fat guy who had to work really hard to find a partner and looked sad and lonely until he did, but he was an amazing dancer and the ladies all enjoyed it. First third of set was the best stage gig I've ever done. Fucked up "Steal My Kisses" and we never had the same energy after that. Got taxi home straight after and helped take surdos back to Mercure.
Friday 14 February: Day 5
Late night last night. Got up for breakfast and then went back to bed until 15:20. Went up the Sugar Loaf in cable cars to watch the sunset. Quick shower and then out to watch GRES São Clemente. The others got a bit scared when we went off to find food and drink. It wasn't a great area, but it was fine. Walked past the Sambadromo. Bar was a bit skanky. Rehearsal / show was great, although a bit smaller than I expected. Nice walk and chat with Emma from pub and while waiting for bloco to start. Didn't eat much today but feel fine.
Saturday 15 February: Day 6
Slept late. Had a swim. Did laundry and shopping. Played at Encontro do Blocos. Had a great time and the crowd loved it and were really supportive. Had dinner at Japanese place in Botafogo. Went to Mangueira enseiao. It was mental: a big box of noise, colour and happiness.
Sunday 16 February: Day 7
Went to Vasco da Gama vs Flamengo at the Maracanã stadium. Had some fun on the Metro with Dave Potter on the way there. It was impossible to change lines where we wanted and we couldn't even retrace our steps because the trains weren't going in the right direction; or they did and then went back again! Eventually gave up and got a taxi the rest of the way.
Paid R$120 for my ticket (£30). Vasco scored first then Flamengo equalized with a controversial goal that didn't appear to have crossed the line. The assistant referee behind the goal gave it. TV apparently showed it 30cm over but they weren't showing replays in the stadium. The poor referee had to be escorted off the pitch by riot police at half-time when the Vasco players attacked him.
I saw the most blatant act of cheating by Elano, the first Flamengo goalscorer: the referee had a little spray can to mark the spot for free-kicks and where the wall should stand. For one free-kick, the Vasco goalkeeper went down injured and while the referee turned his back, Elano wiped off the free-kick spot and moved the ball forward 2m! The cheek!
Flamengo then scored the winner in the last minute. The atmosphere was great, even though there were only 13,000-16,000 in the stadium. They gave two figures but I'm not sure why. Both sets of fans mingled quite happily in our section: no need for segregation.
We went on to the Sambadromo. It started to rain. We got soaked but I didn't mind. I was quite comfortable and stepped in time when I got cold. Saw Beija-Flor and Tijuca. Beija-Flor's bateria was better. The singing was amazing and the rows and rows of dancers just kept coming. There were about 250 in each bateria. The whole parade stretched most of the length of the Sambadromo.
Brazil is a crazy country. So much is broken and frustrating but the people are warm and happy and they make beauty and noise and colour.
J P joined in with some candomble players on the way back. I gave one a plaster for his finger which was bleeding from the drum. If I end up with AIDS or hepatitis A or B, that might be why.
Had late dinner at Bar do Italiano in Botafogo. Much better second time round, although they still forgot half my order.
Returned to hotel with Fiona.
The lifts are out of order and there is no wi-fi. Standard.
Monday 17 February: Day 8
Lazy, relaxing day. Slept till midday. Had a long swim in the pool. Had dinner at a kilo restaurant on Rua São Clemente. Watched a gig at a public square in Lapa by Estratégia. They played a lot of funk. It was good and got better when it started to rain. Led a procession to drinks at a bar in Lapa called Antonio's. Early-ish night: it's now 02:36!
Tuesday 18 February: Day 9
Went to Copacabana with Chris Dobbie. It was beautiful to swim in the sea. We meant to go to Ipanema but took a wrong turn coming out of the station. Should have checked the map. I assumed Chris knew where he was going. The waves were huge but we started at a place with no red flags so we could swim. Walked all the way along to the north end of the beach and then back through the tunnel to Botafogo. Burnt the top of my feet because I was wearing flip-flops. Didn't put suncream on my feet when I came out the water because I was covered in sand and we walked through the water. Tough one to prevent. Must have happened on the walk home. Had lunch in my apartment. Snoozed. Then had a swim in the pool with Emma. Dinner at same kilo then watched J P's gig at Carioca da Gema in Lapa. In the band were Paul Baxter, Sam Tomkins, Jackson Lapes, Fabio Allman, Pepe and the cavaquinho player, whose name I don't know. Most of the band were there to support. Good night. It's now 02:36 (again!) but I still need my bedtime shower.
Wednesday 19 February: Day 10
No one wanted to go to Ipanema or cycle round the lagoon with me so I tagged along with Betchy, Carol and Ali in town. Browsed in the music and carnival accessories shops at Carioca. Had lunch at the Confeitura Colombo, a grand colonial tea room. Visited the cathedral (upturned bucket). It was beautiful. Glad I cultivated my spiritual side. The building made me look up all the time. The statues at the side entrances formed silhouettes in the light. Jesus' fingers were rubbed shiny by people touching them, like the lions' noses in Munich. Dinner at Rio Scenarium in Lapa - a wonderful building full of curious collections of old stuff. Then led the group to the Portela rehearsal far out in Madureira. It was worth the mission of a journey. Half inside, half outside venue. The people were so welcoming. Blue and white. Little colonial buildings on one side, like a little village. Stayed on to listen to some samba at a bar outside. I'm happy.
Thursday 20 February: Day 11
Woke by my alarm at 09:00 but slept until 10:15. Went to Barra to play a gig at the British School, where Pepe teaches. I was the bus monkey, making sure everyone was there. Had a nice chat to Kathy on the way there. She's lovely. Didn't enjoy the gig as much as the earlier ones. Playing to school kids, who had a workshop earlier in the day and joined in with us for "Get Lucky". Surdos weren't well tuned. I need to take care of my own tuning in future. Sat by myself on the way home. Chatted to Malcolm behind me for a bit. Rested and had a swim in the pool. Fiona saw the blister on my sunburnt foot and said I had second degree burns and need to take care of it. Then went out to see maracatu at Largo do Machado. The bateria was called Tambores de Olokun. Met a couple of guys in the bar beforehand, next to the shop (Maracatu Brasil) where I bought straps, beater, surdo key and triangle for R$202 (£52). It was good to hear maracatu. It brought back memories of last year. It doesn't fill me with joy like samba does. Got metro home with Emma afterwards. We are planning to go to Ipanema tomorrow at 09:00.
Friday 21 February: Day 12
Met Emma at 09:00 and spent the day at Ipanema beach together, just the two of us. Bliss. Had a lovely time in long conversation. I love talking to her. Had lunch in between two swims (chicken, of course: Emma's favourite). Left at 15:30. Went to Lapa for TV news shoot at the Fundiçao Progresso at 18:20. Dinner in Lapa (below average). Then had gig with Monobloco at the Fundiçao Progesso. Amazing venue but acoustics were a bit too booming. I was right under some speakers on the right edge. My surdo buddy played the wrong funk and I followed him. I made about 5 errors in total. Enjoyed it, but I should have done more prep. Left about 03:00-ish. My burnt left foot was tender. Blister has got bigger. It's now 05:15. Big day tomorrow: our street set but we're no longer parading.
Saturday 22 February: Day 13
Woke late. Went to Lapa about 15:00 for the final gig. Bit of waiting around. Had a snooze on the gym mats at the Fundicão Progresso. Did the sound check and then played a gig by the arches in Lapa. It was a bit of an anti-climax. We didn't play great and J P wasn't up like at Circo Voador and Encontro do Blocos. I couldn't feed off his energy. Crowd was a bit disappointingly small. Took drums back then had afterparty. I was tired but still had a decent time when talking to people. Went on to Bar do Italiano. Stayed up all night and went to Copacabana with Emma for the sunrise. She took a bit of persuading, but we're both glad we did it. It was beautiful. The setting was stunning. Got hassled by three young guys who wanted money. Emma gave them a Rizzler and they eventually went away. They had us both worried. I thought we were getting a gentle mugging. Didn't spoil it too much. Went for a swim after the sunrise. Lovely way to end the holiday. Left about 07:00. Had a shower at the hotel and I'm now lying on my bed at 08:19. May have a quick nap before packing.
Sunday 23 February: Day 14
Slept a couple of hours until after 10:00. Had breakfast and packed until just after midday. Checked out of the Mercure, stored bags and went to Emma and Betchy's room. Had a snooze, still tired after the sunrise. Booked Ocado delivery. Went out for dinner at the kilo place. Had a small leaving drinks party in the reception, thrown by Aldo, who has taken a liking to us. Got the bus to the airport. Moved up to sit beside Emma when she woke after a snooze and enjoyed the view out the window together. Flew home. Sat by myself by the window next to an elderly couple. Watched Enough Said, slept, got up for the toilet and a stretch, then watched Sunshine on Leith.
Monday 24 February: Travel day
On arrival at Heathrow, gave everyone a hug goodbye at baggage reclaim. Emma forgot her suitcase and had to come back through security to get it. I had noticed - first assuming she was at the toilet - and waited for her. Had a coffee with her. Dave Wells and Maggie joined us later. So I'm back from Brazil, writing this on the bus back to Oxford. Tired, a bit emotional, but full of happy memories and experiences.
Back home I unpacked everything and started four loads of washing. My Ocado delivery (ordered from an apartment bed in Rio) arrived after 18:00. Discovered that my car's wing mirror on the driver's side is missing. No sign of it being smashed. Appears to have been stolen or vandalized. Went to bed before midnight.
Tuesday 25 February
Worked from home so I could get my car's wing mirror fixed. Feeling the post-holiday blues pretty badly. I feel crushed. I miss the joy and happiness of Rio, the people (both local and in the band), the sunshine, warmth, swimming, music, camaraderie. Finding it hard to adjust to life back down here. No enthusiasm for work today. Fell asleep in my chair after dinner cuddling Jojo, even though I felt like going to bed then, the cats probably prevented me. Slept for at least 2.5 hours in the chair! In bed now at 00:11. Have been writing since before midnight. Might end this diary here. All washing done and hanging up to dry. Sol Samba rehearsal tomorrow. Hard come-down. Thankful for a holiday of joy and wonder and love of all kinds.