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When I landed in Rio de Janeiro, sleep-deprived, I had no clue that I’d be marching in the Carnival Samba Parade that night. I’ve had some adventures, but this would be a first.


My friend from high school, Ted, had tired of working for The Man and Minnesota winters, moved to Rio, changed his name to Tedge (kind of rhymes with Edgy), and opened up his new apartment to anyone inclined to visit. I was so inclined.

After 12 hours of flying and 0 hours of sleep, we dropped my bags off at his flat, found a restaurant, and started drinking caiparinhas. Somehwere between my second and fourth cocktail I learned that Tedge had signed us up ($50 a piece) to march in the Carnival Samba Parade.


The highlight of the Rio Carnival, the Samba Parade is a 5-hour-or-so competition between the city’s samba schools that snakes through the Oscar Niemeyer-designed permanent parade ground built for 90,000 hopped-up Brazilians.

I admit it: I was excited. I envisioned myself sashaying around in some skimpy, sparkly, sexy outfit festooned with feathers, glitter, and bling, as one envisions Mardi Gras paraders. Not so much. Tedge neglected to inform me that I would be donning a Catain Hook outfit: 50 pounds of a red, long-waisted jacket; clunky, big-buckled shoes; the requisite hook; an oversized hat; and an itchy, heavy, hot, curly wig. Once dressed, we consumed more caiparinhas and headed to the Samba Parade.

Rio Samba Parade Pirate

The parade began at midnight, which is the Brazilian equivalent of 6:00 p.m. in the Midwest. Cariocas (Rio natives) are just leaving their homes for the night. We were late (Ted was almost lways late; Tedge was even worse) so I ran — drunk, sleep-deprived, in my clunky shoes, desperately clutching my swashbuckler hat and wig with my hook, tailcoat flying — to join our section of the Samba Parade. We made it with seconds to spare.

Our section didn’t march exactly — we swung stepped, stopping at one point in the song to perform a little arm routine. We finished three (four?!?) miserable hours later (did I mention that the temperature was 90 degrees and humidity was 100%?) and we swayed to the same tune the entire time. Sung in Portuguese. Over and over and over again. That melody still haunts me.

Then we drank more caiparinhas.

At the time I couldn’t sort out if the Samba Parade was the highlight or lowlight of the trip but I know now that in retrospect, the worst experiences make the best stories.

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