February 20, 2007

Carnival 2007 Chaos: Day 6
Salvador da Bahia, Brazil

Fat Tuesday and Fatboy Slim.

Carnival, Day 6

I awoke about the same time as the majority of the other travelers in our apartment—just an hour or so before dusk. It was late, the only thing more entertaining at this particular moment than the hour were the tales of how I slept.

It would seem that my body had shut down while in the process of getting into bed—collapsed in mid-motion, my feet still on the ground, the rest of me unconscious on the mattress. If a photo was taken I didn't hear about it, but aside from a snapshot taken a week ago, it would be the only proof I was ever in the apartment.

I hobbled around the home as I drank glass after glass of cold water, my feet exploding in pure pain. I looked at the source and winced, surely at least six of these nails are now dead and will fall off, I thought silently (although struggling visually for all to see). Everyone's feet were damaged—chipped, blood under nails—a daily reminder for months to come of the madness experienced in the streets of Salvador's Carnival.

I cleaned up and slowly made my way over to an Internet cafĂ©—an e-mail from Brodie waiting—there wasn't a great deal of time left before I was expected to come over and finish what we had started a week earlier.

I put on my filthy clothing for one final round, and was about leave the apartment when I was caught by one of the South African girls (close friend to the other South African that was the organizer of the apartment—making her 2nd in command, I suppose).

Although our contact was relatively minimal over the past six days, her demeanor with me had gone from friendly/attracted to that of something which will only have to be tolerated for another 36 hours. For I was the jerk that permanently retained a set of keys, for which there were only three or four sets in total to be shared among a dozen people. She wanted the keys for the group, I did not want to relinquish them.

In my mind the scenario was clear—I could live with her thinking of me as the loner, womanizing, American asshole, but what I couldn't tolerate was the thought of being locked out of my home while others were either asleep or out—alone, unsafe in the dark rain, at an early hour of the morning. Groups had formed within the apartment, be it bloco or nationality, and I belonged to neither—I was the most unpredictable element in the house, and with it came the highest risk of lockout.

My first impulse upon hearing the preposterous number of keys we had available for so many people was to get a set made for myself (figuring I'd offer to sell them back to the owners for 1/2 the price of the duplication). I probably would have followed through with such things if I had not been stiffed on a shared taxi from Barra back to the apartment on the afternoon of the first day of Carnival. The duplicates cost BR$10 for the four keys, about the same amount that was owed to me. It was my passive aggressive way of recouping that cost.

It also bothered me that with all the money being dumped to the owners they (or the organizer) didn't think to get duplicates made. I think the BR$300 I paid entitled me to, at minimum, a set of keys. Collectively, we travelers threw at least good BR$3,500 at owners for their space—it was absurd that we didn't have more available.

Besides, with all the grief this girl was giving me about up and disappearing for three days with a set of keys, did it never occur to anyone else in the house that they too could have made duplicates? No, of course not. Most travelers will roll over and take the kicks instead of looking for ways of making their lives easier for the cost of two cocktails.

I had debated the topic enough—I was keeping the keys for the final night. Status quo—the sixth night the same as the previous five. I was out the door and on a bus to Barra—deal with it.

After Dark…

I entered the Barra apartment and embraced my Carnival Comrades—for we were brothers, together again in vice this night.

Brodie and Christoph

We drank Carnivals and caipirnhas as tales were told, blank spots clarified, memories collectively recalling entertaining timelines and wild events from days past. I've never blacked out—time travel, as I like to call it—but the focus of my memory has been known dull. How entertaining it is to tell a friend of something said and forgotten as you pour him another drink, bringing him closer to that state that caused him to act/react/forget such a thing.

I turned around and he was gone—vanished completely. I looked to Brodie to help me find his friend in the lunacy that the Barra circuit had become on its final night. Christoph was gone, our time on the street having only been counted in the tens of minutes, not hours.

We had set a meeting point in the likely event we were separated, a small Christ statue on a hill overlooking the dangerous/wondrous beach zone of Barra. We checked it shortly after loosing track of the man, but midnight (and the rendezvous) was still several hours away.

We drank and danced outside of the thievery zone for hours, enjoying all the benefits of the circuit without any of the hostility. Further down the avenue of chaos we traveled, uncontrollable smiles on our faces. Some blocos we let pass, others we danced with—all we enjoyed.

Then I saw it—a paved path leading up and away from the avenue, probably to a street. Locals in the immediate area, many deeper down the path. I approached, finding the typical assortment of vendors and urinators. The path widened ahead—wooden fences on each side—wildly curious I advanced, Brodie didn't hesitate to follow, but commented soon enough.

I knew what I was looking for and found it less than 70 meters from the avenue, a hidden treasure no white tourist would ever venture off the street to discover. We took seats in plastic chairs on a the paved street of an aggressively sloping hill. We're buying a big beer from an elderly woman caged inside of tiny corner store, and we're going to drink it with the locals.

I'm not sure for how long during the experience Brodie thought we were absolutely nuts, but I never had any doubts—we're safer where we're not expected.

Locals poured us drinks and us in turn for them, laughing and smiling and enjoying our beverages, the scene, and getting off our feet for a few moments. I felt the curiosity and warmth of happy people, and didn't tense once during our excursion off the circuit.

…It was a rather nutty thing to do, though.

After drinks we ended up near the beach area of Barra again, remembering too late that we had to meet up with a missing Christoph. We were approaching the hill when we saw that it was already 40 minutes past midnight—discovering shortly thereafter the expected absence of our friend.

We later learned that Christoph had indeed made it up to the statue to meet, but an hour tardy himself, at 1:00—we were late, but 15 minutes early. His presence with us was just not in the cards this particular evening.

A big highlight of the night was going to be the bloco from which Fatboy Slim was spinning music. Participating in this bloco cost a ridiculous sum of money (BR$220 if you bought early, twice that amount or more if you didn't). Several from my apartment were going to be in the bloco, so Brodie and I were keeping an eye out for the most anticipated artist of the festival to crawl his way along the street.

As we drank and danced our way up and down the circuit, the camarotes kept catching my eye. I felt sorry for the people locked in their safe, expensive, dull prison platforms. Then Brodie pointed out that they could leave the camarotes when they pleased… which instantly gave me the intense desire to somehow convince a camarote girl to leave her shelter. Could I flirt a bird down from her nest?

God knows I tried—thinking I came close once when an admirer tossed down a string of blue and white Bonfim beads (typically given in exchange for a kiss)… but no dice.

Time blurrrrrrred. I wear no watch, I care not what the time is on a typical day, let alone on a Carnival night. Suddenly, in the distance we could see it… we knew without knowing—the Fatboy Slim bloco had arrived.

The trio elĂ©ctrico was in the eye of a maddening hurricane of carnage. Bloco members—now disciples of The Cult of Fatboy Slim—ungulated and raved in unison (for doing otherwise would surely result in getting trampled). The maestro conducted not only music, but the storm of insanity sweeping and swirling around every side of his truck.

There, in the crowd and confusion, I see them—my housemates. Mario embraces me and tells me he's sneaking us in. I give Brodie a look he understood all too well, and like that, we had infiltrated the bloco—our timing against the security guards and rope workers perfect. The only problem was that we had no shirts—so off mine came, Brodie following suit, helping obscure our presence.

I was nearly kicked out a few times, but ended up evading and staying inside the bouncing mass of bodies for a good hour or so—although I sadly lost Brodie at some point, and never recovered his companionship.

I must say, for as interesting as being in a bloco was, I was getting bored. The girls were prude, I couldn't escape the constant mosh-pit, and I had lost track of all friends. I gave security a wave to eject me (so that I didn't have to personally lift up the rope barrier).

I lost myself in a bloco somewhere down the street behind the Fatboy Slim disciples. The rain had started to come down unobtrusively, I was surrounded by uninhibited Brazilians having a hell of a time—all of us dancing, waving arms, and stomping feet in unison to the sounds of Afro-Brazilian hits. I was completely and totally euphoric.

…until someone stepped on my toes… OUCH! The pain! Then, moments later it was forgotten… The JOY!

I removed my little devil horns briefly and shook my head from side to side like a wet dog—was that sweat or rain that had turned my head into a big shaggy mop? Both.

My hair got about as abused as my pockets over the course of the week—agressive boys aren't the only ones that like to grab hair, women seemed to love to get my attention by grabbing a handful of blonde. Calm down, girl.

Somehow I found myself at the terminus of the circuit out in Ondina. There, waiting in a semi-circle in the ever-growing daylight, were many faces known to me—housemates.

Pleasantries having been exchanged, I asked a handsome young Israeli from the house if he wanted to come run amuck with me further back along the circuit—of course he did…

…and run amuck we did, for even though the specifics of that part of the night (morning) elude me, I do remember one of his many comments about my antics:

The girls of my country are beautiful, but very cold. If you were to come to Israel and act as you do here, you would leave not with kissed lips, but with a face permanently red from all the slaps received!

An hour or more later we took the (now familiar) bus from Barra back home to Pelourinho, staying awake with conversation. A few hundred meters from the apartment the rain started coming down hard. As we walked I peeled the grey rag that use to be a shirt off my body tossed it in a dumpster. The destiny of the swim shorts purchased for Carnival also lay with the garbage, but their time had not come at this hour—I needed something to change into first.

It was closer to nine in the morning than eight when the young Israeli and I walked into the apartment. I felt like I had been marched for days straight through jungle and desert—my feet looking the part.

After showering I immediately started chugging down cups of water and icing my feet. The blisters would subside in the few days, the ice helping to dull the throbbing of toes stepped on a thousand times over.

It went on like that for some time—drinking water, ice rotation from foot to foot, more water, other foot… Exhaustion finally getting the best of me and I retreated to bed.

Some say that to run with the bulls in Spain is crazy—to them I say come to Salvador and participate in Carnival for a week, you may think those men and women quite sane after.

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Comments:

Brazil

Craig | travelvice.com

March 3rd, 2007

Be sure to check out the wild trio of videos filmed atop the Fatboy Slim bloco truck in the snapshots gallery! They're worth the download!

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