Saturday, March 21, 2015

Rio Carnaval and How I Thought I Was Going To Die

You know, I do promise myself to write more often. I used to write like, twice a week back in the day. But it was Carnaval in Rio and you gotta be here to understand! CARNAVAL IN RIO! Sounds positively fabulous, and frankly, it IS. Carnaval itself has a few days of shows at the Sambadrome (yup, they have a stadium made especially for Carnaval, that’s how big it is), where various samba schools will put on a massive show and slowly parade in front of the spectators. Depending on which day you go, you can see the B-list or the A-listers. Usually, folks go on one of the two nights the A-list schools parade – the shows are on TV as well and run all night. One school parade would take up to one hour and 20 mins (anything more, and the school gets point subtracted from its overall score) to parade down the 700 meters of the Sambadrome, and there are 7 schools per night. The shows start at 9ish and as you can figure yourselves if you do the math, that means that the night is over at about 7 am.

Part of the Swiss themed school:
Alien was designed by a Swiss guy. Who knew?!
Each school would have hundreds of people in it, a bunch of floats and a theme. The themes can be creative or, frankly, puzzling. For example, one school’s theme was Switzerland and so each group of dancers and floats represented various aspects of Swiss life. Yup, Switzerland. Because if there is anything that screams Carnaval in Rio it is that rowdy country of Switzerland. Another school’s theme was the End of the World. I must say it was rather entertaining – with the message, “if tomorrow were the end of the world, what would you do?” Each group of dancers (there are about 50, I think in each marching group) kept marching with messages like, “Did you eat enough?” “Did you stay stuck in traffic?” “Did you see the world?” and yes, as you can imagine, also “Did you have sex enough?” This last one came on an actual float (there are usually about 5-6 large floats in each school), which had several nice, residential house doors, painted in bright colors, from which suddenly about 50 butt-naked people jumped out and started making out right in front of us.
A Spectacular Float

To be honest though, a large part of the performers in Carnaval don’t exactly come with much on anyway – pasties and glitter is considered a fairly decent outfit there. So yeah, it is entertaining all right.
Various costumes, all part of one a school - a float in the back
The Diplomat and I had bought some pricey tickets for the first night which allowed us to be at the ground level, right next to the marching schools, and could touch and yell delightedly at everyone. Also, apparently our box was right underneath the box for the judges, which meant that each school would stop right in front of us and perform their numbers (rather than just walk). Which would explain why the whole naked scene unfolded uncannily smack dab in front of our eyes. The night did not start well –as we were leaving home, it began to pour and continued to do for the next 4 hours. It does not rain like this in Rio. Ever. Undaunted, we got there and bought the thinnest, most inefficient and cheap plastic raincoats possible. While trying to adjust it over my head, I ripped it on the neck, which meant that for the next 3 hours, I had water slither down my back. So fun. But the show must go on and the samba schools paraded with smiles so big you’d think it was raining gold.

We were lucky to go with a bunch of good friends, including a good buddy of mine from my A100 class who serves in neighboring Ecuador and got enticed to come and see this fabled Carnaval business. We had a blast but due to general fatigue had to leave around 4 am. Apparently, I had so much fun that, in a fit of suicidal enthusiasm, I decided that it would be a phenomenal idea to go and watch the second night of the parade and that time, folks, I was determined to make it all the way till the end! We had some fabulous friends visiting us from Jamaica who had left too early the previous night and were game to go with me as well. The Diplomat stayed back to babysit. And sleep. We managed to score some tickets online, but sadly, those were in nosebleeds and let me tell you – it was not the same. True, you can see the action sort of as a big picture, but the excitement and hysteria of the nearness to the sweaty costumed screaming, dancing and singing bodies was not there. We did make it to the end, though! We managed to get back home by 7.30 am, where I greeted the wide-eyed and Diplomat and Son who were just sitting down to breakfast, and passed out till 2 pm. Verdict – Carnaval was awesome and everything they say it is!

The very next weekend I had to fly back to the U.S. for 3 days for a doctor’s appointment and that is when I thought my time to die had come. After my appointment, I ran to Costco, that Mecca of consumerism where I bought everything I could possibly need in the next 34 years, and then some more that I positively did not. Thankfully, all flights from and to Brazil allow you two suitcases 70 lbs each! Then I rushed to Marshalls and bought shoes for the men (things like that are beastly expensive in Brazil), and then off to the malls for some more useless stuff. I have to be honest, it was great to be back home! Fantastic service, any possible cuisine that you might desire, big portions, and most of all – cheap! Exhausted but excited to get back to the boys back in Rio, around 9 pm on Sunday, I checked in my giant suitcases and boarded the short 40 min flight from Orlando to Miami, from where I was going to catch the 11 pm to Rio. Once we took off, and after the pilot announced that due to the shortness of the flight there would be no service (LAZY!), I tiredly ruminated whether it was worth falling asleep or should I just read my book. As I was cracking my book open, suddenly the plane shook with a massive thump. Then 10 seconds later, again. And again. And again. At which point I noticed that the left engine was engulfed in flames. Bright, happy, yellow flames. The engine kept thumping for what seemed like forever, and then I noticed that no one but me seemed to be noticing the situation. All I wanted to do was scream – “THE PLANE IS ON F-ING FIRE!!!!” But I didn’t, I am not that kind of a gal. I am cool and composed, and very, very calm. So, instead, I burst out in tears. Finally, people started talking loudly and stewardesses and some dudes that looked like pilots (which made my wonder who the hell is flying the plane) started running frantically about the aisles.

It did occur to me much later that most people had no idea the engine was on fire since they were sitting away from it. I, on the other hand, had the fantastic privilege to be sitting right in the line of sight, where I could see it bright and engulfing like 4th of July fireworks. Then finally the flames were out (later on I learned that there is a way to extinguish the fire internally). Eventually, the captain decided to say something, and told us that we seem to be having a bit of a mechanical issue, no big deal really, practically routine and the plane seems to be flying just fine. JUST FINE??????
After prattling cheerfully about it for a minute or so (while we were plummeting to our death as it seemed to me), he said that he is thinking of turning around to go back to Orlando to check it out. You know, no big deal or anything! By then, I was NOT the only one crying in shock. So was the 22 year old Brazilian dude next to me with biceps so big, he could probably fly on his own had he decided to try it. His dad was between us and was calming both of us down. A stewardess came and told us all how normal it all was and how it was just a precautionary measure. 

At which point, the captain suddenly spoke again, this time sort of yelling at everyone to stop talking, hunker down in our seats, shove everything underneath and prepare for emergency landing. I am no expert on human emotion, but folks, that dude sounded petrified! Which, naturally, did wonders for our mood in the back, and now half of the plane was filled with the howling of hysterical middle-aged women, myself proudly included. The plane made a sharp turn (and so did the insides of my stomach along with it), and began a sharp descent with the cabin in full darkness. It was all very sinister and pretty much everyone was freaking out  and praying. All I could think about were all those recent plane crashes and how I really, really did not want to die. Truly inopportunely, right at that moment, all the TVs on the plane lit up and a perky blond stewardess began to thank us profusely for flying American Airlines. The pilot swiftly turned it off, but then it obstinately re-appeared again, this time emphasizing what a pleasure it is for them to have us onboard. Finally, someone had the brains to turn them all off. We landed in 10 minutes and they were some of the longest in my life. We were whisked off the plane and then stood there, wondering what in the hell to do with ourselves. If you’d think that anyone from the airline came to say – “hey, we are sorry this happened, is everyone OK?” – then you are a na├»ve fool. As a matter of fact, as we were standing there, asking the lady at the desk what to do next, she yelled at us not to crowd her. Good job, American Airlines, you are SUCH a star airline!

It took over 4 hours to be re-booked on the same flight the next day, and by 1 am, I was beyond exhausted. I returned to Brazil the next day without incident.