Wait a minute.....Carnival is really over?

If I had known that the previous night was actually the last night of Carnival, I might have partied till 6am. I knew that officially Carnival ended on Tuesday, but I had been told that in Bahia there would still be random Carnival parties happening until Friday. I woke up very energetic on the Wednesday after Carnival, ready to party! I had an amazing breakfast at my hostel - lots of fruits, eggs, fresh juice etc. I then ventured out into the streets and was disappointed to find out that the only people on the streets were the many unconscious people outside....yes, it was around 1pm and yes, there were drunk people sleeping on the streets from the previous night - don't try this in Kenya:-) You will wake up with nothing...the thieves don't sleep.

I decided to do a little bit of sightseeing around the old parts of the town. Almost everything was closed, but it was a nice feeling walking through empty streets in broad daylight. In the evening, I went for dinner down the road to a place I will refer to as "The kissing restaurant." Tables were full of people kissing....instead of eating....Lord knows what that was about. I sat down, read my kindle and enjoyed my quiet meal.

The next day I woke up with a sense of purpose. It was to be my last night in Bahia, and I still had no idea how I was going to leave. I had tried looking online, but couldn't book a bus out of Bahia. I needed to find a physical location that sold bus tickets, but I was not too sure where to go. My plan was to take a bunch of buses to get me to Amazonia in Brazil, then take a boat to Ecuador. On doing further research, I decided to cut out the Ecuador part of my trip. My main reason for going there was to get to the Galapagos Island, but I realized that even once I got to Ecuador, it would cost at least USD 1000 just to get to the island because the only way there was to take a USD 500 flight from Ecuador then accomodation and food in the island for a few days would come up to another USD 500. It was sad, but I had to cut it out because I still needed to survive in South America for another 1.5 months and I could not risk spending all my travel money in the first few weeks. I therefore was looking for a way to get to Peru by bus then boats.

The owner of my hostel was extremely kind. I told him I was having problems getting a bus out of Bahia and he drove me at no cost to the main bus station and played the role of translator with the bus company employees. Me and the hostel owner communicated mostly through google translate - he also did not speak any English, but was very patient. I have no idea how I would have been able to book that bus ticket on my own. No one at the bus company spoke a word of English - and this was the main bus terminal for all of Salvador, Bahia. It makes me wonder how Brazil will manage with the huge influx of tourists who will come in a few months for World Cup. Many people I spoke to told me the main reason for most people not speaking English is because Brazil is so huge and such a developed economy that one can survive easily without ever leaving its borders and also that learning English is extremely expensive. It is generally not offered with the regular school curriculum or even at the university, but only through private courses. One could say it is a luxury to be able to learn English.

After successfully booking my bus ticket to Brasilia, I went out for dinner and drinks with some of my new friends. I drank something called Jurubeba, which was quite tasty, but was said to be an aphrodisiac....actually most of the local drinks are said to be aphrodisiacs, but I think that is just an excuse for bad behaviour:-) The one thing I have to say about Jurubeba is that it seriously raised body temperatures. I was sweating and fanning myself a lot as soon as I drank it. Afterwards we went out to a few places in the area. In the old town of Salvador, one simply follows the music and walks to wherever makes them tap their feet.

Earlier in the day I had the most refreshing drink - it was lime juice with a bit of coconut. It's sold by a guy who is at the square in front of Rue de Pelourinho in old town. That stuff was amazing and so refreshing in the crazy heat.


First day in Bahia/last day of Carnival

After my hectic departure from Rio at 6am, I had a peaceful flight to Bahia. I arrived in Bahia around 2pm, and was looking for a bus to my hostel, but buses were not working that route during Carnival. I paid through my nose for a taxi, but really did not have any other option. I got to the hostel which was perfectly located in the historic center of Salvador. It was called "Pousada do Indio Asa Branca," and was run by the nicest family ever. I got to my room, freshened up and then I heard the guitar playing. That was my cue to go wherever the music was. I went downstairs to the hostel bar, and the whole family and some friends were there singing along as one of their relatives played the guitar. I loved the atmosphere. I joined them and drank what I believe are the most amazing caipirinhas I have ever tasted. Some were made with cashew fruit, others with pineapple and others just with sugar and lime. Delicious!

Two of the family's friends spoke English and they mentioned they would be passing by Carnival. I happily joined them. After my last misadventures with losing money in Rio, I stashed a bit of cash in my shoe. To my shock and amazement, it was not there once we got to the festivities. I have had the worst luck with money at Carnival. Me and my companions walked around a bit and it was amazing. On every street, there was a different marching band beating drums loudly, dancing, singing etc and they were all dressed in the most amazing clothes. I later came to realize that their outfits were particular to Bahia and its very African roots.

My companions eventually went home and I started feeling like going home too - especially considering I no longer had money. I passed by the largest Carnival party - which was thousands and thousands of people on the street, then finally started heading home. I was halfway back when I met a guy and a girl who invited me to join them partying. In my limited Portuguese, I was trying to explain I had no cash but they insisted we carry on partying. They were both really nice. The guy was a Capoiera teacher and the girl was his sister in law. They didn't really speak any English but we were somehow able to communicate. We went to very many different streets and parties, and the girl kept on buying me beers. I felt guilty accepting them given I couldn't reciprocate, but she wouldn't let me say no. People in Bahia are really kind. I'm not sure I would be buying drinks for a random stranger in Nairobi:-)

Some of the parties we went to were a really hot mess. There was this one reggae club where quite a few people had passed out - stone cold on the roadside or in the bar. The one major moment of culture shock I had that day was when I saw people peeing outside. There were too many people at carnival and not enough loos, but I have never in my life seen men and women pee in the same place - in public. It wasn't "Ok, this tree is now designated as the ladies and this other one is designated as the gents." You would turn round and see men peeing and women squatting next to them and peeing too ---and no one was staring awkwardly - except for me. The world over, I have seen men stop and pee wherever they want, but I have never seen women do it openly. It is always a very covert affair - one where someone seeks privacy of the highest order.....It was strange to me, but I always accept that culture is very dependent on where you are and is not a constant.

By the end of the night I really wanted to get the girl's number so I could treat her to drinks the next day to thank her for her generosity. Unfortunately her phone was dead so the only number I got was her brother in law's. He had very stalkerish tendencies so I decided not to call him, but felt really guilty that I wouldn't get a chance to thank his sister in law. It's amazing when you meet complete strangers and they are so nice to you. I have been really lucky during my travels to always meet nice people.

Day one of Carnival in Rio - partying is a very hard job

I know it's been a few days since I blogged, so I will jump straight into Carnival stories and update you later about what I was doing before that. The night before Carnival started, my friend informed me, "We need to be up at 6am to go for the first Carnival party." My heart almost stopped. Anyone who knows me, knows that early mornings are to me, what Kryptonite is to superman. I wondered to myself, "What type of party starts that early?" He said one of the best troops would be starting to perform in another part of town at 7am and they were among the best. I slept and was promptly awake at 6am. It took us a while to get into costume - mine wasn't too complicated. I had a kitenge crop top that I got made by my amazing tailor in Nairobi and I was wearing some tiny shorts that I bought on the beach the previous day. My friend was going as the devil and his costume was pretty low maintenance (a speedo, horns, a cape and a tail), but he needed to be covered in red paint to really look the part. His girlfriend was not wearing a specific costume as she had not had time to buy one before Carnival.

We left the house by 6:45am. We hopped on the bus and that's when I realized I was hungry. We couldn't stop to eat, but thankfully we had carried quite a few beers. So I had a few for breakfast....on the bus. We made friends on the bus and the 30 minute bus ride felt short. My friend had warned me not to carry any bag. Anything we needed had to be discreetly stored on your body. It kind of felt like we were going to a reggae concert in Kenya....except the performers actually showed up (Tarrus Riley, anyone:-) We got to the carnival party and it was all sorts of chaos. Our first bus got us to the bottom of a hill (mountain?) and the carnival troupe was at the very top. A second bus got us to the next one. The waiting point at the bottom of the hill was full of very many, very happy and very drunk and very loud people (I really wish I spoke Portuguese..I am sure I missed some amazing stories.) We got to the top and there were thousands of people all lined up on a very narrow street. We were all moving forward very slowly to the source of music, but never quite made it.

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By around 9am, my friend, his girlfriend and I had finished the few beers we had brought with us and started buying some off the street peddlers. At some point we also had little cools of caipirinha - very much like the cools we used to have when we were kids except for the fact that instead of sugar, color and ice, they had rum and sugar. By around 10am, I began to feel overwhelmed by the heat, the drinks, the crowd, the drumbeats. I remember taking lots of pictures and getting anxious because my camera started acting up (and I didn't want to use my phone and have it die on me.)

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At 10:30am, my friend said there was another carnival party close to our house that we needed to go to. We went there and it was amazing! This one was less crowded so we could see the musicians and hear the drum beats. The music felt very African. Even though I didn't understand a word, I knew how to dance to it. We stayed there for an hour and danced to our heart's content. Around noon, my friend said we should go to the beach. I couldn't imagine dealing with any more heat. Rio is hot on a completely different level. Temperatures can rise up to 40 degrees celcius and the humidity is even crazier than Mombasa or Boston in the summer. My friend and his girlfriend went to the beach and I came home to recuperate.

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I got home and fiddled with my camera for an hour or more before finally getting it to work. Just when I was about to take a nap, my friend and his girlfriend came home. We chatted a bit, and again just as I was about to take a nap, our new roommates from Sao Paolo got in. They had lots of energy and we took some drinks to welcome them. Around 4pm I finally took a nap. My friend and his girlfriend had tickets to an official carnival procession that was taking place in the evening. I planned to party with our new roommates. Around 7pm one of them woke me up to say they were leaving. I told them I would meet them in an hour. I set my alarm but didn't hear it at all. I woke up around 12:30am when my new roommates were staggering back into the house.

Partying is a really really hard job:-) Especially when it starts at 6am. I have no idea how anyone manages to party from 6am to past midnight, but that is quite common here during carnival. I need to build my stamina.

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