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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South America Itinerary (part 1)

I was lucky enough to talk to a Kenyan last year who had once backpacked through South America. She is the one who convinced me that this was a great idea, and that it could be done easily and affordably even by someone who has little if any experience in the region. She also saved me from making one major mistake I made when planning the 2012 Eurotrip - being overambitious. In the 6 weeks we spent in Europe, we went to 14 cities in 12 countries. It was madness. Sometimes I would wake up so exhausted and have to remember what country I was in. Is this Czech Republic? Hungary? We would get off trains, rush into the city to see the main attractions, eat as we walked, head back to the hostels to quickly shower and change - go out and party like maniacs, and very likely go straight from the club via the hostel to catch our next train. Madness, I tell you.

I feel like my South American trip will be slightly less chaotic from a time standpoint, but probably more chaotic from an everything else standpoint given that I have traveled quite a bit through Europe, speak English and German, but have never been to South America, and I know only a few words and phrases in Spanish.

So what does my itinerary look like? I leave Nairobi for Rio via Dubai this Monday. I get to Rio on Tuesday afternoon. I will thankfully be staying with a friend, which is pretty great given I don't know any portuguese.......at all. I will be in Rio for 8 nights experiencing the sights and sounds, and more importantly going for Carnival:-) I have no words to explain how excited I feel when I say "I am going for Carnival." I instantly hear music playing, see people in exciting costumes and imagine all the fun we are going to have. Sigh...After that I somehow get to Salvador in Bahia - which is way on the other end of the country. When I am in Brazil, I will figure out whether the best option is to take a really long bus there or to fly. I heard I can get some pretty cheap flights if I look in the right places. You are probably wondering where Bahia is and why it is in my itinerary. Before 2004, I had no idea about Bahia.One day I was listening to my friend's Anjelique Kidjo CD "Black Ivory Soul" and the first song was titled "Bahia." It fascinated me and I started reading up on Bahia.

Bahia is the most African state in Brazil. It was the center of the early Brazilian slave trade and close to 80% of its current population has black ancestry. Yoruba derived traditional religions are still followed in some parts. It is the home of capoeira - a unique dance that consists of martial arts and minimal body contact (someone recently told me that the reason the dancers don't touch is because historically slaves could do capoeira only on Sundays and they wore white on Sundays. One had to avoid getting dirty..) Bahia is also the home of Samba and is also said to have one of the best cuisines in Brazil.

After Bahia, I will travel to Peru. This is the part I have little clarity on. I am sure the journey will entail something along the lines of a 24-48 hour bus ride and a 2-3 day boat ride on the Amazon river. I love traveling and I can sleep anywhere so I am not particularly worried about it. I am sure I will figure it all out once in Brazil. In Peru, I am most excited about going to Machu Picchu. I will be in the country for 8 nights so I am sure I will get to see loads. I have not booked any housing in Peru as I can't really predict when I will get there and what exact places I will be. I am toying with the idea of couchsurfing rather than staying in hostels when there.

After Peru, I will go to Ecuador. There is lots to see in Ecuador, but I am most fascinated with going to the Galapagos Islands where Darwin conducted quite a bit of his research on evolutionary theory.

That covers the first half of the trip, but I am sure reality will be more exciting than the plan. The one thing I keep reminding myself is that the best laid plans of mice of and men often go awry, but as long as I am enjoying the journey it doesn't really matter to me if I am not sticking to my itinerary.



Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) and suggestions.

So I am compiling a list of some of the questions that keep coming up every time I say I am going to South America backpacking alone. 

  1. Aren't you scared? Well, honestly I am a bit nervous, but I wouldn't really use the word scared. In fact my biggest worry is that I will not be able to pick up Spanish as quickly as I wish and I will be that person at the table who just smiles and nods.....because they don't understand anything. My other worries are more mundane - how do I actually get from Brazil to Ecuador? How will I make sure my gadgets (phone, samsung galaxy tab, kindle etc) don't get wet as I sleep on a hammock on the amazon river for three days? What is the longest I will have to go without wifi? What will life be like without whatsapp when I am offline?
  2. Make sure you don't end up being given drugs to transport! While many have inadvertently become drug mules I think I am one of the least likely options. Seriously who thinks giving the lone African girl with dreadlocks and a funny accent your very expensive drugs is a good idea? I am sure I will be under close scrutiny at all entry points - if for nothing else, for kind of sticking out:-) I do however assure all that I will be extremely cautious. "No, I cannot carry your cute little bunny to Bolivia to give to your long lost niece." I will also ensure that my backpack is sufficiently disorganized so as to deter anyone from sneaking in drugs in there - for fear that they will surely disappear
  3. Wow! South America! I hear the men are hot - like the ones on those shows on TV! I will have to report back on this. My previous experience abroad always makes me a bit wary of trusting TV. If we believe everything we see on TV then the average person on the streets in the US should look like Morris Chestnut or Angeline Jolie....
  4. Your mum gave you permission to go? Yep, she's cool like that. I also don't like to think of it as "permission" but more of "her blessings" to go on with the trip. 
  5. Bolivia? Why? Lots of reasons to go to Bolivia. First, it is the highest altitude country in the world. Rumor has it that I will need to take altitude sickness meds when there or have headaches and nausea. Apparently Bolivia has a terrible football team, but they always defeat other countries in their home territory.....cause they can't breathe:-) Second, it has the largest salt flat in the world (think Lake Magadi on steroids). Third, it is really really cheap - a consequence of being the poorest country in South America. Fourth, it has the largest indigenous population of any South American country with 60% indigenous population and over 30 ethnic groups (I guess in some books I am referred to as "native" and we have 42 tribes in Kenya.....so I can dig this.......support for my other indigenous people! Wooop wooop! 
  6. Was it easy getting visas? No, not at all. It was a serious pain in the butt actually - and I only needed three of the six. There was one particular embassy I went to at least 7 times. I almost gave up when they asked for my great-great-grandmother's palm print.....just kidding, but really it was a process and a half for one of the countries while the other two were quite quick to get. I can't imagine if I had needed all 6 of them. Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador don't have embassies in Kenya so you get your visas on arrival.
  7. Will you wear one of those Brazilian bikinis and tiny clothes people wear at Carnival? In public? Ngai, I wish:-) I have African parents though, I live here in Nairobi and I have a serious job too when I am not globe-trotting. I will have to live vicariously through the other revelers. Maybe I will wear thong sandals:-)
  8. South America? Are there any black people there? Loads actually, but most did not get there on their own volition. 
  9. Do you speak Spanish? Well, it really depends on what you mean by speak. I know stuff like "Hasta la vista baby", "Tengo la camisa negra", "living la vida loca" etc. I am listening to a few CDs and trying to pick up some basics in the mean time. I worry though since my first country will be Portuguese speaking Brazil. Will all these words and phrases I am cramming into my mind really survive through the two weeks of disuse? Only time will tell.
  10. Wow, South America? You might even come back with a husband! A rich one with a huge cattle ranch in Argentina! No comment. 
  11. I wish I could do a similar trip! You can. I am hoping that through this trip, I can show loads of people (especially Kenyans) that such trips are possible on a shoestring budget. Backpacking culture hasn't yet taken off here and so people always think that such trips are only for the wealthy. I will be staying in hostels (not hotels) and also possibly couchsurf in some of the countries. I will be using public transportation to get around, eat at the most local places (everyone knows that's where the good food is found anyway), drink the local drinks and ensure that I do not get charged "tourist prices" anywhere. I will bargain in my limited Spanish. I will walk, I will hike, I will travel on small boats........and you can too. 

 

 

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Welcome to The Kenyan Explorer's blog. Join me on this chaotic adventure called Life!

Frequent updates starting January 2014! Watch this space. 

 

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