Blocos are carnival block-parties and sometimes the raison d’être for many Brazilians. Hence the importance of proper planning.
1st: Find the list of blocos by searching for “blocos de carnaval rj”. Most have funny names like “sweaty in the middle” or “honey I’ll be right back”. They will be organized by date and time.
Some of the more popular blocos start early, like a sickening 8am, which is just ricalculous. What if my boss finds out I CAN wake up early? Who would do that to themselves? They do it for a reason: the bloco is Good. Worth it? No, not at an ungodly hour. But, if you consider yourself a partier, you’ll be ready to tear it up at noon (the weekend drinking hour), so hit those blocos that have the “concentracao” (meeting time) at 11am or any time after. City ordinance wants the blocos to stop their music by 9pm, so showing up late will mean you’ll be a day late and a “real” short, meaning you’ll be late for serial smooching.
Moving vs. Stationary blocos:
“trajetorio” = trajectory, while “parado” or “fixo” = stationary
Moving blocos are ideal for smaller groups of friends, or for those who are single and are out to make out. Stationary blocos are best for larger groups, as you don’t have to worry about where everyone went, where the bathroom, ice or caipi bar are at any time. It will always be in the same places, unlike a moving bloco. My rule of thumb is: if you want to make out, go to a moving bloco. If you want to socialize (as in talk), a fixed bloco is better. But either is great for dancing and singing (which doesn’t apply to you, as you probably can’t dance samba, nor sing brazilian songs). But don’t worry, if you drink some more, both abilities will come to you.
Marchina = old carnival music in “gazebo in the park” band style, very fun, but all in portuguese, so you’ll be at a loss to understand all the puns.
Samba drums = 50+ large drums penetrating your tiny ear drums. Great for 15 mins, then hang around 50 yards off or so, or somewhere you can have a conversation.
MPB = brazilian 60-80s rock. Very hip, great music even if you don’t get the lyrics.
Moving about is complicated, as thats what another 4 million people are also trying to do (those b*tches!). So choose a bloco that’s close to your lodging, preferably walking distance, as cabs become scarce and public transportation a nightmare. BUT, you can’t experience a real carnival until you hit a block party with over half a million people. These happen in centro, by Av. Rio Branco, Cinelandia, Presidente Vargas, Santa Teresa or Aterro do Flamengo. If you hit the “Cordao da Bola Preta”, you can retire, as you will have climbed the Himalayas, and everything else now looks like K2.
This factor is important for those out on the hunt for some tongue jiu-jitsu. There are two theories:
1) larger blocos have more people, and a higher chance for you to find your tongue mate.
2) Conversely, larger blocos means that you might want to check out EVERYONE before choosing the absolute best for you.
From personal experience (is that phrase even necessary?), I prefer smaller blocos, as I’m not picky, and I don’t want to be near picky people (they wont pick me, I just know it).
So in the 5 days or so of carnival in Rio de Janeiro, aim for 1 big bloco, and the rest smaller blocos with under 2000 members. But once again, this is the least important factor. Bloco movement, location, hours and music style are way more important.
If a Brazilian swears to God that a certain bloco is the absolute best (preferably showing pictures of their romantic conquests), do your due dilligence: ask another Brazilian. If it is confirmed, have a back-up bloco up your sleeve any way. Some blocos are great one year, then stale the next. Some blocos appeal to an older crowd (while others are for university students). The only way to know is by sticking your head in.
Be smart, don’t be dumb.(This one rule is worth a tattoo!) If you are dumb, hang out with someone who is smart (not book-smart, even though they are cool, but not as safe and useful as street-smart).
Don’t, for the love of bacon, drink caipis made or sold on the street. Stick to beer, Skol Beats, Smirnoff Ice or anything that is pre-packaged and wont dehydrate you, as the sun can drain your battery. If you like whiskey, transfer your Jack Daniels to a plastic bottle, then buy cans of Coke from the nearby bars or street vendors, mixing it in the plastic mug that should already be hanging from your neck.
This is crucial. Don’t think buying a hat and a funny necktie will do the job. Wigs are just as lame. So here is a costume idea (and if you do use it and I see you on the street, I’ll be the person high-fiving you, saying something like “How do you like my carnival tips?”) Ready?
Here goes: go dressed as a mummy! OOOOOhhhh! Why? Apart from being really cool and original (even if everyone does it is still rocks), it is really cheap and easy to put on. I’ll explain: go to a drug store and buy gauze or “gaze” (pronounced “gah-z”, or mime your way to full communication), and some surgical tape (“esparadrapo”), then do yourself up. If you don’t leave it raggy, you’ll look like a Space Shuttle crash survivor, which is cool too. And thats it! If you see a park bench, plank down facing up, so you look like a mummy in a tomb or museum. The get-up will cost you US$5, you wont look like an un-inspired muh-fuh-ing party crasher, and in case of bowel emergencies, you’ll have toilet paper substitute.
How to hook-up:
1) Get bubbly (but not too drunk).
2) Since you can’t pretend to be Brazilian, play the “lost gringo”: ask questions about the music like “what’s this song about?”, which always evoques emotional resonses (you can ask in English, half will understand).
3) If they start singing it to you, hug, dance or make your move, whatever it is. My move is to stay put, not do anything, and check to see if my wife is looking…