Tag Archives: Rio

Rio Carnival 2013!

17 Feb

Carnival crept up on us and gradually gripped us in its swirling embrace. Huge overhead hoardings proclaiming ‘Carnaval da Rua’ appeared along the main roads and giant advertising slogans were attached to the sides of the Sambodromo. We forayed into Saara, a souq-like warren of shops selling every imaginable fantasia and accessory; glitter, V for Vendetta masks, M&M costumes, wigs, fairy wings, fake flowers…the only limit to your costume was your imagination and your wallet! Carnival arrived not so much with a splash, but with little puffs of fairydust leading up to the big weekend.

A Michael Jackson themed bloco (Carnival street party) two weeks before carnival itself…although the preparations amongst the real Carnival afficionados have been going on at least since Christmas…started to get us into the swing. Samba and Michael Jackson go surprisingly really well together, especially if you’ve got an excited crowd, enthusiastic singers with fantastic impressions and uninhibited brazilians willing to show off their moonwalk on-stage!

But our real Carnival experience started the weekend before the ‘official weekend’ when we woke up at 6.30am to go to Cordão do Boitatá, a traditional bloco led by a giant folkloreish snake/dragon and with a huge band of drums and brass instruments.

The giant snake/dragon that leads the Cordao do Boitata bloco

The giant snake/dragon that leads the Cordao do Boitata bloco

The Duracell Bunny never ran out of energy for Carnaval!

The Duracell Bunny never ran out of energy for Carnival!

Carnival music

Cordão do Boitatá is where we first heard the traditional carnival music. For some reason I’d thought that all of the music would be samba…I hadn’t realised that there were special carnaval songs, mostly developed from old marching music, called marchinhas. As with all Brazilian festivals, to really feel part of it you have to know the music and Carnival is no exception. We felt like outsiders on that first bloco as everyone danced around singing their hearts out to the songs that we didn’t know or understand. But gradually over Carnival weekend as we went to more blocos and heard them repeated and danced to them in our house the songs became part of the fabric of our Rio life…and they still haven’t left my head.

To give you a taste of the lyrics see the descriptions below and click on the links to listen…many of them are quite old and not politically correct! You can find many more marchinhas here:

Cachaça‘You think that cachaça is water, but its not. Cachaça comes from the distillery and water comes from the river. I could live without bread, rice and beans…I could live without love..the only thing I don’t want to live without is cachaça!’

Allah-La Ô – this was first written for a bloco with an Arabic theme in the 1930s or 1940s. ‘Allah, the heat. We crossed the Sahara, the sun was hot. We came from Egypt and many times we had to pray…Allah Allah send us water to ioiô and iaiá (terms used by Brazilian slaves to address young masters!). Allah my good Allah.’

Balancê – A young man who wants to dance (balancê) with a morena. ‘I want to dance with you… when you walk past me pretending not to see me my heart almost shatters…time is running out and I will finish in the dance..’

Confete – A man remembers with longing his romance with a woman in a columbine costume at the previous carnival and the confete on her dress. ‘I confess that I cried because I remembered that Columbine who joked with me..ahh confete longing for the love that is gone.’

Ó Abre Alas – I have no real idea what this means but it’s a very popular and catchy marchinha!

Before I came to Rio my image of Carnival was the huge colourful sparkling parades and practically naked women on the Sambodromo but the whole of Rio becomes one massive party with over 450 different blocos or street parties travelling all over the city. We were really lucky to live with some carnival afficionados and cariocas who take us to their favourite blocos with the constant refrain ‘but you must come…this is THE best one!’ My favourite were the smaller blocos where it was possible to get close to the band and most people were dressed in fantastia (costumes).

Marcha Nerd/Thriller
Part of the ‘Meu sofa or seu’ bloco (My sofa or yours), organised by couchsurfers, it included two people dressed as a sofa and with the nerd/Michael Jackson theme a plethora of MJ lookalikes mixed with cartoon characters. The zombie costumes went down well and we enjoyed fighting the ninja turtles as well as dancing to the Pokemon theme tune and others in portuguese!

This is what the heat does to you!

This is what the heat does to you!

Ninga turtles vs zombies

Ninga turtles vs zombies

I was minding my own business feasting on the flesh of some carnaval goers when this very rude man used his dragon shout....!

I was minding my own business feasting on the flesh of some carnaval goers when this very rude man used his dragon shout….!

The Marcha Nerd crew

The Marcha Nerd crew

Cute! Not quite sure what to make of the gringa zombie taking a photo of them though!

Cute! Not quite sure what to make of the gringa zombie taking a photo of them though!

Sheldon Cooper!

Sheldon Cooper!

Samba/film theme tunes. Fantastic. Including the ghostbusters chasing a ghost around the crowd.

Santa Teresa Cinebloco

Santa Teresa Cinebloco

Bruna Surfistinha...Bruna 'the little surfer', a sex worker whose clients thought she looked like a surfer and became famous from a blog she wrote about her experiences!

Bruna Surfistinha…Bruna ‘the little surfer’, a sex worker whose clients thought she looked like a surfer and became famous from a blog she wrote about her experiences!

Fun with the Care Bears! And listening to classic carnival tunes.

Fred Flinstones and 'love-a-lot' care bear!

Fred Flinstones and ‘love-a-lot’ care bear!



Rio Carnival Caixa

Tired Care bears!

Tired Care bears!

The Jamaican Bobsleigh team!

The Jamaican Bobsleigh team!

Os Móveis – Bando Vergonha do Posto 6
Listening to older carnival songs on the beach on Copacabana as the sun sets whilst drinking a beer…it doesn’t get much better.

Os Móveis – Bando Vergonha do Posto 6

Os Móveis – Bando Vergonha do Posto 6



Carnival on Copacabana beach

Carnival on Copacabana beach

Vame ET
‘Let’s go ET’, with a much ruder translation if you say this quickly! Rude and alcohol related puns are definitely a feature of Carnival blocos. This was a lovely small bloco with lots of their own songs, huge amounts of energy and great costumes!

Vame ET!

Vame ET!

Giant ET mascot!

Giant ET mascot!

The ET groupees

The ET groupees

The crowd going wild

The crowd going wild

The bateria

The bateria


Tedious jobs

28 Jul

There are a few jobs that I see people doing in Rio that seem so utterly pointless that I can’t help but feel frustrated for the people doing them every day I pass them. The people do work whilst they are doing them, they don’t sit around doing nothing, but these jobs must be so tedious, so mind-numbingly dull that I think it would surely be better if they were just paid the money and enabled to use their talents however they thought best.

Light turns green, attendant blows whistle

Traffic light attendant

Wandering across the university campus I come across several people wearing light blue vests and caps with the words ‘Operacao Trafego’ emblazoned on the back. Their purpose seems to be to control the traffic and help people cross the roads, however, with the presence of traffic lights their primary job consists of blowing a whistle when the traffic lights change from red to green. Perhaps chaos would ensue if they weren’t there. Perhaps drivers wouldn’t be able to tell when the traffic lights had changed or perhaps they would just ignore them. However, drivers do seem to (mostly) be able to follow the rules of the road around the rest of the city and the university roads aren’t exactly teeming with traffic.

Lift attendant

Ever walked into a lift and thought what I really need is someone to push the button for the floor I want to go to? No, well you’re missing out because lift attendants seem to be a requirement for every shopping centre worth its salt, government buildings and the airport in Rio. For us the resident lift attendant makes going to one of these places just that little bit more interesting with an awkward silence as we travel in the lift following the awkward conversation when they’ve realised we can’t really speak Portuguese! Add to it someone sitting there listening to everyone’s conversations and a job that requires pushing little buttons and I do begin to wonder who decided it was a requisite job.

The little booth to sit in at the end of the corridor watching time tick by. There wasn’t anyone there at the time I passed in the morning.

Sit in at the end of the corridor job

I guess this should really be called a security guard/receptionist job. It does perhaps help to protect the building and they are someone you could ask for help, however, the job mainly involves sitting behind a corner shelf/booth. This job wouldn’t be so bad if there was something else that could do whilst they were sitting at the end of the corridor. But they have no computer, no reading material. Just half a wooden screen.

I really don’t want to belittle the people doing these jobs and of course I want these people to have jobs. There is obviously the money to pay them. But please let them have jobs that allow them to use their brains.

Weird and wonderful fruit

22 Jul

One of the most delicious aspects of living in Rio is the wonderful fruit available. The supermarkets stock a gorgeous array of tropical fruit, 3 different types of mango, enormous papaya, wee Nino bananas as well as the classic banana sold all over the world, sweet and succulent pineapples and there are the weird fruit that I’d never seen before…..

Cashew fruit

Ever wondered what the cashew nut looks like? Well, it’s a tiny pod at the bottom of the fruit, a kind of hanging seed. The fruit is very popular in Rio. But don’t just chomp into the fruit as we did, it has a web-like texture inside so is best crushed up with sugar and water to make a delicious drink. Definitely DO NOT bite into the cashew nut. As my husband found out the nut is surrounded by a strong acid, not a pleasant surprise. The nut needs to be roasted to destroy the acid and allow us to enjoy the delicious cashew nut.

Fruit of the cashew

Pinha (sugar apple)

This fruit is amazing, but its slightly difficult to describe the taste. Each little scale peels away in your hand with a little pyramid of white gooey flesh surrounding a large dark shiny seed. The flesh smells aromatic whilst the flesh is sweet, tasting like a mixture of lychee and custard.


Interior of Pinha fruit (Pouletic, Wikipedia)


Acai has become more popular in the UK, but here it is a staple. It is often eaten for breakfast or as snack mixed with sugar and ice to create a thick slushy with a sweet and nutty taste. Granola, bananas and yoghurt are often added.

Bowl of acai

Bowl of acai


We haven’t actually seen this fruit but we are obsessed with the drink that is made using an extract of the fruit. The fruit is native to the Amazon where the Guarani and Tupi tribes have harvested it for centuries, with the name in Tupi-Guarnai meaning ‘fruit like the eyes of the people’. One of our favourite guarana drinks is Guaravita. I’ve just discovered that guarana contains more caffeine than the coffee bean so that may be one of the reasons we enjoy it so much, along with its cheapness!

The delicious guaravita



Green shoots in the favelas

11 Jul

Following the depressing results of the Rio+20 conference I needed something to buoy my spirits and feel optimism about the potential for humans to use our intelligent creativity to solve the challenges ahead. Luckily, help was at hand through two amazing local organisations, Catalytic Communities and Verdejar. For the past 12 years CatComm has been highlighting the resourcefulness, energy, activities and community resilience within the favelas, supporting the communities to communicate their achievements and needs.

During and followering Rio+20 CatComm arranged visits to several different favela communities and projects. I joined a visit to Verdejar, “Going Green”, a project in Complexo do Alemao, made up 13 favelas in the North Zone of Rio. We were slightly late to meet our host Cicero, a history teacher cum co-ordinator of Verdejar, but he showed only enthusiasm as I rattled out questions (fantastically translated by Felicity from CatComm)  as we bounced along in a tiny van. Walking up the hillside, above us was the Serra da Misericórdia and the last remnants of the Atlantic Rainforest in the North Zone, which Verdejar aims to protect and reforest through its newest project. In what was until recently a dilapidated house and a small patch of open ground the local community has created an education building and a space to test and demonstrate agroecology, green sanitation and solar energy practices. As we walk up the small path towards the house on the left was a pit where they are growing banana trees to clean sewage from the houses, filtering the water, recycling the nutrients and producing bananas to eat. On the other side is a forest garden, where they are gradually reforesting the land whilst producing abundant food such as sweetcorn, fruits and salads for the community.

The sewage treatment system is in the foreground and a little of the forest garden on the right of the picture

In their education centre, recently decorated with greetings from all over the world by young people at the Rio+20 youth conference, Cicero shows us a video from a recent workshop where they built a solar thermal water unit on the roof of the building. All that was needed was to flow the water through tiny tubes in a black plastic sheet,  a few licks of white paint on the water butt to keep the water hot and voila! The roofs of Rio are dotted with blue plastic water butts, with this simple technology free hot water courtesy of the sun could be brought to every house in Rio.

Solar thermal heating system on the roof of the education centre

And they are now not working alone. They have projects with the botanical gardens in Brasilia to study the sewage cleaning process and with the biology and geography departments at UFRJ to study the impacts of the Serra da Misericórdia on the region, including the water and creating a cooling microclimate. In contrast to the secretive approach of many chemistry groups it was refreshing to see such openess to share ideas, communicate and work together with anyone interested. I hope that a new connection with the Green Chemistry Group at UFRJ can be developed!

But it was not only the physical steps that they had taken that was impressive but the community they have built around the project. This seems to have been integral since  Luis the Poet first had a vision of creating a green protected space in Complexo do Alemao, wheeled some plants down to an open patch of ground in his wheelbarrow and protected the space with other local people. Today many people help on the vegetable plot and the harvest is shared.

There are still challenges though. The Serra da Misericórdia is now protected by law but with frustration Cicero described how mining for cement manufacturing still goes on, with the people nearby suffering from the dust produced, let along the destruction of the precious remaining ecosystem.

However, I hope the vision of Luis the Poet will live on. Cicero was surprised by the current interest and enthusiasm from outside the favela in Verdejar, a project that has grown from a small seed and been watered with love and care. But it is these seeds that we need, these green shoots sprouting everywhere to feel optimism that we do have the creativity and will to create a more sustainable world.

For more examples of sustainable projects in the favelas watch the video by CatComm on “The favela as a sustainable model”

Jumping the hurdles of bureaucracy and winning!

28 Jun

This week we’ve been focusing on navigating the Brazilian bureaucracy system…in particular registering with the Federal Police for our ID cards. Being British the idea of ID cards, being registered on a national database and the police collecting EVERYONEs fingerprints is anathema. However, having lived in Germany for a couple of years where they require you to notify the local administration whenever you move town, I knew that that wasn’t universally the case. Luckily my parents were responsible for dealing with the bureaucracy in Germany, and I think they pulled the short straw, because so far, the bureaucracy here really doesn’t seem to be that bad. Every Carioca I meet tells me how frustrating the bureaucracy is here, how long everything takes and how I’m going to hate it. I wonder whether everybody has been told for so long that the bureaucracy here is terrible that they believe it or whether I’m yet to come across the true intricacies of the system.

The first step we had to take when we arrived was to get a CPF number. This is similar to the National Insurance number in the UK and is linked to your taxes and employment, however, here it is required for everything. Activating a phone card, opening a bank account, buying aeroplane tickets. It’s a necessity for living in Brazil. To get one is quite simple, you go to the Banco do Brazil, pay over some money, get a receipt and take the receipt to the federal office (Receito Federal) where they issue you with a number. The one challenge is having a proof of address because to rent a place or to pay electricity bills you need a CPF number and to get the CPF you need proof of your address! Luckily, we were able to get the guesthouse where we’re staying to write a letter with all the other documents stating that we were staying there (which we are).

Next step open a bank account. Now that has been a nightmare. I’m working at the University and have funding through both a State agency and a Federal agency. The State agency only wants to pay me through Banco do Brazil (the State bank), however, a month ago they stopped accepting foreigners (rumours tell me due to some Peruvians leaving the country with loads of debts). No amount of questioning higher powers was changing that policy so we switched tactics to Santandar. They were happy to open accounts for foreign students but couldn’t get their head round the fact that I was working at the University and not a student. Eventually after several visits to the bank (luckily with my boss as translator) some fudge was found “So she’s kind of a student” and I have a shiny new account with Santandar. Now I just have to hope that the State science agency will agree to pay me there and not at Banco do Brazil! We still haven’t got round to opening account for my other funding with the Federal agency at the Rio Federal Bank, Bradesco. Another adventure to be had!

The final thing we really needed to do was register with the Federal Police which we did today…hooray! I thought this was going to be a nightmare from what I’d read on blogs and with our smattering of Portuguese, but in the end it was pretty simple. The Federal Police website set out what we needed to take:

  1. photocopies of the relevant pages in our passport (visa, entrance stamp and ID page)
  2. 2 photos 3x4cm (UK passport sized)
  3. payment of two GRU forms (Code: 140120  Name: CARTEIRA DE ESTRANGEIRO DE PRIMEIRA VIA  R$124,23 and Code: 140082  Name: REGISTRO DE ESTRANGEIROS/RESTABELECIMENTO DE REGISTRO  R$64,58) which you can fill in and print out from the website and pay at a Banco do Brazil office or a Lotteria
  4. visa application form from the consulate where you applied for the visa
  5. registration application form which you can fill out on the website

Once you have the application form a code is produced which allows you to book an appointment slot. We went to the Federal Police at the International Airport in Rio (3rd floor, above departures, at the opposite end to the banks). The people there were lovely and realised we didn’t speak very much portuguese, there was a lot of smiling and nodding going on. They checked our forms, we had everything correct (except the middle name of my husband’s mother, so that was tipexed out and corrected – they love having your mothers and fathers name on everything), we were sent to sitdown for a little bit, then we had the delightful procedure of being photographed and having our fingerprints digitally recorded, our passports were stamped, we got our registration protocol and we were out of there!

Maybe this sounds like a lot of bureaucracy. But moving to any country requires a lot of procedures initially to get all those things that in your home country you do over many years. In Rio I have found everyone amazingly helpful and friendly and most of the information has been available on websites (with a little bit of help from Google Translate). Overall, I give a thumbs-up to Brazilian bureaucracy. Ask me again in a few months.


What a disappointment..but there’s hope

23 Jun

Well what a disappointment Rio+20 was, or at least the official UN conference. Once again, like previous environmental conferences politicians keep kicking the real decisions to be made into the long-grass. In the final text there are vague assertions about the direction to be taken, but if any organisation had spent a year and huge amounts of resources developing a plan such as this they’d think it had all been a waste of time if there were no specific targets, no deadlines and no resources committed. I’m particularly concerned about how sustainability appears to be defined in the document (see also George Monbiot’s discussion). The three traditional pillars are highlighted – economic, environmental and social – but the economic aspect has mutated into the requirement of sustained economic growth. Some areas of the world definitely do need economic growth to lift their populations out of poverty but sustained economic growth for the whole world is not a recipe for solving the major environmental challenges we face but to accentuate them. One paragraph is truly troubling:

“We recognize that urgent action on unsustainable patterns of production and consumption where they occur remains fundamental in addressing environmental sustainability and promoting conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and ecosystems, regeneration of natural resources and the promotion of sustained, inclusive and equitable global growth.”

If anyone can explain to me how sustainable patterns of consumption and production are compatible with sustained global growth please let me know. Unless they mean they aim to promote the continued expansion of the globe itself?

And what were the leaders doing for 3 days in Rio? With the text agreed before they arrived and the Brazilians trying to prevent chaos by refusing to reopen the text they made set speeches (how dull and fruitless, couldn’t they have just emailed them to each other), had pretty pictures taken and visited the sights (I definitely spotted the Venezulans heading up to the statue of Christ the Redeemer).

Venezuala's ministers enjoy a trip up Corcovado

Venezuala’s ministers enjoy a trip up Corcovado

But elsewhere in the city there was a little bit more hope. At the people’s summit there were some excellent workshops, talks, theatre, music and so much passion and warmth and lots of connections being made between groups from across the world. I went to a fantastic talk about ecovillages and the challenges and benefits of living in communities from Macaco Tamerice from Damanhur in Italy. I was particularly interested in the new currency that they are planning on setting up between ecovillages in Europe with the potential to open it up to other people with similar interests as a means to create a more localised economy separate from the current system.

The Rural Women’s Assembly was full of inspiring, strong women standing up for their communities and livelihoods. Particularly striking was a young woman from South Africa who talked about how they had challenged a pharmaceutical company that had patented their traditional medicinal knowledge as a weight loss solution, claiming that the community had died out. A woman form Lesotho described how they had formed co-operatives in order to have a stronger voice and that the government is now meeting and listening to them and how they were sharing and multiplying their seeds to have more resilience. A women from Paraguay also told how the different indigenous groups were meeting to share their experiences to make their opposition stronger.

The Rural Women's Assembly

The Rural Women’s Assembly

Another discussion focused on the campaign for climate jobs (jobs that help reduce CO2 emissions)  in the current economic climate around the world with so many people are unemployed. Issues were raised about the challenge of linking the environmentalists and people focused on poverty or jobs whilst a guy from Zimbabwe raised concerns about becoming dependent on technology from developed countries without the technical skills to maintain it. He told how Zimbabwe had had solar energy since the 1990s, but that the loss of scientists and engineers meant that when anything broke it could not be fixed.

The final workshop I went to was about biomimicry – taking inspiration from nature. There were some fascinating examples, including adding bobbles on the edges of wind turbines based on hump-backed whales which improves they efficiency by 30%, basing the shape of cars on the boxfish which actually makes them more aerodynamic and uses less material, harvesting dew in the desert based on a beatle’s shell with the aim to create a forest in the Sahara. On a larger scale people are also working to create production systems that work like an ecosystem. Its all really interesting work but we also need to make sure that these systems are definitely beneficial and more sustainable products and systems.

So the people’s summit was great. I met some people who are working on environmental projects here in Rio so I hope I can get more involved in those. However, I was disappointed with a few things, the lack of information about what was going on and where, the lack of real examples at the summit about how we can live more sustainably (there was virtually no renewable energy generated onsite despite the sunshine!) and the masses of consumerism. Not corporate consumerism but half the people present seemed to be selling something, in particular from the indigenous groups. Their way of life has been trampled, they often have little space to grow food and survive, this was a great opportunity to sell a few things, but I felt sad to see so many feathered ornaments, belts and necklaces set out for sale and people spending time selling things instead of building campaigns and connections.

So Rio+20 is over. Once again there were many disappointments, it has not been a transformative moment, and it seems that we do not have the leaders with the vision and courage to truly face up to the challenge. So instead it is up to us as individuals and communities to build the future we want.

The people march

21 Jun Greenpeace calling for a green and fairer world

Wow! Today was the global mobilisation connected to Rio+20 and I joined the march in the centre of Rio. The march was deafening, the sound of whistles and singing is still ringing in my ears, with trucks passing through the crowds with enormous loudspeakers getting the crowds chanting and singing songs that everybody seemed to know. There was a great atmosphere. As would be expected in the home of samba there were lots of bands and people dancing. Lots of imaginative protest on display as well with large trade union groups (the universities are currently on strike), environmental groups from across the world and peasant and indigenous rights groups. There was a huge diversity of civil society from Brazil present and a surprisingly low police presence. They didn’t really seem to know what was going on with traffic chaos caused when the march was too long for one of the main streets and end up blocking a square that I don’t think it was supposed to – the police just stood around looking on. Whether the leaders that assembled at the main conference took any notice I don’t know – the office staff definitely knew we were there. Check the photos out below.