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Carnival :: Salvador, Brazil

February 25, 2011 by  
Category: Festivals

In 2011, Brazil’s historic Salvador will erupt with the unbridled energy of carnival.  It is the world’s biggest and greatest street party, featuring two million revelers and six days of music and dance all set within the paradise of Salvador’s colonial architecture and white-sand beaches.

Salvador’s carnival is a descendent of entrudo, or ‘entry’, a pre-spring festival brought to Brazil by the Portuguese.  During entrudo, Salvador’s poor residents would take control of the streets, throwing eggs and water at one another in unabashed revelry, whilst the rich looked on with disdain from their mansions.  Seeking to replace entrudo, the rich imported to Salvador the carnival traditions of France, such as masquerade balls and street parades.  These traditions continue to influence modern carnival in Salvador, but the anarchist spirit of entrudo has never died.  Unlike Rio de Janeiro’s equally stunning Carnival which features opulent floats parading through giant stadiums, carnival in Salvador is an entirely street-orientated event, a spectacle in which every participant is the star.

Salvador’s carnival primarily takes place along two parade routes, one spearing through the center of the town, the other weaving along its elegant coastline.  Moving through these routes are the trio eletricos, slow-moving, mobile platforms atop which bands play live music.  Trio eletricos first emerged at the start of the 1950s and have evolved from rigged up Ford jalopies to 2011’s 18-wheel freight trucks complete with imposing stacks of powerful speakers and a platform supporting up to 40 band members.  The music these trio eletricos blast out ranges from Afro-Brazilian drumming to Bahian guitar pop, but they are all guaranteed to make you sair do chao, or ‘leave the ground’, in excitement.

Following each trio eletrico on its festive procession is a bloco, a special area in which you can dance about, fill-up at a mobile bar, or interact with other carnival-goers.  A bloco is separated from the general carnival crowd by a rope, or cordão, which is carried by security personnel.  To gain entrance, you need to buy an abada, a colorful t-shirt that signifies you as a member of that bloco. Each abada is valid for one night only and varies in price according to the popularity of the trio eletrico and the day on which they perform.  Alternatively, you can watch the trio eletricos pass by from a private box, known as a camarote, or brave the crush of the general crowd, nicknamed pipoca (popcorn) for its propensity to jump frenetically about.

When you are not unleashing your carnival party animal, make sure you allocate some time for exploring the city itself.  Salvador was Brazil’s original capital, and its UNESCO World Heritage listed city center retains the colonial Portuguese architecture of its founding.  Salvador is also the heart of Afro-Brazilian culture, which can be sampled through its omnipresent live music and spicy West African food.

The official 2011 Salvador carnival dates are 3rd – 8th March, though the music will unofficially continue along the beach route until the late afternoon of the 9th.  Even outside carnival time, Salvador is one of the Brazil’s most popular tourist destinations, meaning booking your accommodation well in advance is recommended.  Last minute rooms can be found, but you are likely to pay astronomical prices for them.  Carnival in Salvador is getting more and more popular, with many people returning year after year.  After you have experienced this incredible festival, you may well become one of them!

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