Three or four times a year, something happens that makes me want to run to a computer and write the story. The only thing that kept me from writing this story earlier is that I didn't want the experience to end. So, when I saw one of the most amazing things I've ever seen, I turned to my buddy Dave (who writes me with me on this blog) and said, "We're both going to write about this tomorrow."
Here's what happened:
When we came to the Latin American Poker Tour for the Grand Final, we knew we were coming during Carnival. I don't know what I expected exactly, but until last night I was a little disappointed.
I had driven by the Sambodromo where the biggest parades and celebrations happen. I had watched the Carnival parties on my hotel room television. I had talked to everyone about what Carnival (or Carnaval, if you are so inclined) was all about. Still, I hadn't really seen the excitement in person, and it seemed clear this was going to be yet another trip in which I went to a great city and never actually experienced it.
There was talk among the PokerStars staff about getting a box at the Sambodromo, but when it came Carnival time, that box was reserved for the PokerStars top dogs and Team PokerStars Pros. We bloggers sat in the hotel bar and quietly accepted our fate as lowly scribes. Lost for something to do, we asked how we could spend an evening.
In the game of managing expectations, my friend and fellow blogger Sergio Prado is the king. "We might find one place open in Vila Madalena," he said.
So, we jumped in a cab and rode the ten minutes to the bohemian bar district for a beer.
When we arrived, we mocked Prado for telling us there wasn't much chance of finding any action on a Carnival Saturday night. The entire neighborhood was hopping. We secured a table upstairs at a little bar called Jose Menino and ordered a caipirinha. For reasons we never fully understood, the waiters brought us skillets topped with some of the best meat in the country. We never ordered it. It just came. For free. (Update: Our beautiful friend Lizzy just revealed she was buying it for us on the sly. Thanks Lizzy!)
Squeezed against an open window, I sipped my drink and considered myself lucky. I was in one of the most brilliant countries in the world, enjoying a cocktail, and chatting with some good friends. "Who needs the Sambodromo?" I thought. "This is a great night."
I had no idea.
When the conversation lulled, I turned and looked out the open window behind me. At first I thought there was some sort of riot or Occupy Vila Madalena action happening at the end of Mourato street.
"Look at that," I said to my friend Eric. "What do you think is happening down there?"
We looked closer and realized it wasn't a riot. It wasn't a protest. It was one of the greatest things we had ever seen.
It moved like a giant pulsing animal made up of thousands of independent parts. Men, inexplicably stripped to their underwear, led the mass to the street's intersection with Aspiculeta Avenue. Behind them were hundreds and hundreds of people, laughing, kissing, screaming, and begging us to join them.
I've seen many a New Orleans Mardi Gras parade in my day, but I've never seen anything like this. I only learned later that it was the Vai Quem Qué bloco, a block party that starts with just a few people playing instruments and a couple more with silly cheap parade floats. As it winds through the streets, it picks up more and more revelers until--by the time it lands in front of a wide-eyed American--it is a giant, writhing mass of barely-controlled chaos. Women threw confetti in the air, men pushed carts full of beer, and people with trombones played music in the slow march toward...well, it was impossible to say where the parade was going exactly. If there was ever an example of the journey meaning more than the destination, this was it.
"You were lucky," said one Brazilian friend this morning. "That wasn't planned."
And it wasn't. When Sergio directed us toward Vila Madalena last night, he legitimately thought it would be a quiet, boring night. Instead, we were treated to one of the most amazing sights we'd ever seen.
"I'm selfish," said my friend Eric. "I want that to happen every half an hour."
I agreed. It wasn't just that it happened, it was that it happened out of nowhere. One minute we could've been sitting in San Diego, CA or Greenville, SC. The next minute, we were in the middle of one of the best parties we had ever seen.
It didn't happen again, though, and perhaps that's for the best. It left us with the sense that our nights could not have been better. We were treated to a perfect moment and left with a story to tell, just as my co-blogger Dave did here.
I wish I could better explain that moment, the pure joy I felt in my heart, and the childlike amazement at seeing it happen. I've struggled through eight hundred words trying to make you understand the impact it had on me, and I don't feel like I did it justice. It may simply be one of those "you had to be there," moments. Even the video below doesn't tell the story.
Still, it gave me a Carnival story to tell, and a way to go home with only one regret. That regret?
I wish I had joined the parade and followed it until sunrise.
A bit of what we saw: