February 20, 2004

The Gringos Arrive at Carnaval (aka: The Gauntlet). The boys take 2 very sick girls to Salvador for the Bahian Carnaval experience. Looking around the bus that was taking us to our hotel, it was definitely a Brazilian package-- we were the only gringos. The guide gave the busload an overview of the Carnaval experience - entirely in Portuguese. Thank God-gee for Buck to translate for us. Unfortunately, the translation only intensified our already heightened fears. We were told to take everything out of our pockets, prepare to be pick-pocketed, take off all jewelry, etc. In a demonstration of acceptable things to have in your back pocket, our guide pulled out a crumbled sheet of paper that read Go F*ck Yourself” in Portuguese. Nice!

The population of Salvador swelled from 2MM to 3MM for Carnaval so we were ready for a crowd. However, as we sped down the road to downtown Salvador we were also informed that due to our arrival time (past 11pm) and the location of our hotel directly on of the 2 parade (blocko) routes. As a result, we would need to make like salmon and fight the sea of revelers on foot with our wheelies in tow! Our anxiety jumped a few notches as our tour guide discussed sheparding tactics real-time. The sound of the merriment, samba beats, etc. did not quell the anxiety as it merely served as a reminder that we were about to be pitched into mayhem. As we disembarked we were greeted with no less 20 faux police-officers (there were 15,000 of these security personnel and 5,000 highly trained militia to handle the party-goers) brandishing batons and helmets along with a numerical identification system. While we were happy to have their accompaniment, our concerns were not entirely put to rest with guards like 3059-C, a young lady who weighed all of 90 pounds. The group of touristos secured their belongings as best they could and plunged into the mad merrymakers with their official escorts, who formed the equivalent of a wedge in a kickoff return, moving partiers out of the way as we made our way to the Salvador Praia Hotel.

I have to say, it was quite stressful. The tone of the prep speech on the bus and the grim look on the Bahian guards’ faces (even 3059-C) made us feel like guppies in a sea of sharks. The 300 meters the tour guide told us we had to travel was surely more like 3 km, difficult journey or not. All that said, it really was not as bad as it was made out to be. We made it to the front desk with nary a scratch or stolen item. Plus, after running the carnival gauntlet we figured we would endure just about anything thrown our way.

The pic below honestly does not do the experience justice (wish i'd brought the video camera!):

After we checked in we headed up to the 5th floor to get some perspective on our surroundings which proved to be unbelievable – wall to wall partiers for literally as far as we could see up the parade route (6 lanes wide). Mike, Dave and Jim headed out to the fray while the girls barricaded themselves :-)

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