Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Carnaval adventure in Ouro Preto

Spectacular Ouro Preto

Each year in Brazil Carnaval comes around and takes many cities by storm. Communities come alive with pride and tradition. Musicians hit the streets. Youth enjoy the sanctioned excuse to drink. Drag queens (and their wannabe secret admirers) dust off colorful aging separates and concoct new fabulous outfits. And most of all, in places like Rio, businesses and politicians alike roll out the red carpet for visiting tourists seeking an over-the-top bucket list party extravaganza, preferably in English.

The main event in Rio.

Rio’s Carnaval scene has been evolving over the years. The world famous Carnaval parade has continued to expand while still staying anchored in neighborhood pride and local competitive determination. The neighborhood street party (or bloco) scene has seen a serious resurgence of late with this year’s calendar sporting more than 500 separate events all over the city. This year in particular it appeared that restaurants were test driving their spiffy new English language dinner menus as a prelude to the upcoming World Cup crush.

It’s all good.

Praça Tiradentes in Ouro Preto.

This time around Luiz and I found ourselves seeking an out of town alternative to Rio’s big event after learning that many among our group of friends with which we typically take in the big parade at the Sambadrome were going either to the States to do some shopping or to visit family in distant cities. So we returned to Ouro Preto (OP).

Ouro Preto, an historic, colonial, mountain town of less than 80,000 people, is rather famous nowadays for its raucous city-wide Carnaval celebration. The party starts in earnest on Saturday and continues every night through Tuesday. The local municipality sponsors several live music stages throughout the historic district offering a variety of musical styles for every taste. Every night the streets are PACKED with people coming out to let loose for a while and just have some fun.

A big driver behind the crowds is the fact that Ouro Preto is a significant university town. In 1969 two highly respected and long standing institutions: the School of Pharmacy of Ouro Preto, founded in 1839, and School of Mines of Ouro Preto, founded in 1876, were merged to form the Federal University of Ouro Preto.  Today it is one of the most respected universities in the state and the country. And that university comes with A LOT of college kids ready to party.

To further froth up the mix, there are a good number of “Republicas” (much like fraternity houses) throughout the city occupying large residential buildings which get a temporary make-over for Carnaval to host thousands of visiting young people. Some of these Republicas have begun to sponsor their own ticketed weekend events complete with serious sound systems and endless flowing alcohol. If the drunken college scene really turns you off you may want to reconsider your plans for Carnaval in Ouro Preto. There are definitely ways to steer clear (mostly) of the worst of it, but the reality is that the city-wide event is most definitely geared toward this scene.

The view from Carlinhos and Du's sala window.

At any rate, we went to spend some time with our good friends Carlinhos and Du, who live in OP. They’ve got a big apartment with an even bigger view – and it is nowhere near a raucous Republica. They were (again) hosting a crowd from Belo Horizontes. To our delight, Luiz and I rated a bedroom and real bed, in contrast to so many others sleeping on inflatable mattresses on the floors of other bedrooms and a living room. Lucky us.

The weekend was filed with bountiful Minas breakfasts, noisy group chatter, afternoon cooking marathons, naps, costume changes and repeated visits into the heart of the seemingly non-stop street party surrounding us.

Here are some highlights. The photos are from trips to the street while there was still sunlight. Things definitely cranked up later into the night, but my camera ceases to record events once the sun goes down.

When we weren't in the streets we were usually cooking. I brought some ingredients so Carlos and I could prepare fresh corn tortillas and a full on Mexican taco spread with refried beans and guacamole. Big hit. On another night it was chicken with Thai red curry sauce. And just to push it a bit further, I showed Carlos how to whip up a batch of homemade tofu and walked his niece and nephew through a batch of chocolate chip cookies.

After 10 days camping out at Carlos and Du's we said our farewells and returned to Niterói. Another Carnaval well played.

1 comment:

Tash said...

I love Ouro Preto! I was there just after carnaval in 2010, so I missed all the crowds - it was definitely a lot quieter! They still had a lot of the decorations hanging from the buildings though, so I have some carnaval style photos.