21 February 2013
Fearless travel writer Travis Monk braves the streets of Recife Carnival in search of sights, sounds, smells and sequins on behalf of Seven Seas Worldwide. If you're going carnival-ing or just need some extra space for all your clothes, sequins, feathers, beads and whatever else you're carrying in your luggage (we won't judge) take a look at our excess baggage shipping which can save you a bundle on airline fees.
I open the balcony doors of my hotel and look out onto the street to see assorted bright colours and shapes flowing down the thoroughfare like vibrant sewage.
I am in Recife, north Brazil for international shipping company Seven Seas Worldwide. One of the locals making their way into the centre of town, wearing a sequined Tyrannosaurus Rex costume, looks up and makes direct eye contact with me, similar to the moment when the Tyrannosaurus Rex stares inside the car in Jurassic Park – but sexier. She beckons me to come and join the party. Luckily I had been planning to all along, and quickly unpack my hummingbird costume.
I've been to the Recife Carnival every year for the past six months and the reason I keep coming back is the overwhelming sense of inclusion and the acceptable nudity. But it’s mainly the inclusion thing. No one is an outsider here – not even the man who dresses up each year as a computer virus – and the feeling that one can belong to a place almost as soon as your sandals touch the hot tarmac is something that throbs through Recife like a mobile phone on a marble table.
Recife Carnival is not as commercial as Rio’s famous carnival. In Rio, it’s all too easy to stumble across a flamboyant dancer dressed as a Pepsi vending machine or to watch from the curb as groups of excited performers on extravagant floats distribute sample packets of a new fabric softener. Recife is different. There’s no money here. People spend years perfecting their costumes, putting everything on hold until they find the right sequin or button. One elderly lady in town has spent 34 years on a dress she still hasn’t worn. By all accounts, it’s a sartorial representation of South America’s growing economy. It measures half a mile wide and so far includes 3 million sequins, 80,000 feathers and a billion beads. She apparently told neighbours “I just can’t find the right belt.”
As I approach my darling Tyrannosaurus Rex, my path is intercepted by a Brontosaurus. Not a real one. This instead is an ostentatious fellow whose choice of costume provides the perfect route to enticing conversation. As their chins begin to wag, I step in to highlight the absurdity of a Brontosaurus dating a Tyrannosaurus Rex but my Jurassic accuracy falls on deaf ears and I buzz into the nearest bar for several shots of Rabo-de-galo. “The night is young!” says my bartender as he places down another glass to mark the observation.
Unfortunately it didn’t get any older either. I passed out.