The Lapa Street Party, Rio de Janeiro : Where Samba is attempted by all, perfected by fewÖ
Iíll always look back upon my time in Rio fondly. We met some brilliant people and lived, at least for a short while, in a hedonistic haze of cocktail consumption, frenzied football matches and trips up a hill to see the big guy. Then there was that fateful night that made me want to stay forever (or at least until the tourist visa expired), the night of the Lapa Street Party.
We had been happy to stay put in the hostel bar for our first few nights in Rio. Our Hostel of choice was Mellow Yellow, an incredibly lively five storey place located in the Copacabana district, complete with accommodating staff, free breakfast, and extravagant Capoeira demonstrations. The place receives a lot of word of mouth hype from fellow travellers, which Iím happy to say it more than lives up to. Tulio, the resident bartender, introduced us to the wonders of Brazilís signature drink, the caipirinha, a potent mix of CachaÁa, lime, sugar and ice which is instantly addictive (in a good way, no oneís attending AA meetings just yet). But by the time the weekend arrived we were more than ready to ditch the hostel bar and embrace Rioís nightlife, and the Lapa street party seemed an excellent place to start.
Lapa is located in the centre of Rio and is the cityís bohemian hub, nestled amongst beautifully rendered colonial buildings. When viewed in comparison to the brashness of Copacabana or Ipanema, you get the feeling that here you have stumbled across a more untouched and unspoilt side of Rio, where the cityís history remains intact. The Arcos da Lapa is the areaís most recognisable landmark, a striking aqueduct built in the mid 18th century which now serves as a bridge connecting the city with the uphill neighbourhood of Santa Theresa, Ronnie Biggsís famous hideaway. And Lapa really does sizzle at night. During the 20ís and 30ís, Lapa was South Americaís very own Montemarte, and Samba was an integral part of that, but a government clampdown on the more shady sides of Lapa life in the 1940ís, along with the rise of beach culture and alternative styles of music meant that the area became decreasingly popular. Happily, today Samba is back in favour as is Lapa.
Night-time sees the area around the Arcos da Lapa aqueduct overflowing with Brazilian residents from all walks of life along with travellers, to wonderful effect. Lapa has a reputation for being dangerous at times, and although we didnít experience any trouble, I would say to those planning a trip there at night, donít take your camera just in case, and minimal amounts of cash, (just enough for the evenings caipirinhas) should be sufficient.
After a hostel transfer costing a very reasonable 10 Reais, we arrived. There is an exhilarating buzz in the air, and the promise that this is going to be one of those nights you hope doesnít end. One persons experience at a Lapa street party has the potential to be poles apart from that of anotherís, as an eclectic mix of people collides.
The streets are heaving with food and drink stalls and music blares out around you. Once we had picked a spot, my own evening was filled with trips to our favourite vendor and bizarre conversations with whoever was around...and then there was the dancing.
The overall euphoric mood that filled the streets was I think the catalyst which made me enlist the help of an intimidating good looking Brazilian couple who had the moves, and ask them to teach me to Samba. There are samba schools in Rio which offer classes for beginners, such as the Centro Cultural Carioca, but ever conscious of my slender budget, I thought no, Iíll be thrifty and procure one for free on the street. I watched in awe as the couple performed a demonstration. They moved effortlessly with compelling styleÖthey moved in ways I didnít know people could! I then watched gormlessly as they tried to teach me the basics. My attempts were below par to put it mildly, but after a while my footwork was just about passable. I was feeling pretty pleased with myself until someone pointed out that I then had to learn to shake my hips and chest independently from one another, whilst maintaining some sort of rhythm, then carry out said footwork. It was then that I had to face the fact that I am not, nor will I ever be Brazilian, or for that matter, a person with any hand-eye coordination.
The alcohol fuelled dancing continued into the wee small hours and as I suspected, the end of the night came and I didnít want to leave. I made a vow there and then that I would hone my dancing skills in the coming months and be back to Samba up a storm in time for next yearís carnival, Brazilís ultimate street party.