Vern: "Grrringooo!" shouted a shirtless man in a blue straw hat tapping me on the shoulder. We'd been found out, at our third street party of the day. Wearing our merino wool t-shirts and our all-terrain trainers, we'd done quite well so far to infiltrate the 40th Rio Carnival. Everyone else was in fancy dress, in masks and in drag so we were in fact the most conspicuous. There are many other foreigners but this is definitely a Brazilian festival for Brazilian people and most of the tourists here are from outside of Rio, rather than outside of Brazil.
The party started at 6am this morning. For some. We just shut the window tight and went back to bed, joining in several hours later after a sensible breakfast. Samba bands play the carnival songs (apparently written a few decades ago and played every year this time, so all revellers know the lyrics) from the corner of every city block and the masses (fuelled by cold beer from entrepreneurs who have welded stands onto their bicycles to hold polystyrene cooler boxes) dance, shake, shove and shout throughout the day. Imagine an urban Glastonbury or what would happen if the Notting Hill Carnival wasn't just Notting Hill but the whole city of London.
The street parties are relatively well organised with printed schedules, self-contained stage-trucks and heavy police presence. As one party trails off and the band packs up, the crowd wanders off in every direction guessing the proximity of the next event by how clearly the brass band can be heard.
The streets are chaotic and messy, but conveniently there seems to be a budding market for aluminium cans and beer tins are getting scooped up, seconds after these are dropped on the floor, by street children who are probably getting a few Reais per kg.
We returned to the hotel for a brief reprieve in the afternoon. Andrea found a wacky pair of lens-less orange framed spectacles, with foam eyebrows attached and these would become key in her evening outfit, allowing at least one of us to blend in.
This evening the streets leading up to the Sambodromo are lined with floats and participants in their costumes preparing for their time to shine. The parade (competition) runs from 8pm til 4am the next morning, with each school allocated about an hour for their several hundred strong school and their magnificent floats to parade through the stadium (think bleachers on either side of a wide road). So for the school who is lined up to start at 3am, it's going to be a long night of waiting.
Saturday is the first night of the Carnival parades and is Groupo A (the second division). The first division schools parade tomorrow and Monday. We can't tell one samba from the next and the tickets were substantially cheaper so we chose Saturday.
We found a spot on the stands as the rain started and it didn't really stop. Luckily, we had catered for this situation and quickly adorned our ponchos which we wore for the whole night.
The parade was a visual feast, with a few fireworks, hundreds of different costumes, powerful drum corps, ingenious floats and - surprisingly - only loosely coordinated dance moves. We figured their were just too many people involved to choreograph dance moves with cheerleader style precision, but it is quite likely that the randomness and the erratic nature of the dance is actually a feature of the dance.
After 4 wonderful parades, we were exhausted, water logged and samba-ed out and walked back to our hotel in the early hours of the morning, again passing the many schools still waiting for their hour to shine.