Revellers in Rio joined a whirl of festivities as carnival fever took hold, the world’s biggest street party putting firmly aside lingering protests over corruption and the cost of hosting the World Cup.
With the football extravaganza now just three months away, flamboyantly dressed metropolis residents indicated that, on Saturday at least, they had spent enough time demonstrating – and wanted to let loose instead.
“Carnival is carnival. Celebrate! Protests can wait – at least for now,” shouted Christophe Land, one of 50 men decked out in black “Spiderman” outfits from the Cordao da Bola Preto group that comprises Rio’s biggest street party, or bloco.
Other revellers agreed.
“Nobody wants to protest, not this week,” said Cristiano Floriano, clad in canary yellow, while Sergio Mendes added: “I am a protester – we all know Brazilian politicians are corrupt. But the people are the majority – and carnival is for us.”
Rio’s tourist board said 1.3 million people – some 200,000 less than expected – turned out to see the bloco, honoured by the city’s heritage institute on a day that is considered the 449th anniversary of Rio’s founding.
Some 500 blocos will lead millions, including around 900,000 foreign visitors, through the streets during five days of hedonistic festivities that started on Friday when carnival King Momo took the keys of the city and declared joy by decree.
There was little sign of any repeat of the at times violent anti-corruption and anti-Cup protests which have hit the city and others in Brazil recently.
Instead, participants endeavoured to show Brazil is a safe World Cup destination.
There was a brief sour note, however, as media reported a military police unit used tear gas to disperse a group of garis or carnival cleaners, who are demanding better pay and conditions.
Additionally, Rio police fined 117 people for urinating in public, local media reported.
Otherwise, relative calm reigned before the storm before throngs of locals and foreigners alike swarm the city centre Sunday and Monday, when 12 elite samba schools will bid for the annual carnival crown at the city’s famed Sambadrome.
Outfits for the elite groups can cost thousands of dollars, but Saturday’s street parade participants gave them a good run for their money with a range of often risque creations.
Crossdressing among the men was a typical theme, while a group of men and women dressed as Neanderthals, who had daubed themselves in black paint, rubbed against anyone in range.
“Hey, that’s my natural colour,” laughed one black man the group targeted.
Nearby, a clown holding a huge “Say no to Racism” banner looked on in approval.
Men in nappies and fluffy pink rabbit ears, micro-skirted women flaunting skin, Barack Obama and Superman lookalikes added to the visual feast.
One man with a traffic cone on his head wore a model of part of Rio’s ring road, the Perimetral, which is being demolished ahead of the 2016 Olympics.