Revellers in Rio have 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 to Brazil of hosting the World Cup.
With the football extravaganza now just three months away, flamboyantly dressed metropolis residents indicated that, for the moment, 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, known as bloco.
“Nobody wants to protest, not this week,” Cristiano Floriano, clad in canary yellow, told the AFP news agency, 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 about 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-World Cup protests which have hit the city and others in Brazil recently.
Instead, participants endeavoured to show the country is a safe 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 on 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.
Men in nappies and fluffy pink rabbit ears, micro-skirted women flaunting skin, Barack Obama and Superman lookalikes only added to the visual feast, AFP reported.
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.
Above the din, one reveller, Rosana, said Brazilians can be optimistic in a World Cup year despite the country struggling with its preparations.
“Brazil is getting better. We are a united people who maybe have to break a few things in the system. But not windows,” said Rosana, 27, speaking for most Brazilians horrified at how anarchists latched onto the recent protests to clash with military police.
Rio may be the biggest street party on the planet but the usually staid business hub of Sao Paulo, which will host the World Cup opening match, also kicked off major celebrations overnight.