RIO DE JANEIRO – Carnival's biggest bash took to the streets at dawn Saturday, proving that if there is one thing citizens of this laid-back seaside city take seriously, it's partying.
Organizers expected up to 1 million people at the Bola Preta street party, or "bloco" — one of Rio's oldest. Dressed in black and white, the revelers lustily sang along to traditional Carnival songs like Rio's anthem, "Cidade Maravilosa" — "The Marvelous City."
"I got up early to get here because this bloco is a monument to Brazilians' ability to show the world complete happiness," said Clandecy Claudio, a 23-year-old truck driver sporting a T-shirt that read "Beer Is Good For You" and with a can of the beverage in each fist. "For a few days I can let my work go and forget all my troubles."
In the northeastern city of Salvador, which battles Rio each year for bragging rights to the nation's wildest Carnival, police said thousands of people had simply collapsed in public plazas to catch a few hours of sleep after partying all night.
Even sober Sao Paulo, Brazil's business capital, showed its partying colors, holding its first night of flamboyant samba group parades. Brazil's brutal sun was shining hard by the time the last dancers left the street.
But it's Rio's massive fest that draws the most attention — and international celebrities. Madonna, Beyonce, the Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton were all expected to watch as Rio's samba parades begin Sunday night.
But the essence of Rio's Carnival is in its street parties, which have regained popularity in recent years.
Thousands danced to a samba beat on the cobbled streets of the bohemian Santa Teresa neighborhood Friday evening, donning skimpy costumes bordering on blasphemous.
At the "Carmelitas" party — named after a nearby convent — groups of young women dressed as sexy police in cutoffs and tank tops, while grown men donned baby outfits, sucked on pacifiers and showered themselves with talcum powder.
A drum line that kept the crowd dancing in the sweltering heat was made up of young men dressed as nuns, as were many in the crowd.
Carly Oboudiyat, a 25-year-old medical student from New York, left mountains of snow to enjoy Rio's white sand beaches and street parties.
"It's fantastic going from freezing winds to 111-degree weather," Oboudiyat said as she took in the surroundings near Ipanema beach, a cold beer in hand and beads of sweat on her forehead.
Samba dancers were rehearsing for the start of the premier competition in dazzling parades of scantily clad revelers and towering floats.
Amid the partying in Rio, authorities this year were clamping down on small offenses such as urinating in public, trying to bring a semblance of order to Rio's crammed streets and beaches.
In the wake a winning bid to host the 2016 Olympics, Rio and its ambitious young mayor want to show the world the city of 6 million has the ability to safely host major events and contain drug-gang violence.
Police say a Dutch tourist was shot in the arms and stomach late Friday during a robbery. A Dutch woman with the man was unharmed. No names were released, nor was the condition of the wounded man made public. No arrests have been made.