Officially, carnaval is supposed to start at midnight Friday ... still 12 hours from now. But, as carnaval has become increasingly commercialised, it has increased in size and time, and the concept of a "pre-party" has been taken to ridiculous levels.
When I started my late search for accommodation in Salvador, I came across a post on the Thorn Tree Forums (at Lonely Planet) offering accommodation. I contacted the email address, and was quoted a price, which seemed at the time ridiculously expensive, especially as I was still in Peru. But Paolo, the person at the other end, replied that he understood the constraints but urged me come to Salvador if I could. When I reached Manaus, I contacted him again, and he had one space in a slightly cheaper alternative, and I grabbed it.
Both apartments are penthouses in Barra, a suburb of Salvador and one of the main locations of the Carnaval festivities. The more expensive apartment is certainly nicer, and even features a roof top pool (part of the apartment), but the cheaper apartment is not bad at all.
But what has been great is Paolo's involvement in taking all the people staying at the two apartments (combined) through Day 0 (my term, not sure what the official term is) as well as going out on previous nights. He has really put some thought into organising everything, and since everyone (including his Brazilian friends and with the exception of Paolo himself) is doing this for the first time, he has really been great at explaining the dos, donts, dangers etc.
Apart from Paolo and myself, there are 4 Irish girls, 1 English girl, 1 Greek girl, 1 American girl, 1 Australian girl, 1 English guy, 3 Brazilian guys and 4 Australian guys (one of them actually emigrated from SA, before 1994). We managed to keep loosing the Australian guys (or maybe they wanted to get lost), but the rest of us managed to stay as a group for most of the night.
I do not expect to take any pictures of carnaval. It is just too difficult and dangerous to carry a camera in the crowds. My verbose descriptions will have to do.
I suppose in Rio, blocos would be called schools. Except in Salvador, there is less of a show. Each bloco has at least two massive trucks - the first truck has the musical performers (and their invited guests) and the second truck as the paid "guests". For many blocos, you can purchase a T-Shirt (with the lowest costing around 250 Brazilian Reals or about 100 Euros, per day. There are cheaper deals for multiple days though, and it is possible to get discounted shirts. By joining a bloco, you basically party with the band as they go down the route: the route in Barra is about 5 Km long, and takes about 3 hours to go through.
If you are not in the bloco, you can still party with the bloco as they walk down the road, and be part of the "popcorn". Popcorn is intense - it is like a giant, moving moshpit, but about 10 times as intense as any other moshpit that I have come across - and I have seen a few. The energy is intense, and is one of the most intense partying experiences I have ever had (although, I am hardly a veteran of parties). It is a tiring experience - I went through over 2 litres of water!
Pickpocketing is rife - and although I had a money belt, one cannot keep everything in the money belt, and even though I swatted away a lot of hands, I managed to lose some money. I have decided to buy a hydration pack (they are fairly cheap) which I can fill with water, and then not have to carry too much money.
Off course you can escape all the bustle and take a seat in one of the many stands next to the road. These are almost as expensive as the blocos, but many are catered and some of them have unlimited drinks as part of the equation. While the music is great, there is no real show (there was only one float that had people dressed up in costumes), and it seems a bit of a waste - especially when I don't have much knowledge or understanding of the differences in Brazilian music.
So that was Day 0
We got to the parade around 8pm, and got back to the apartments about 2pm ... the party was hardly over, but most of us were. The main event starts tonight, and apparently, there will be double the number of people. I will post again, assuming I am in a position to do so ...