I’m unsure whether to hope for rain (it could keep us cool), or for dry (since my wish is for our costumes to stay as pristine as when they came out of their bags this morning).

We bought them online, through seasoned carnival operator Rio-Carnival.net. I chose them for their look and perceived lightness given we had no previous allegiance to any particular samba school and did not wish to cart around several kilos of polyester.

Our dress represents cocoa, a flavour of Brazil, depicted in the theme song of the same name. There were representations of pumpkins and limes too, but we opted for what turns out is stylised cupcakes and melted chocolate head and shoulder dress over a stylish chef’s outfit complete with apron and shoes.

All the colour of Rio. Performers from Academicos do Grande Rio samba school during Carnival celebrations.

All the colour of Rio. Performers from Academicos do Grande Rio samba school during Carnival celebrations.

Photo: AP

The outfit is hot and complex, and far from the skimpy feathers we see adorning celebrities atop floats on TV. We will be out in the Tropical section, in front of the fourth float, along with 100 other cupcakes, among 3500 people.

Samba schools are traditional member associations of larger clubs in Rio, and their followers as serious and devoted to their flags as footy tragics are to their team colours in Australia.

We find ourselves – your correspondent, her husband, younger son and best friend – supporting the Uniao da Ilha do Governador – the team native to Governor’s Island in Rio, a 36-square-kilometre home to 500,000 people in Guanabara Bay, just west of Mount Sugar Loaf.

Our instructions – only in Portuguese – came with the outfits. Among them, strict guidelines as to how we must dress (no accessories, no cameras, phones, bags), how we must behave (judges will be looking for singing, dancing and cohesion) and how we must respect the hierarchy of the school during the parade.

“No arguments,” it said. And should any participant be drunk beyond self-control, that will be grounds for ejection too. Thinking of the $400 we paid for each costume, we are definitely not risking this one.

Uniao is one of 12 samba schools in the Special Group, the A-League of carnival championships. It won the competition in 2009, and came eighth last year, so the pressure is on.

We parade on Monday night local time, the last day of the four-day festival.

Each school has 80  minutes to put on their best show. Any fraction of a second delayed past the end of the famous Sambadrome avenue, and we will lose points.

We can’t run. Must only dance. We’ve been learning our song off YouTube.

Performers from the Sao Clemente samba school parade during Carnival celebrations at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro.

Performers from the Sao Clemente samba school parade during Carnival celebrations at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro.

Photo: AP

It was in the high 30s at the beach in the morning where locals and tourists keen to tick the famous Rio Carnival off their bucket lists came for a refreshing dip before the big night.

Rio Governor Luiz Fernando Pezao promised 17,000 extra police on the streets to keep carnival-goers safe this year, but the police presence is visibly less frequent than during the Olympics. Asked about the persistent robberies of bags and mobile phones, police spokesman Major Ivan Blaz said more than 200 people had been arrested by Monday morning.

It’s 6pm and we are about to don our outfits, ready for an Uber to take us to the tourist collection point by the Hilton Rio Hotel in Copacabana.

We must arrive three hours before our allocated time for a full dress rehearsal. No bags, no accessories, just some money, tucked into our underwear, like the locals, to buy some beverages.

Carnival is a waiting game. We wait an hour for a bus that is late. An hour in traffic to arrive at the wrong gate. Another hour on a different bus to perhaps the right gate. Thankfully we meet an Ilha supporter who walks us to the correct warm up spot. Two more hours pass but at least now we are with fellow chocolate concoctions.

They are a tribute to the grandmothers whose traditional cakes and sweets live in the memories of  every child. We marvel at the size and detail of the floats before and after us. Costumes adjusted, new friendships made. 

It’s now time to practise the theme song. I almost have the chorus. Fireworks. Really loud fireworks herald the launch of our school. We dance a little harder, sing a little louder. Soon enough we’re turning the corner onto the Sapucaí Avenue proper. 

Millions of people line the stands on both sides. We can’t see past the headdresses ahead of us, except for the big arch, the symbol of the biggest party on the planet, at the end of the road. We’re heading there. We dance, sing and keep an eye on our formation. We find ourselves at the last line in the section. It’s up to us to keep it together. A steward whispers in my ear “your line cannot stray. If anyone stays behind, we lose points.”

Next time it happens he pushes us. We get the message. 80 minutes and it’s all over. We clap, we look for someone to dispose of our costumes.
If Ilha makes it to the top six spots it must parade again with the champions on Saturday.
We’ll be gone. Someone else must step in.

Two pinches of love, you and I. We put together our hunger and our desire to win tonight.

Lia Timson

Lia is Foreign News Editor at Fairfax Media. She was previously Technology Editor across all Fairfax titles.
Lia has written on consumer and business technology for Fairfax Media since 2001.

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