Sambadrome a Carnaval hot spot

NOCTURNAL (adj): of, relating to, or occurring at night.

The zoological definition of the word refers to animals most active at night.

The animal-like world that was Rio Carnaval saw many creatures moving around in packs throughout the evenings.

Whether in their natural habitat or visiting from afar, these critters wore costumes of all shapes and sizes.

Whether a sequined headband teamed with trackies or elaborate outfits disguising the species within, they became one and the same.

All sleeping during the day and hunting their prey at night - a pretty member of the opposite sex or simply the hottest party in town.

Dozens of street parties blocked streets every night as trucks with multiple boom box speakers blasted out festive Brazilian tunes, accompanied by drumming and dancing schools.

Oh, and thousands of costumed followers partying in their wake as they literally do blockies around Rio`s suburbs.

Men with foam eskies run among the crush selling grog dirt cheap.

But I can't tell you how many times I thought my obituary would read: "Died an unfortunate death by a foam eski while dancing during Carnaval but at least she died doing what she loved".

The festive buzz surrounding carnaval street parties is so overwhelming you barely notice the foul smell of some areas and somehow don't mind the sardine crush that means you can see the nostril hairs of your thousands of new friends.

Side note: am lying on a sun lounge next to the top floor open-air pool of my Copacabana Hotel and a Crowded House song came on. Nice.

Anyway. Moving onto the Carnaval parade at the Sambadrome where Rio's top 12 samba schools compete over two nights.

About 80,000 people pack into the purpose-built concrete stands and boxes to watch thousands of dancers parade down the avenue between them.

The awesomeness of the floats is on a scale you must see to comprehend, each one more breathtaking and fascinating than the next.

It´s no wonder there was such devastation when many of the floats were destroyed by fire in recent months.

The event begins each night at 9pm and continues until about 7am the next day, with fireworks signaling the start of each school entering the Sambadrome.

We watched from sector 13 on the first evening, viewing each school as they finished their performances.

My favourite school was Unidos da Tijuca whose theme was about fear depicted in super production movies.

The avenue was transformed into a giant movie theatre presenting scenes from unforgettable movies to show how fear helps us fight against evil and feel good about victory over it.

From Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Robin Hood to Chicken Run, Priscilla Queen of the Desert and Harry Potter, this school received high accolades from the crowds but did not take the main gong.

I also loved one about hair, a weird concept but the floats were just so stunning.

Despite it being after 4am and wanting to head home, I just could not tear myself away.

"From ancient civilisations to modern times, hair has been a symbol of seduction, strength and power," the program read.

Cleopatra, Rapunzel, Medusa and Lady Godiva were among those who made an appearance via floats.

The name of my samba school, which performed first up on the second night, was Uniao da Ilha.

Our floats were among those damaged in the fires that reached the news in Oz.

Our theme honoured the young naturalist Charles Darwin, depicting his journey on the HMS Beagle which helped him relate life to one ancestral only.

It also represented the beauty of the tropical forests he once discovered in Brazil and Ecuador, honouring the 150th anniversary of Darwin's publication Origin of Species.

There were ants, octopus, seahorses, lobsters as well as all manner of sea animals with fins, flippers and gills.

Then it moved to other eco systems with queen bees, beetles, butterflies, frogs and snakes decked out in amazing costumes.

We moved onto the Galapogas Islands, where I will be in a few short weeks, section.

The float directly in front of me was a massive iguana with hot samba dancers strategically positioned all over, some lowered on by crane.

I was a peacock (see the photo gallery to enjoy the spectacle).

We were in the school's 21st wing before the red macaw and after the hummingbirds.

The Indian peacocks, with our magnificent tails, represented Darwin's analysis of the species evolution process.

Behind us were enormous, and super cool, foam kangaroos on springy stilts, giraffes, zebras, tigers, leopards and monkeys.

Exhausted yet? That's just my school.

Each school takes about 80 minutes to pass through the sambadrome.

The samba champion this year, announced on Wednesday, was the Baija-Flor group.

It´s theme honoured Brazilian singer Roberto Carlos, whose entrance into the Sambadrom just before dawn on Tuesday sparked a standing ovation from the crowd which had waited through the heavy rain to see him.

I was already in bed by then. My school was the only one to parade that night without rain.

Moving onto a party with almost as much kudos as the parade itself, the Scala Gay Ball.

This ball attracts Rio's most prestigious drag queens, transvestites and gay socialites.

It´s broadcast to the whole of Brazil with a red carpet entrance highlighting the flamboyant characters floating in.

I cannot tell you how many times I stopped a trannie or drag queen, spilling a marvelhoooosa or esplendoroooosa off my tongue to ensure they would let me take photos of them.

Some needed much less encouragement, posing for photos left and right as they passed through the ball.

The most fabulous wore stunning, grandiose outfits exuding the glamour of big screen movie stars.

Others were wearing so little we could see the tan lines from the dental floss bikinis they obviously sport at the beach.

Four of our group of five friends went to town on the costume front.

My roomies went as Xena Warrior Princess (after her friend found the costume dumped in a street) and a fairy (a sexy one).

I had picked up my costume as I exited the Sambadrome on Monday night, where dancers were dumping them in mountainous piles.

People were dumping their costumes left, right and centre.

Mine attracted unrivaled attention (for me) at the gay ball.

I was stopped for photos more than a dozen times, sometimes people even wanting to pose WITH me.

Nice stroking of the ego, even if the costume was doing all the hard work.

A gay friend went for a studded leather belt-like number which left little to the imagination.

He too got plenty of attention - most of it welcomed!

The DJs alternated between blocks of western and Brazilian songs.

I don't know if I've ever been groped or rubbed up against in my life.

But when the DJ played the Black Eyed Peas number I've Had The Time Of My Life in the wee hours, I had to agree. Rio Carnaval is amazing.

I twice arrived home to find breakfast open at my hotel, indulging before going to bed.

The earliest I got in was about 4am during my stay.

I have become nocturnal - of the Carnaval animal species.

I'd love to write more but I'm off for a snooze.

A Latin Affair is a travel column written by roving reporter Rae Wilson.

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