A carnival is in full swing day and night along Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana Beach as Cariocas and visitors alike revel in the Olympic spirit.
The Rio Games may have been hit by scandals, crime and transport woes, and some venues are remote and have seen many empty seats. But Copacabana is the heart and soul of the fun.
Every day people pack the beer and snack kiosks along the beach-front Atlantic Avenue and the open-front bars that sit on the corners of the streets behind. Televisions constantly show the action from the stadiums.
When the Brazil men’s volleyball team beat arch rivals Argentina round about midnight on Wednesday, the bars erupted in chanting, singing and arms-aloft jumping from a sea of yellow-shirted Brazilians that went on for a good quarter of an hour.
Along the wide pavement running along the 4 km beach, with its black-and-white stones set in a wave pattern, all manner of activity takes place – musicians play samba and bossa nova, vendors sell beach gear and T-shirts, and locals, tourists and off-duty athletes stroll or relax at the kiosks.
“The passion, the energy. It’s all very festive,” said Heather Novickis, a sports agent from Colorado in the United States as she sipped a caipirinha. “The Brazilians have a way of making you forget the problems.”
As for safety, “I was prepared for the worst, thinking I might get mugged, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the levels of security,” she said.
Copacabana is notorious for its pickpockets and muggers but a vast security operation has been mounted. Marines in full combat gear patrol the area and heavily armed military police units also keep watch in a sobering contrast to the festivities.
Rudi Schuck, 75-year-old German, was having the time of his life as he sat with two friends drinking beer and tucking into a plate of deep-fried pork. Wearing red pants and a waistcoat in Germany’s red, black and yellow colours, and sporting a cowboy hat festooned with feathers and badges, he had a bag full of party props.
“We want to be with the people. After the matches, we’ve had great times. I want to get to know the music,” he said.
At another bar, a group of young Irishmen sat gathered around a forest of beer tins.
“We are here for every Irish event, said Max Doyle, from Cork. “The craic has been great.”
They had met the O’Donovan brothers, Paul and Gary, who took a silver medal for Ireland in rowing and have gone viral with their hilarious interviews. The also had their picture taken with Usain Bolt.
They were staying in a compound that bordered a favela, and had noted the police checkpoint at its entrance. But they had suffered no security problems.
“You’ve got to keep your wits about you, but there’s dangerous parts in every city, said Nial Barret, who works in finance in Dublin.
The only downer was that at the men’s soccer semi-final, where they were still queuing for food at the Maracana stadium when Neymar scored a goal in the first 15 seconds.
A focal point of the action is the beach volleyball stadium, which has drawn crowds for matches that have gone on into the night. The constant racket only let up for a few moments when the Brazilian women’s team was defeated by the German duo in the final.
A nearby fence has become an unofficial ticket resale site, with people holding homemade signs with what tickets they want to offload.
Pedro, a 21-year-old Rio student, was offering two tickets for the women’s soccer final.
“We don’t want to go because Brazil didn’t make it to the final,” he said.
Jens, a 49-year-old Dane who lives in Sao Paulo, held a cardboard sign scrawled with a variety of tickets, including for the closing ceremony. “My two brothers didn’t show up,” he said.
A popular spot at the fort end of Copacabana is Venga, a Spanish tapas bar which is always packed with well-heeled Brazilians and tourists. A big screen was installed especially for the Games.
The atmosphere reached fever pitch on Sunday night when Bolt won the 100 meters and Britain’s Andy Murray won tennis gold, and it pretty much burst apart when Brazilian pole-vaulter Thiago Braz Da Silva triumphed.
A few blocks down at Mexico 70 – a small corner bar named after Brazil’s Pele-led World Cup victory – a samba band plays as dancers and drinkers spill out into the streets. Should Neymar lead Brazil to gold in Saturday’s final against Germany, you can bet the party there will be long and hard.