02/27/2012 11:46 am ET Updated Apr 28, 2012

Enjoying Brazilian Carnival At A Bloco (PHOTOS)

While the media spotlight shines on the action in Rio de Janeiro's Sambadrome, much of the carnival craziness takes place at the blocos. One of the best and most colorful things about the blocos are the costumes.

Sometimes the streets for miles around a big bloco are full of people in the most bizarre costumes and with the strangest props you will ever see: the guy carrying a life-size cardboard cutout of his twin brother, Osama bin Laden arm-in-arm with Idi Amin, a transvestite Snow White followed by seven petite female dwarfs, Wonder Woman, Batman, Cleopatra, Amy Winehouse, Megamind and a dozen or so black, male Marilyn Monroes. Five drunk Smurfs wandered through the crowd covered in pale blue paint and a group dressed as journalists, brandishing over-sized microphones, chased a (real) policewoman down the street yelling for an interview.

Blocos were once just low-key samba jamming sessions that took place in out-of-the-way plazas in backstreet quarters around the city. There was usually a locally-known band with small but fervent following, a few hundred casual party-goers and a brace of cervejas. From these humble beginnings many of Rio's blocos have taken off until they draw such huge crowds that they have to lie about the starting time -- and sometimes even the location -- just to try to keep spectator numbers down to manageable levels. You have to ask around, check various sources and be prepared for a contingency plan should you suddenly find out that the bloco is not where it was advertised to be.

Where else in the world can a locally known band draw a crowd of two and a half million at a single bloco? Eat your heart out Rolling Stones.