PARATY, Brazil (AP) — Hundreds of revelers wrestled, tackled each other and threw chunks of gunk while shaking it to samba and reggaeton Saturday at a Carnival beach party where clothes were optional but the mud was not.
The annual "Bloco da Lama," or "Mud Party," in this coastal town about a 4-hour drive from Rio de Janeiro got started when Alesandra Cristiana was the first person to jump into thick black mud in an area of mangroves the size of several soccer fields. With the tropical sun blasting a 95-degree heat, dozens of onlookers then followed her lead, soon followed by a few hundred.
"I wanted to be the first to be cured by the mud this year," said Cristiana, who is from Rio. "When you are here, anything negative in your body just exits."
Like many mud-bathers, Cristiana, now in her fifth year attending, claimed the sticky matter had medicinal qualities.
"Yuck!" screamed Luciana Pasiani as her sons, ages 8 and 5, rubbed her down with sludge.
"Hug with mud! Hug with mud!" they squealed. Because one coat clearly wasn't enough, Pasiani's husband and two male friends then picked her up and chucked her in.
"This is a dream for me," said Pasiani, who runs a mechanic shop in a suburb of Sao Paulo. "It's so much fun."
The messy party harkens back to 1986, when according to local lore a few teenagers hiking in a mangrove forest smeared themselves with mud to combat mosquitoes. They then paraded through Paraty, a former Portuguese colonial town with picturesque white walls in the downtown area. A tradition was born.
These days, however, revelers no longer parade through the town, a practice that angered shopkeepers who watched their snow-white walls get sullied with flying soil. Instead, the partygoers stick to the mangroves and adjoining beach.
Luiz Antonio Simas, a Carnival historian, said the mud party encapsulates how celebrations in small Brazilian cities reflect their origins. In Paraty, fishing and ocean culture dominate, so a beach party makes sense.
"These parties are also less tense than Carnival celebrations in bigger cities, which often have more political themes," said Simas.
A popular tourist destination, many foreigners visiting Paraty got into the fun.
Max Johnson and Heidi Anderson, a couple from Sweden, did their best to kiss while completely covered in sludge.
"It's definitely a bit nasty," said Anderson. "But it's Carnival, so you can do whatever you want."
"If you want to kiss somebody with a poopy-looking face, you can do that," she added.
Elizabeth Oviedo, from Chile, followed other women in stripping off her bikini top and plastering her chest with mud.
"It's no big deal, the mud covers you," Oviedo told her friend, Alejandra Nalda, who initially gave her a disapproving look but then pulled her top off, too.
After spreading mud all over her body, Nalda got out and grabbed her cellphone for a selfie. Her phone had a special plastic that vendors sell for the event, while other partiers used Saran wrap, plastic grocery bags or selfie sticks to protect their devices.
As they stood covered in mud, Alosio Gomes de Oliveira and his wife of 33 years reflected on how their adult daughters no longer wanted to go on vacation with them.
"They say we are old," said De Oliveira, from Rio. "Maybe after seeing photos of us on this trip they will say we are not so, so old."
As the party was winding down, a group of young men ran through the crowds looking for anybody who was not completely mud-covered. Any violator was hugged and had his or her face wiped with mud, including an Associated Press reporter who up until then had managed to stay relatively clean.
"Everybody has to change and let go during Carnival," said Diego Prestes, from Sao Paulo, as he applied the mud. "Having fun is the only thing that is important."
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