They were teenagers, mainly — bright young things studying medicine or agriculture, out to blow off steam before school started.
But before the night was through, they would die in their hundreds, choked by a toxic yellow fog and crushed by their peers as they groped blindly for an escape.
“It was worse than a scene from a horror movie,” said Murilo de Toledo Tiecher, 26, who survived the blaze that killed 236 people in a nightclub in southern Brazil in the early hours of Sunday morning. “People screaming, crying, lots of injured people without their skin and with burned bodies.”
On a sticky December morning, Justine Arena explains to a student that appropriate small talk for an international conference call must not include “How is Mr. Obama?”
“No politics,” says the 36-year-old English teacher/entrepreneur in her client’s plush office in a wealthy neighborhood.
Her student is no sullen teen, but the Latin America director for a multinational automaker.
Still, it’s clear who’s in charge here.
“What about ‘how is your mother?’” asks the student.
“Nothing personal either,” Arena says somewhat sternly. “Stick to the weather.”
She is one of a growing group of former Brazilian immigrants who have come home, drawn by economic growth and a job market the US and Europe can no longer offer. The 2010 census showed that from 2005 to 2010, 174,000 Brazilians returned to their home country, nearly twice as many as between 1995 and 2000.
Even before their Mayor received the Olympic flag from Boris Johnson last night, the citizens of Rio de Janeiro could feel the gaze of the sporting world begin shifting their way.
Brazilian flags and Union flags have hung side by side in bars over the past fortnight, and newspaper cartoons have depicted a glossy, barely-dressed Brazilian carnival queen in place of Elizabeth during the 2016 Opening Ceremony.