Day 233 - Rio de Janeiro (favela tour)
Trip Start Sep 02, 2007
243Trip End May 01, 2008
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We made our way to the collection point, chatted away to some friendly Brit backpackers who were also doing the same tour and when the bus showed up spent the next 20 minutes collecting others from various hotels in the area and before driving past the Lagoa and up into the hills.
The first favela that we visited was one of the largest in the city, with around 80,000 people living there!
We were told this on the way there, so I'm sure that all of our imaginations were working overtime as to what we expected to see when we got out of the van.
Having seen 'City of God' (great film) and its depiction of drug-fueled violence, my expectations were probably lower than most. Vague memories of my Geography A-level unit on shanty towns were also lingering, so I was expecting to see houses made of corugated iron with mud floors, overflowing sewerage and unpaved roads everywhere.
The reality however was rather different.
I was very surprised to see that nearly all the housing in the favelas was made of concrete, so most houses looked the same as 'normal' houses. There was definitely less space between them and they were organised more haphazardly, but all the roads were paved and there were power and telephone lines attached (dangerously) to most of the houses.
Most of the favelas in Rio are located directly next to some of the most expensive and exclusive areas of the city. So literally on one side of the street you have a mansion and on the other there's a concrete slum. A bit like Holloway being next to Islington ;)
The favelas also have some fantastic views over the city due to their hillside locations, so often - ironically - they have much better views than their more illustrious neighbourhoods.
It was just a shame that it was such a cloudy day.
Here is a photo of some of the houses, which were usually stacked on multiple levels, in a rather ad hoc manner, but they were regular 'bricks & mortar' homes, not the wooden shacks that I'd expected.
There were lots of narrow lanes cutting between the buildings, often connected in almost medieval ways. There were very low ceilings and dog crap everywhere and some of the sewerage systems definitely weren't the greatest, but I was pleasantly surprised by the standard of living in what I had assumed were going to be pretty much human cess-pits.
Our guide (Alexandro) was excellent, fluent in English and with a good sense of humour and he was certainly popular with the locals every time we got out of the van. I guess he does this tour every day, but it was clear how fond he was of the people we saw everywhere and vice versa.
When we discussed doing one, we were concerned that a "favela tour" might be exploitative of those less fortunate than ourselves, but the reality is that the people living in these areas welcome foreign visitors and in particular their MONEY.
I was also surprised at how safe it appeared to be on the streets of the favelas, although I suspect that it would be considerably less so without our guide! We were probably seeing the more sanitised areas.
Our first real stop was at a line of local art stalls where we bought a cool little painting; it was remarkably well controlled and orderly. To be honest we hardly saw any locals around, so they obviously keep this area just for tourists.
We were told that the favelas are controlled almost completely by drug gangs.
They rule the favelas with an iron fist because any crime reported in them could bring the police, who are absolutely the last visitors they want on their turf.
The drug gangs do everything in their power to warn anyone living in these areas that any crimes committed (apart from pedalling drugs presumably!) will be severely punished by them.
So as a result experts say that these favelas are remarkably free from petty crime and that tourists are actually safer with their cameras and wallets in the favelas than they are in Copocabana and Ipanema. Difficult to believe, right?
Anyway, we were allowed out of the van now and then to wander around the paved streets and through the concrete jungle; it was a very interesting experience.
The kids in the favelas were just adorable, all really happy and seemingly untroubled. Kicking footballs, flicking marbles, or just watching these strangely-dressed foreigners, they seemed content and peaceful.
Later on we visited some local houses where the owners had become success stories, selling their properties and moving up the property ladder to become landlords and offering opportunities for others to follow in their footsteps.
These were the views from the roof of one of these properties, not bad eh?
Here you can see more favela housing, with highly illegal shacks being built up the side of the mountain itself, an area extremely vulnerable to the frequent mud-slides.
On the way out of this first favela we followed a winding road down the hill which apparently used to be a Grand Prix style motor car street circuit like Monaco!
Our guide even produced an old photo of how the road used to look in the 40s, complete with motor car driver!
The view at the bottom of the road was nothing special, but we did have a quick wander around the streets again which was just like an area of any big city.
Again some of the views were fantastic...
...and the streets were really busy.
We visited a local school set up by an Italian family in the 70s, which is now maintained mainly thanks to contributions from the Favela Tour company that we were using.
It's good to see where your money is going for once and to see that it's making a positive difference to the community.
I think we all enjoyed sitting at the school desks and there are no prizes for guessing who took a seat on the back row! ;)
The school was in the second favela that we visited, which we had a chance to explore on foot afterwards.
Again the houses were basic but safe and this might sound stupid but we were surprised by how many of the residents had cars.
We walked into the very centre of the favela, which showed the way that the buildings are piled on top of each other in such a haphazard manner.
However, it looked no worse than your average inner city housing estate.
We walked through the narrow lanes, which felt almost medieval.
Our journey through these lanes normally attracted quite a bit of attention from the local residents!
It was single file through most of the lanes, but this added to the experience.
Here is a photo of the large mansion across the street directly opposite where we exited the favela!
Apparently it was sold recently for about 1/4 of its true value, purely because a favela had sprung up on the other side of the road since it had been built.
After the favela tour we decided to take the bus and then metro into the 'Centro' area of the city, which is what they call the financial centre.
There were plenty of old colonial buildings to admire, but the vast majority of the residencial buildings were in a real state of disrepair, reminding us of Athens when we visited years before the Olympics.
As always in South America the large squares had some very attractive buildings around them.
We did the Lonely Planet walking tour of the centre, which was distinctly average but at least allowed us to see the highlights in a short space of time.
This is the headquarters of one of the huge petrochemical companies which have done so well recently as Brazilians become much better at exploiting their land to get to the valuable natural resources. Cool building though.
This is the modern cathedral, you might be able to see Christ the Redeemer high up on the cliffs between the building and the tower.
Here's a close-up!
These are some of the oldest buildings in the city, now totally out of character to the rest of the thriving metropolis.
I set a strict 3pm deadline on the walk because the Liverpool v Chelsea Champions League 1/4 final 1st leg started at 3:45pm, so I absolutely positively HAD to be in front of the tv in the hostel at that time!
The bus home took forever, so despite sprinting the two blocks to the hostel from the bus stop I was still 3 minutes late, but luckily it was still 0-0.
As most of you will now know, we scored before half time to lead 1-0 and it remained that way until the very end of the game. In the 94th minute Chelsea equalised via a fluke own goal, thereby scoring a crucial and generally undeserved away goal following a mis-hit clearance from John Arne Riise.
The goal was an absolute shocker, a bitter pill to swallow. I sat there completely numb for minutes afterwards, absolutely gutted at how the last kick of the game had completely changed the set-up of the 2nd leg next week.
We still have all to play for next Wednesday (when I will mostly be on our bloody flight back to London!), but as we've not scored at Stamford Bridge in the last 8 games it might be too much to ask. Fingers crossed!
For dinner we went to the same little sushi place that we found yesterday, Katie was raving about it all day so it was pretty obvious that she fancied a repeat performance!
We had another frozen yoghurt for desert from our favourite shop "Yogaberry"... I think we're getting addicted to them already, they are soooooooooo delicious!
The weather was prettt bloody awful again today, so we have everything crossed that we can finally get some clear skies tomorrow so that we can get up above the city and see the famous views!
Lots of love,
Al & Katie xx