Cars on the tram track

Trip Start Feb 06, 2007
Trip End Jan 14, 2008

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Tuesday November 20th Rio, Rocinha and the Santa Teresa tram
Rocinha is the largest favela in Rio. Favelas are known as slums, but after seeing Rocinha 'slum' has taken on another meaning. We booked a tour through the hotel and found ourselves with a couple from Morocco and another couple from South Africa, all of us English-speaking. Our guide spoke rotten English, so she told us very little because she couldn't.  Rocinha is in fact a conglomeration of multi-storey brick buildings clinging on to steep hillsides, with shops on the ground floor. It hardly looks like very poor accommodation. We have seen much worse in Caracas, Venezuela, and Cali, Colombia, and in many places all over Central and South America.
There are some traffic-carrying streets, but most lanes are narrow and steep and for pedestrians. These 'slums' have electricity (much of it stolen by hooking up a wire to the cables in the street), water and sewage disposal. We were taken inside one home and it had a tiled staircase !
Why tours are run to Rocinha is beyond us. Only if you had spent your entire life living in an upmarket suburb in Sydney would it seem any different from the usual accommodation of poor people. They say it is not safe for visitors, but other than a guy carrying a machine gun it all looked very ordinary.
This afternoon we went to the only tram station left in Rio, to take a ride to Santa Teresa. At the station they did not know when the tram would arrive, which seem a bit odd till we had our ride. Watch the guys who take your money. They keep short-changing you till you give up in despair. The fare is 60 centavos each way. Best to have the right money then they can't diddle you.
The tram is a single small carriage with reversible wooden-slatted seats. Once it has left the station and crossed an old aqueduct hangers-on appear and grab a free ride by hanging off the side. The tram clatters its merry way up the hill, stopping to let people on and off. When it got somewhere near the top station, it stopped and all the official people got off and disappeared up the hill. Was this time for a beer ? No, they had gone on a hunt in cafes and bars looking for the owner of a car that had parked across the tramlines. 15 minutes later the driver was found, the car moved, and we proceeded upwards to points where the tram swopped on to the downward track. You would think drivers would not be silly enough to park their smart new cars on tramlines. Not so. The next car was bodily heaved off the track by a team of strong passengers. And so we got back to our starting point well over an hour later. Don't miss this. It is great fun.
The cathedral is close by. It is the ugliest cathedral we have ever seen. Made of now-grubby grey concrete, cone-shaped, and furnished inside with 4 60-metre stained glass windows, lots more grubby concrete panelling, and minimalist wooden bench seating, it makes a most unlikely church, like sci-fi instead.
The Caixa building near the Carioca metro station has floors of galleries and a cinema and theatre. It had a truly wonderful photo exhibition from some of the world's most famous photographers. There was the Normandy landing in 1944, Marilyn Monroe having her hair done, and Che Guevara in 1951 puffing a cigar. Two books describing the life and work of some of these photographers were there for perusing.
The cinema was showing 2 avant-garde films, free. We watched the first, about doomsday's arrival, with spasmodic conversation in English, but gave up on the second, all in Portuguese. A lot of people left after the first short film, amid outraged yells and shouts and gesticulations from some looney. Perhaps he was the maker of the second film.
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