Todo bem...

Trip Start Apr 05, 2008
Trip End Jul 19, 2008

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Flag of Brazil  , State of Rio de Janeiro,
Saturday, May 10, 2008

Cascading down from the heavens, Rio's favelas flat in the night sky, gliterring like stars, demanding attention.  Over the famous Ipanema and Copacabana beahces, they cluster and cling to the precipitous, dramatic drops of the landscape.  By night, the mesmerising sight obscures the reality of these amazing favelas.  By day, favelas are a different animal, transformed into an intimidating, formidable animal - a no-go zone for the majority of the population.  The reputation of favelas is one of constant, violent crime, gun shootouts and gangland warfare, drugs, and severe poverty - all which may be true to some extent and which is perpetuated by much of the Brazilian middle class.  For those not familiar with the concept, favelas are shanty towns essentially - illegal dwellings constructed out of anything and everything, long ignored and not recognised by the government, which have spiralled out of control in the last 20 years.  A windnig labyrinth of small houses climb atop one anothe ad hoc, wherever a little bit of space can be found, usually on public land, each house protected after 5 years under adverse possession laws.  Mystifylingly, the thrown together constructions, many without running water and electricity, cast a shadow over some fo the richest postcodes in Brazil, the proximinty at which the rich and the poor live purely astonishing.  60 tonnes of rubbish are thrown into the street each day.  The drug lords control the streets, somewhat ironically maintining order over what could otherwise be a scene of chaos (police have little influence in a place where the black market reign supreme - such bloodshed would be needless).  Fascinating.  But favelas are not filled with destruction, crime and misery.  The people of the favelas - in Rio accounting for 20% or approximately 1 million people - are what people think of when they think of Brazilians - joyous, vivacious, loving of life.  They are Carnival - all of the major contributors to the world's greatest annual party being samba schools from favelas.  As we walked through the streets of Rocinha, Brazil's largest favela with approximately 160,000 residents, on a tour, people smiled and waved whilst children played football in the the street; a beer was topped at the corner bar as some local teenage girls browsed jewellery at the store next door.  Over the road, a man offers us some DVDs and over his shoulder, just a matter of metres away, down the cliff, a lady relaxes in her condominium pool.  These scenes highlight one of the most fascinating and tragic aspects of Brazil - the ever-grwoing divide between rich and poor.  But in such incredibly close proximity.  Where else in the world are the countries poorest people - indeed some of the poorest in the world we've been told - separated literally by only a road from the elite class.  Mansions and slums are next door neighbours in Rio, the residents of the favelas knowing all too well what they do not have.  There is much to understand about favelas and so many related issues - education, politics, the cultural cycles that are maintained here - that I do not.  But to my mind, it is the most intruiging part of this wonderful city...

Favelas do not help Rio's reputation for being dangerous.  It's dangerous.  Damn dangerous.  That's what everyone will tell you.  Don't draw any attention to yourself.  Don't do anything that will make you stnad out.  If you do, you're fucked.  As good as dead.  Dog meat.  Six feet under.  Pushing up daisies.  All that shit.  That's what everyone will tell ya.  Wander around Copacabana at night and you'll get mugged for sure.  No doubt.  The criminals from the favelas will come down and sweep the streets of Rio at night with raids of death, taking everything and anything, of value or otherwise.  That's what we have heard.  Rio comes with a steep reputation for danger.  It would probably say that 'danger' is its middle name.  And, although Rio far from lives up to its dangerous reputation, favelas included, there is, no doubt, a certain atmosphere that pervades on the streets of every Barro - a feeling as though you are being watched, monitored, as a potential victim of petty crime.  It keeps you on edge to an ever greater extent than general travel in South America, and brings into question judgment call after judgment call - do we continue to ascent to the magnificent Convent of Santa Teresa with those didgy guys around?, is Botofogobeach the safest place to be right now?  Tio can be a pretty scary place, the general atmoshpere and its reputation combining to ensure that I always carried a spare pair of underwear in my bag in case of an emergency.  Even moeso considering how hard it is not to stand out in Rio.  Being a chino / japanese / korea ensures constant hassle.  But, in addition, a couple this damn good looking can't help but attract attention.  No incident to report thankfully, but we probably need to do some washing...

Rio's reputation for being dangerous is outdone only by its reputation for being utterly, magnificently beautiful.  I've talked about it before.  THis second visit to this spectacular city has confirmed its position, in my mind, as one of the world's most visually stunning cities.  Its beauty is everywhere you care to look - in the overwhelmed crescents of Ipanema and Copcabana beach; in the dramatic cista from Corcovado and the Sugar Loaf; on the banks of the Lago de Freitas; in the charming, winding cobbles of Santa Teresa Hill; though the smoke of the flares in the Maracana stadium; in the crumbling disrepair and the slow rejuvination of Lapa.  And from all of thoese points, and indeed almost everywhere in the city, Jesus observes from above, arms outstretched, forgiving all that is observed?  Perhaps.  This is, of course, as the movie describes it, the City of God.

Rio is, no doubt, a visually immaculate city.  But on this visit, I have been far more captivated by the myriad issues and questions behind its superficial perfection, making this city stimulating so far beyond what can be experiecned on the face of a postcard...

So, to the Top 5.  Fashion and style is a funny thing in Rio.  Somehow, the residents of Rio have cultivated a reputation as all being beautiful, sexy and immacuately presented in every way.  The reputation is far from the reality.  So much so, in fact, that I feel compelled to reveal the top 5 matters of personal appearance that had me saying 'what the fuck'?

5.  Clear high heels:  the women of Rio, in particular, are known for being feminine, spectacular and sexy.  But what of their choice of footwear?  On general examinationm, it appeared that high heels were extremely popular.  But not just any heels - clear, transparent heels, often with things inside.  Inside.  Madness.  Clear heels?  Not cool.  Especially if you are not employed in the world's oldest profession.

4.  Body hair:  It's not called the Brazilian for nothing.  Surely it comes from Brazil.  Strangely enough, despite this reputation, hair removal does not seem to be practised in Berazil.  Of particular note were many of the women, potentially of african descent, who had blonde body hair?  And a lot of it?  What the fuck?  Bleaching or natural?  Either way.  Way too much.  And way too blonde for a black woman.  'What the fuck'?

3.  Paunches of death:  the man paunch is alive and well in Brazil.  Indeed, some of the finest in the world are on display here.  Brilliant enough, in fact, to have some of our paunchiest union leaders envious with the amount of overhang on display.  The finest example?  A guy working at the tram station, sitting, wearing a T-shirt with a massive smiley face on it which perfectly covered his enormous, probably deadly, paunch.  Brilliant...

2.  Cockjocks:  On the first day we arrived in Brazil, we went to a petshop and happened tom come across quite a few budgerigars.  I wondered how they got them to Brazil.  A trip to the beaches of Rio solved the mystery.  The illegal smuggling of budgies in men's bathing suits is seemingly rampant in Rio. Everywhere you look - playing volleyball, football, swimming, jogging - the men of Rio are smuggling budgies, no doubt making some money on the side.  Cockjocks?  Not cool.  Not cool at all...

1.  Cockjocks with sneakers:  Cockjokcs are one thing.  On the beach, having a swim, is alsmost acceptable.  But Braziliands seem to have a philosophy that if I'm within a kilometre of a beach (which you always are in Rio), it is perfectly acceptable to wear bathers.  And it is perfectly accetpable to wear your bathers during exercise as well.  And so produces the finest 'what the fuck' look of Rio.  Cockjocks with sneakers.  Running along the beach, or down the the backstreets of Copacabana, or maybe down the main drag of Leblon, or in front of the metro at Botafogo, they are there.  Socks pulled up.  Shiny white runners on.  Speedos.  Nothing else.  A good look.  Not wait - a great look...

To 4000m above sea elvel.  La Paz, Bolivia...
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