Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Rio de Janeiro, Part 2: Favela Tour

After I left you last, we went to a fun nightclub called Zero Zero, where we met some super-nice Americans (who you will see later in this blog), and stayed out until somewhere in the neighborhood of 4:00 a.m. The next morning, we had a favela tour planned. Some certain members of our party, I won't mention any names here, didn't feel so hot the next morning, but we were up and at 'em anyway for our tour!

Favela is basically another word for shantytown, and Brazil and Rio are pretty well known for them. Many are extremely dangerous, but some have been pacified by the government and a constant police presence, and are safe to visit. Tours are a pretty popular thing to offer and there were many options, so I chose one that donated profits to an after-school program in the favela.
 The first favela we saw was called Rocinha, and it is the biggest in Brazil. Side note: since all the favelas are built on the sides of mountains, they have some of the best views of the city.

First surprise: when I pictured the favelas, I imagined the *real* shantytowns I saw going down the ravine outside of Guatemala city, which frequently have mudslides that kill a lot of people and destroy their houses. These, by comparison, were cushy. Stable, built from concrete, and get this: EVERY single home in this favela had a satelite dish. I mean, there was definitely poverty and less-than-ideal living conditions...but you have to have your entertainment, right?

Electricity and the acquisition thereof.

This was painted inside the after-school program location that the tours
give proceeds too, and that was included in the tour.

Most residents don't have an address, and pick up all mail in a neighborhood post office. There aren't streets through many of the neighborhoods either. Everything they own (think mattresses, refrigerators, and the like) has to be moved up in through a maze, up and down stairs, and through narrow hallways.

Surprise #2: All the local residents we came across on our tour were super friendly. I kind of expected them to be either resentful that their neighborhoods were a spectacle to tourists, or trying to make a dime off of it by asking for money. Maybe not the nicest preconceptions, but that's what I sort of expected.
 Surprise #3: A lot of the places were actually kind of cute. You could tell that the residents put effort into making their own place a home, and improving on it when possible with fresh paint, an interesting tile decoration, or the sign below, reportedly added when this resident found out his neighborhood would be visited by tourists. Tranlsated: "Welcome all. Bring beer."
Hmm, I wonder who in the neighborhood has internet access...

According to our guide, who lived in a favela herself, most favelas are still very unsafe, even during the day. Things in Brazil move very, very slowly (hmm, sound familiar?). But they are going in the right direction, hopefully.

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