In Braaaazil, Rio de Janeiro, Sud America on November 10, 2010 at 5:08 pm

I’m reticent about going on the favela tour, which is one of the main sights that is touted in the guide books. I’m not into voyeuristically viewing people’s poverty. It feels somehow wrong, and deceitful, being able to walk protected through the favela’s peeking in on how the poorer half of Rio live, whilst safe and secure in the knowledge that I don’t, and probably will never live there.

But in the end I overcome my apprehensions and after riding back from center of town, huffing and puffing, believing that I will miss my tour guide, I’m on a van being taken over to Rocinha, which is one of the cities major favela’s an is a short drive away from Ipanema where I’m staying. (Taken from a website) Most of Rio lies on a geological structure called Brazilian Crystal Basement; the rocks, gnaisses and granites which make up the basement are the oldest of Brazilian territory. The structure had many tectonic alterations, which resulted in the several elevations, hills, mountains and valleys which characterize the coastal line of Rio.

So Rio itself is split into flat sections and divided by huge eruptions of rocky hills, which lurch into the sky. And on these rocky hills are built the favela’s with marvellous views of the coast and lush jungle which lies inland, covered with makeshift housing, built one on top of another.

The only way to get into Rocinha is via one long winding road, a thriving micro economy has sprouted up on the back of  this, with a taxi service of  little 50cc motorbikes ridden at breakneck speed up the winding single lane switch back road, squeezing past trucks and cars, as you hang on the back, trying not to imagine your death at every close shave, as the driver tries to talk to me in portuguesa.

The favela is a working class enclave for those who can’t afford or who don’t want to live elsewhere. Amenities are free, everyone parasitically taking what they need, electricity, cable, internet, when did having cable tv and the worldwide web become a basic human requirement?!

Despite our guide pointing out the young men who stand at the entrance, both top and bottom, constantly looking out, radios in their hands, who guard the favela, and make sure that no one who is a stranger enters or leaves, the people who live here seem to be nice enough, for them it is just living, this is how you live here, and they are the ones who are the cities heartbeat, the ones that come out for carnival, that clean and serve and make the city turn. And they are proud of this, you get the sense that they will never leave, born, raised and dying in the hills above the beaches.

But the favelas are cramped, shanty towns with people building unsafely, big families needing more space, girls getting pregnant early, the police coming in shooting at the bottom and never getting close to the guys at the top, but still it is a community, with corner stores, bakeries, rum shacks, people standing in their doorways watching the day go by, chatting the day away, greeting each other in the narrow confines of the alleys and walkways which wind labyrinthine like across the expanse of buildings.

People  pay 500$ reais pmth for the top of the favela, 100-200$ pmth for the bottom, with the ramshackle, cobbled together construction fueled by the fact that people will build a dwelling, then sell their roof to someone else who builds on top of that, who then sells their roof, and so on and so on, until the whole structure is on the verge of falling over before they stop.

One thing the tour guide says sticks with me, that companies in brazil have to pay for the travel to and from work for their employees, so Rocinha being so close to the center of town has become a desirable address, as in terms of the transportation costs, people from Rocinha are relatively cheap labour.

We are taken to a studio that is run out of the favela, the artwork isn’t as good as the stuff you see in Argentina, as political but not as diverse, replications of the same scene in different colours, Christ on the hill, and the favela, lighting up the hillside, dots of lights. But it is interesting to see that even here, or maybe because of it being here, that creativity is still treasured, still valued.

At the end of the visit we are taken to a crèche/nursery which the tour company has set up and which our money provides the funding for. It is filled with little children, at once both curious and apprehensive about our presence, several stare at me with wide eyed interest before hiding behind away behind columns, then peeking out again. It is heart warming to see the money going somewhere productive, and the children are happy and well cared for, but as we walk down to the exit, our guide points out the bullet holes which pockmark the walls around us, from where the police have entered all guns blazing..

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