Rio is a big and beautiful city. There is no argument on the matter, but behind its beauty there always can be seen some hills with colorful houses. These are the places inhabited by people with no means to afford “normal” homes or those who want to be far from the watchful eyes of the police and the law. Those places are called favelas.
The name came from the time when those hills were covered only by bushes and people who came looking for their fortune in the big city claimed the hills as their own and began building, since they were under nobody’s ownership. There was a bush, which caused a lot of trouble and it was called favela. Nowadays nobody remembers favela as the bush, but they associate the word with something dirty, chaotic, dangerous…
Is it a good idea to go there? It is not recommended, but there are guided tours, which are allowed by the local gangs and we took advantage of one (for the right payment, of course).
And yes, some hypotheses are confirmed from the get-go. Narrow streets, very aromatic, meaning smelly, there is garbage everywhere, as well as water from the sewers…
There are some shady types on the streets, but we didn’t see anyone with a weapon and nobody bothered us. Maybe it was because they know we are a part of the organized tour and our security was guaranteed in some sense. The guide told us that those places are ruled by drug lords, who are interested in expanding their territory and gaining power and don’t care about our funny little cameras or phones.
The people we saw on the street were happy and smiling. The sound of samba emanated from many houses, many of the locals invest in speakers and satellite dishes. Seems familiar, right?
There were cultural events included. We visited a small improvised gallery-atelier where several local artists worked. We had the opportunity to meet one of them, look at their art and buy something if we liked it. It was a way to convince the young people that there was a way to earn money honestly and in accordance with the law.
After the visit, teenage street musicians played a samba song live, using old olive boxes and similar things as instruments. Some kids danced for us.
We passed through the private bakery, where we tried the delicious cooking of some aunt.
There are attempts to aid and improve the favelas.
For example, in one favela the streets have been laid with asphalt, in other a lift has been installed, so the people won’t have to climb it on foot to get home. In Rocinha, where we were, there is a kindergarten which entertains the kids and keeps them off the streets while their parents are working.
Our guide believed that all attempts to aid and fix the situation are without result, except for the special healthcare projects and an emergency clinic. According to him, before their implementation whoever got sick would lack the funds for a doctor and would eventually die. The pacification of the region was also for the sake of appearances. The region should’ve looked safer for the World Cup and the Olympic games. The police chased the drug lords from some of the favelas and they moved to others. Now some of the hills are drug and gun-free, but others are swarming with crime.
He also mentioned paradoxes like having a policeman on one end of the street while on the other drugs are being sold. There much to improve and if someone wishes to help, they won’t be turned away. However, the situation in Rio reminds me of the stray dogs problem in Sofia – the resources for solving it are available, but those who own them have no interest in implementing them.
With these thoughts we came down from the hill (good thing that we didn’t have to climb all those steps on the way up). We were all in one piece, along with all our gadgets, and we successfully went back to the hostel.
It was too early for us to end our cultural outing and the weather was lovely, so we decided to go to Sugar Loaf.
Sugar Loaf is a tall mini-mountain or a hill, which can be reached by two lifts so you can enjoy the unique view. There were even clouds at this altitude, so it was definitely worth it. We won’t explain why, we’ll let the photos talk for themselves.
This article was brought to you in English by Marta Petrova.
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