As part of the hop-on hop-off bus pass I’d purchased from the Bamba experience, I had a walking tour of a Favela in Río. Admittedly walking through a Favela does sound quite scary, but it was with a guide, and a group of people.
For anyone who doesn’t know, a Favela is a run-down neighbourhood, generally found in the hills behind all the expensive neighbourhoods. It’s a bit of a shanty-town but it’s run by gangs, so there’s a bit of gang politics going on throughout neighbourhoods. They have a reputation for being violent, and it is advised to tourists in Río not to wander into a Favela alone without a guide.
There is a process going on within Favelas now, the pacification process. Police are trying to make the Favelas better places and give the Favela kids better chances with better education and better sports facilities.
For my tour, I could pick whether I wanted the morning tour or the afternoon tour. I picked the afternoon, as I figured I’d hear more gunshots in the afternoon.
I was picked up from hostel, and along with other tourists and backpackers, we were driven to Rocinha, the biggest Favela in the whole of Brazil. Our guide told us the rules: don’t take photos of the people who live there as they hate the press, but we can take photos, stay close to him, and don’t just give them money, buy things if we want to contribute, as that helps the economy much more.
We were dropped off somewhere near the top, with the guide (remember I said Favelas are generally in the hills). We were first taken along an alleyway (I later discovered that in the Favelas, it’s all alleyways), and we stopped outside a house that had the address ‘1, A.D.A’. ‘A.D.A’ means ‘Amigos dos amigos’- ‘friends of friends’ (my spelling in Portuguese may be off slightly). They are the gang that control the Favela, and there are reminders all around the Favela stating this. If you offend them, you will suffer the consequences (and your family too). Those reminders are everywhere as well, graffittied all over the walls in the Favelas- ‘A.D.A’.
One of my first observations of the Favela was that there were a lot of wires and cables hanging down, really low down. In Britain, they wouldn’t pass health and safety regulations, by a long shot. Another thing I noticed was that there were a lot of posters regarding tuberculosis.
Our next stop on the tour was the rooftop above this house, where we got a nice view of the Favela. There are some rather colourful buildings in the Favelas. We were told quote a few things at this stop. Firstly, there is a large risk of tuberculosis within Favelas(hence the posters), and also Dengue fever. Both diseases can be fatal.
Secondly, we were told that the Rocinha Favela is in the pacification process. Police are patrolling the area in order to phase out crime. There is also more choice of schools and more help for children to get to school, and if the children do attend school, they are given good sports facilities. These sports facilities are taken away from them if they fail to attend school. Thirdly, we were told that in the surrounding area of the Favela there are mansions. The likes if David Beckham has bought a mansion not far from the outskirts of Rocinha. Looking down through the Favela from we were we could see an affluent part of Río. It’s a big contrast, going from the poverty-stricken Favelas to the affluent areas of Río.
Finally we were told that, as this specific Favela was built between hills, there is obviously a valley for the Favela. The areas on the hills are more expensive to rent or buy than the area on the ground. This is because there are better views on the hills (one side has a good view of Christ the Redeemer) and on the ground below, between the two hills, it’s even more dirty as the sewerage flows down to there. The drainage system is quite open, it’s still underground but it isn’t covered up the same way it is elsewhere in the city, and in some cases, it does just leak onto the ground we walked on. Hearing this at the start of the tour made me wish I’d worn old shoes that I would immediately throw away, instead of wearing the lovely flip flops I have.
Our next stop was an art gallery. Some of the ‘up and coming’ artists of Rocinha were really good at artwork and painting. We had the chance to buy some artwork, and although it was good, none of it really appealed to me.
Next, we stopped to listen to a local group play what I can only assume is either Capoeira or Samba, and a few of the local kids joined in the dancing. It was great to see that the group had made use of old paint tins by playing them, then using them to collect a donation from us. The young kids that joined in with the dancing were really sweet, and we were allowed to take photos of them and the rest of the group. I got a picture with them. After the pictures, and after giving a donation, we moved on.
Our next stop was a small jewellery stand where we could buy bracelets made from telephone wires, among other things. Then it was on to a local bakery. There was a lot to buy and each item only cost 1BRL. I opted for a dulce de leche donut. It turned out that it was too sickly for me, and I ended up giving it away to someone else on our tour.
Along the way, we saw the way the housing was in the Favelas- entry by staircase seemed dangerous as there are no handrails or barriers on the stairs. The houses seem to be built on top of each other, and a lot of them don’t seem to be very straight. It really doesn’t look like a nice or a safe place to live.
Along the tour, we were told that the government are trying to make getting into the city more accessible for the residents of the Favelas- with this particular one, they are extending the metro line to get to the bottom of Rocinha.
As the Favelas are built on hills, getting around them can be quite difficult (walking up and down them on a daily basis seems like a challenge). To make it easier for the residents to move around within the Favela, they were promised a cable car to transport them on from part to another. Work began on this before the elections, but sadly once the elections were over, work ceased. Therefore movement within Rocinha is still difficult.
This tour was yet another eye-opening experience for me. Luckily throughout the tour I didn’t hear any gunshots (proof positive that not all Favelas are as dangerous as they’re made out to be). And on returning back to my hostel, I showered and washed my flip-flops to ensure, as bad as it sounds, that I wouldn’t catch any diseases that are common throughout Favelas.