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balance (2): favelas

Saturday, December 22, 2007


woke up to the most delicious breakfast i have had on this continent which put me in a good mood. then i was picked up by my guide (alejandro i believe?) for the favela tour i had scheduled for today. we stopped to pick up about 6 more people in the van, and then were on our way to 'rocinha', which is the favela (poor neighborhood) we were to tour. alejandro had a microphone and gave us a brief history of the favelas in rio and told us what to expect. if you have ever seen the movie 'city of god' you will know what i was expecting.

rocinha favela

though there are darker and dirtier favelas in rio like that in the movie, most favelas are pretty ordinary little villages. the difference between them and a regular village in rio is that the favelas are run by drug dealers rather than the government, and as such, normal brazilians and even policemen won't set foot into them. on a daily basis, they are quite harmonious and safe for their residents, but occasionally the police and military will storm in and start shooting in the streets. there are literally drug wars here. the drug dealers will announce such a raid with firecrackers, which made me nervous as there were firecrackers going off when we got there... but our tour was uneventful. there is also a very big contrast between rich and poor here. the wealthy neighborhoods are right next to the poor favelas. but the rich do not even acknowledge the poor, let alone help them in most cases. so the poor people, who have no access to good education, often will go from the favelas down to the wealthy or the tourist areas like copacabana and rob people for their living. the funny thing is, the favelas are build up on the mountainsides looking over the beaches, which is public land, so the poor people have better views than their extremely rich neighbors on ther private estates just below.

we toured a couple of streets and a school project that favela tours had contributed to for educating the residents. i saw that these tours are very good for raising awareness of these peoples' situation, and they are a way to bring help and education to these neighborhoods. but overall i wasn't too impressed. it wasn't much different from being in a typical neighborood in peru or bolivia.

neighborhood shop

later on i was dropped off at my hotel and since the weather wasn't quite as dreary as it had been, i decided to go have a drink on the beach. there are little bars scattered along the length of it. i sat and ordered fried shrimp and a beer. about two minutes later a guy plopped down next to me. he spoke no english and i spoke no portugese, but somehow we managed to communicate using a combination of spanish and miming (the fact that he had no qualms about making a fool out of himself helped immensely). his name was italo and i had a good time with him. apparently he had had a fight with his girlfriend and had come to mope on the beach when he saw me. he bought me a drink, a silver bracelet from a passing old lady, tickled and teased me, and lavished me with compliments in portugese, which is a seriously sexy language. he did try to convert me to catholicism for about 5 minutes, which threw me, but otherwise i liked him a lot. but after 2 beers i decided i had better be off before it got dark. he insisted on walking me back and giving me a goodbye kiss, and when he stopped to pee in a restaurant on the way, i ran off and left him... i actually regretted this later, it was the most stimulating interaction i have had with anyone in a long time, and i couldn't stop thinking about him. but though he had been telling me that his girlfriend andrea was a naggy pain in the ass, she called 3 times while i was with him and he was quite sweet to her on the phone.

at night there was a christmas parade down copacabana beach, right outside my hotel. i wandered down to watch. brazilians really know how to party. it was probably the best parade i have seen. rather than a bunch of people waving listlessly from halfheartedly decorated floats, they have full on productions, with dancers, singers, costumes, and lavish decorations. i wish i could stay for carnival!


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