|We woke for the first sign not to the sound of rain – hurrah. We headed off to Copacabana where we met our tour group for a trip to see the Favelas of Rio.
However we first needed to get some money to pay for the tour. Not an easy task in Brazil it seems. I had followed the advice of MoneySavingExpert Martin Lewis and got 2 credit cards specifically for the trip – both offer zero charges for use abroad, and he states the best way to get cash abroad is use the card and then instantly pay off that value rely off your bill. Seems straight-forward but alas no – after a number of cash machines we still had no luck by the time the tour started.
Thankfully we had some US dollars which the lady on the tour was willing to accept – and she explained that Brazil is not particularly foreign card friendly and only 2 or 3 banks will accept them. So later on we had to hunt down a branch of HSBC to get some cash out.
Prior to booking the tour of the Favela we had a bit of a moral debate about whether to do it or not. Some of the reviews we had read on the travellers friend (Trip Advisor) had raised the question of whether it is ethical for people to be making money from tours of the poor areas of the city. In the end we found a tour company that is associated with the Favela’s and uses the money from the business to invest in projects within the Favela e.g. a school for local children, and this coupled with a strong interest to see them, made us feel sufficiently comfortable to proceed.
A great decision as the tour was one of the highlights of the visit to Rio. A truly fascinating experience where our expectations and pre-conceptions were confounded. I think that we both thought that the favela were slums and would be a totally horrendous place to live, but that is not the case.
They are built high on the slopes around Rio (there are over 900 different ones) and approx 20% of the population live in them. They are small properties that were built by the poor on land that was not being used, and once a property has been there for 5 years in Brazil, it and the land it stands on becomes yours.
They started in the 1920s and have grown ever since – upwards! Most properties are 4 or 5 stories high and look precariously constructed as they lean together to form an almost organic like structure – it made us think of a hive. Lots of small dwellings all on top / adjacent to each other connected by a labyrinth of passage ways and an unbelievably complex network of exposed wires and pipes. Hopefully the pictures give some idea of what these amazing places look like.
Residents don’t pay property tax, and power and water are from ‘stolen’ supplies for the most part, and sadly the sewage connections from these areas are direct to the sea – and when the largest favela is 250,000 people that is not good. Wonder if Brazil has a Blue Flag equivalent? As they are located high on the hillsides they have fantastic views across the city and out to sea.
Favela have a reputation for being dangerous places – drugs, weapons and muggings. This was certainly true, but over the recent years the government have started a process of ‘pacifying’ the favela and cleaning them up. This was with police and military force and appears to have been successful – so far nearly 40 of them have been ‘pacified’ (including the two we visited on the tour) and they are becoming an acceptable part of the city and even reaching chic / cool status in some parts.
The people that live there appear to have a real sense of community and people continue to live in them even with successful middle class incomes. It is estimated 60% of the favela residents have reached middle class status, but stay there because its significantly cheaper and they like it.
Within the favela we visited there were a large number of heavily armed police that now remain and keep the areas ‘pacified’. With the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016 the government clearly has a driver to improve the safety and status of these areas of the city – however we wonder given the cost of the patrols whether this would continue after these two world events?
Post favela tour we enjoy our first day of Rio sunshine with a walk down the famous Copacabana beach before a strange but enjoyable lunch of a beef sandwich with cheese and pineapple at a local cafe called Cervantes.
The afternoon offered a mostly clear blue sky and sunshine so we queued and got the cable cars up the famous Sugar Loaf mountain. Over 400m above sea level and set just off the coast it provides a spectacular view point to view the city, the beaches and Cristo the Redeemer. We admired the view with a cold drink before heading back to the hotel and dinner at wonderful restaurant nearby that had great food but service that could best be described as indifferent.
|Inside one of the favela passageways|
|Rew exploring the maze of passageways – doors above and below|
|Rocinha favela looking towards one of Rio’s peaks|
|The entrance to Rocinha favela|
|Some of the best views in the city – looking back across the Rocinha from the top of the favela|
|This guy admitted even he wasn’t sure where to start!|
|Her name was Lola….|
|Looking towards the top of Sugar Loaf from the first cable car point|
|The view back across Rio from Sugar Loaf|
|Enjoying the view|
|Not his first rodeo…following the fishermen along the shore!|