Weeks 2 and 3 - Favela, foocheebo and f...

Trip Start Mar 30, 2008
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Trip End Jun 28, 2008


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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The bad weather persisted a few days, which meant lounging around on the beach all day wasn't an option, so I decided to check out the favela on the hillside overlooking the ocean that I'd seen from Ipanema beach when I first got to Rio. I walked all the way down the beach, and up a winding narrow sidewalk, trying not to look around too much taking pictures so as not to appear too conspicuously touristy. I'd heard the favelas were run by drug gangs and the police had almost no presence there apart from the occasional raid. I'd also heard that it's relatively safe because the drug dealers don't like people being mugged and raped on their turf because it's bad for business. I wasn't too confident in a criminal justice system run by drug dealers, so I was a bit nervous to say the least, but I told myself I'd go as far as I felt comfortable. I encountered maybe only 3 or 4 other pedestrians on the whole walk up, but all of a sudden, I turned a corner and came upon the bustling entrance of the favela. There were a lot of scary looking dudes there, but also mothers and little kids. As I crossed the street towards the entrance, this guy comes up shouting something in what I can only presume was portuguese, but I didn't get a word of it. Then I saw him sprint off. I had no clue what was going on, but I didn't want to find out. I snapped a couple pics and was outta there. I later found out, he was probably only trying to sell me drugs. I guess my plan of not trying to look touristy didn't work out so well. I think it was the sleeves that gave me away which non of the locals seem to have.

I'd heard from the hostel that there's this guy who takes people up to see the favela, and after my last experience, I found out, it's not something I was going to do alone. I'd initially intended to see the favela alone because I had my reservations about going and looking at poor people like some zoo exhibit, but everyone who'd done it told me it was an amazing experience.
The van stops at the bottom of the hill on which Rocinha, the largest favela in south America, is located. Then everyone gets on the back of a motorcycle and is brought up a road buzzing with traffic and pedestrians. Of course, and traffic laws are strictly optional here, and, unfortunately, my driver seemed to be in quite a hurry. At this point, I felt quite glad that I'd decided to purchase health insurance. To my surprise and delight, I made it to the top unscathed, however, right as I was getting off the bike, a truck ran over this guy's foot. I was beginning to think maybe there was order to the chaos, but after seeing that, I decided it was probably just that they just accepted a much higher injury and accident rate than we do in the States. The tour guide gave a little speech about how the favela works. He told us to feel free to take pictures unless instructed otherwise. We walked down for a bit and came to an alley and were instructed not to take photos. From what I could tell, there's only a few entrances to the heart of the favela, and they're guarded with men with walkie talkies who don't like posing for photos. The tour guide said that when the police come, the favela guards radio up, and people set of firecrackers as a warning. Once we passed the guard, the inside of the favela was this claustrophobic, uneven alley, about 4 feet wide. Every once in a while you'd get a peek of the view between the buildings and it was incredible. All over the walls, there were murals, and ADA tags (amigos dos amigos) which is the gang that runs Rocinha. We made a few stops along the way, once was on the roof of this house to get a view of the whole favela, which was absolutely breathtaking, then we stopped at a little art gallery, and then at a bakery to buy some lunch. All along the way, there were little kids smiling an posing for pictures or trying to sell stuff. We were treated to a percussion show by 4 boys who played on drums made of buckets and other trash. The final stop was the daycare center that some of the proceeds from the tour go to support. Then we got a little lecture on how rich people may have money and nice things, but they never say hello to eachother, and help eachother out. There was an element of truth to it though, because you really got a sense of community in the favela despite the abject poverty. I really think the community aspect of favela life isn't just a romanticization, the people genuinely seemed pretty happy. I was really glad I did the tour, it was so different than anything I'd ever seen. 

Of course, the thing Brazil is most famous for is soccer, or futebol (pronounced foocheebo). As a typical american, I don't count myself as a foocheebo fan, but the passion brazilians have for it, made attending a game almost obligatory. Luckily, two Rio teams (Flamengo and Botafogo) were in the semi finals for the right to represent brazil in the copa de libertadores (I think that's what was going on), and they were gonna play in the world famous (outside of the U.S.) Maracana stadium. So I seized the opportunity and went to the game. It was as advertized and more. Well, the game was a blowout, but the fans lived up to their reputation. They were waving these huge flags and banners. They had drums playing the whole time. They knew the words to about a dozen songs. We started standing about half an hour before the match and didn't sit down apart from halftime. Unfortunately, I was sitting in the Flamengo section, which was the team that lost 3-0, not that I'm a huge Flamengo fan, but I would have liked to see how these fans could have turned it up a notch if the had team scored. It would have had to have been like spinal tap, turn the amp to 11. I though, with how dedicated the fans were, they'd be crushed by the defeat, and maybe go jump off a bridge, but they left the stadium singing and dancing as if they hadn't just seen their team get their asses handed to them. I think foocheebo is just another excuse for brazilians to party.

The weather had since turned sunny and the beach on the weekend was how you'd imagine Rio is. Lotsa people, not a lot of cloth. But there's not much to tell there, so I'll skip to another interesting experience which brings me to the last f in the title. About a week ago, a guy came to stay at the hostel. He was an older American guy from Santa Barbara. He seemed nice enough but a little odd. The next morning after arriving, I saw him at breakfast, and he said he'd been out partying till 5 in the morning, and that he'd met some people but that was easy for him because he's such a great dancer. I said, "uh huh." There were also these two guys from London staying at the hostel, who were really cool. A couple nights ago, they told me they were going out to karaoke with this brazilian guy staying at the hostel who was gay. That would turn out to be the understatement of the year. Anyways, me, david (the american), the two brits (mickey and patrick) and the gay guy Daniel, went out to a karaoke bar. David tried a song, but gave up half way through because he didn't have the range, I did a song, and Daniel did about 4 songs, one of them was called Robocop gay which was one of the funniest things I've ever seen. After a while we went back home, and had a few drinks on the roof before deciding to go out again to have a beer on the beach. David stayed in and Daniel lagged behind a bit, so it was just me, Mickey and Pat. This is when they told me that Daniel was David's "rent boy" as they put it. Dang I'm dense. I guess I hadn't put it together before because David had talked about his kids. Daniel caught up to us later at the beach to have a beer at one of the many all-night refreshment stands along Ipanema. Daniel is the Brazilian version of Bruno, Sasha Baron Cohen's gay austrian reporter character except the stuff that comes out of his mouth would make Bruno blush. Needless to say, he was a very interesting person to have a conversation with.

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