Rocinha Favela Tour

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Flag of Brazil  , State of Rio de Janeiro,
Saturday, February 19, 2011


So Miss Streetwise had not had a scary enough experience in Lapa so she wanted to go to a favela in Rio......

A favela is the generally used term for a shanty town in Brazil. In the late 18th century, the first settlements were called bairros africanos (African neighborhoods), and they were the place where former slaves with no land ownership and no options for work lived. Over the years, many freed black slaves moved in. However, before the first settlement called "favela" came into being, poor blacks citizens were pushed away from downtown into the far suburbs. Most modern favelas appeared in the 1970´s  due to rural exodus when many people left rural areas of Brazil and moved to cities. Without finding a place to live, many people ended up in a favela.

Over the years the Favela´s have grown dramatically as more and more poeple moved in and built up the house on the sides of the hills. Shootings are a regular occurnace in favelas and the police have little if not any control and they are generally ran by drug lords and gangs.

The hostel arranged two daily trips to the biggest favela in Rio called Rocinha. The tour included a guide and a trip through the favela to meet the people and see the how they live.... it was said you have not visited or experienced Rio unless you have been to a favela....

We were picke up at 11 in the morning by a minibus. Tom was ill again but this time not self inflicted, so he couldn´t make the trip. After a 20 minute journey we arrived at the bottom of the favela and met our guide called Daniel. He was a beast of a guy who had several tattoos that looked like he was part of a gang and he spoke perfect English. The whole tour was to be done in English which was good as the majority were spanish or german.

Daniel began to tell us about the favelas and said although they have a fearsome and bad reputation, we would be more than safe whilst with him and in this particular one which had an agreement that gringos were allowed inside to visit. This helped contribute to the local community so was welcomed by most. He explained that the police have no control in the favelas but would enter to try and bust the drug lords every few years or so. He said this was like a military operation with tanks and helicopters and would be very violent... There was an unwritten agreement or code that no member of a favela could harm or rob a gringo within its own walls as this would give the police an excuse to go in there and kick off, so we did feel quite safe.....

The next part is another reason to why streetwise kenny has this nickname, although the story can be laughed at now it could have been a lot worse...

Daniel lead us up the path to the start of the favela at the bottom of the hill where he told us we would each get on the back of a motorbike and driver who would take us right to the top of the favela.. he said wait for him at the top....

I went to get on the first bike but the rider said ´no´and pointed to Ash to get on.. I assumed he was being polite and ment ladies first, so she just got on the back of his motorbike. I was next and jumped on... my driver was pretty crazy and raced past everyone. We darted inbetween cars and around courners as we started to get higher and higher. 5 minutes later we were the first ones at the meeting point at the very top of the favelas....

I waited several minutes for Ash to get there but she didnt, I was just thinking it was weird as she was infront of me at first when she arrived... I was shocked to see her climb off the back and run up to me crying... When i asked her she told me the story....

Streetwise had innocently placed her hands around the guys waist and not used the handles at the back of the bike.... the driver had either took this the wrong way or was just a pervert, but he started to push Ash´s hands down... you can imagine what happened next when Ash told me she thought it was his gun she could feel.... she told him ´no no no´and hit him to stop, then he drove the bike into the back of a car!! Not a bad crash but a bad experience! After she had calmed down she saw the funny side of it and I joked about streetwise going on the night before about wanting a real favela experience... which she got!!

We then met Daniel who started the tour.. he was explaining how the people there live and how they do not pay taxes etc. The electricy is taken from the streets below illegally and ran up through cables that were hanging down from the buildings, sometimes as low as your head (a bit like Raz´s wiring) again nobody paid for this so this was an advantage of living there. He told us how the locals had been taught to sell things to the gringos instead of begging, so we went through a few shops where the locals had done paintings, a bakery, and a few shops and bars.

The houses were mainly made from concrete appeared to be quite high. Many would build up on top of existing houses... they got their water from large plastic containers on the roofs and bottled water.... The streets at the top were more like alleyways, sometimes only as wide as one person.... people were walking around everywhere, and pretty much every we passed said hi to Daniel.. He said if we did not want to buy anything from the shops, not to feel bad or pressured
 as it might be the next group that buy something....

We walked for about 2 hours from the top down to the bottom, stopping many times along the way to see something and Daniel would explain more things to us.... an interesting thing was that due to the upcoming world cup in Brazil the goverment are trying to take control of all the favelas.... as part of the deal they will introduce  wider roads, running water and electricty, schools and hospitals etc but then the locals will have to pay taxes in return.. this, Daniel said was wanted by 70% of the people there but the ones who didnt were the drug gangs etc.... whilst we were there, there was a fire in one of the wooden houses at the top of the favelas... by the end of the tour 6 houses had burned down.... there was no access for fire engines to get up there so people had to run up with buckets etc so they had no chance.. if the government gets in this would have been sorted out quicker as the roads would give better access for unfortunate happenings like this...

Other than Ash´s bike ride we had a really good time and would recommend anybody to this, it is mainly safe if done through a company and really gives you a look at how favelas work and how they live.... we saw a nursery there right near the end of the tour and streetwise Ash said she would want to work there but not get a motorbike taxi to get to work!
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