‘Took you long enough to get here. Took you ten years to get to my house. Huh, what’s the matter? You don’t like my house? Does my house stink?’ – Rocky, Rocky.
Take a tour of the Favelas
At night the Brazilian slums, the Favelas, with a diorama of twinkling lights, coat the hills between the beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana exuding a mythical fairyland aesthetic.
However, the Favelas is shrouded in mystery, much like the bad street in the neighbourhood your mother warned never to go down.
“The rich live below, the poor live in the hills with the best views of the beach, this is the Favelas, [dramatic pause] organised chaos.” Alfredo the tour guide announced.
The tourbus ran serpentine up the hills of Rocinha, the city within a city. With a recorded population of 70k, yet rumoured to be over 100k, this is one of numerous Favelas in Rio De Janeiro.
One in five people in Rio De Janeiro live in a Favela and 10 years ago the residents here would be seen casually patrolling the streets with assault rifles, a pair of grenades dangling from a belt loom like a supervisors shop keys.
Now Rocinha has been pacified. The government went to war with the drug lords that had the monopoly on all the local businesses and the utility companies.
The residents of the Rocinha Favelas are descendants of the slave community, Brazil being the last country in the Americas to abolish slavery in 1888.
At the time a law was passed, if you occupied a plot of land for longer than five years, it was officially yours.
The housing in the Rocinha Favelas are no doubt run down, many in states of disrepair, however they are all sanitised.
Electricity, running water and the rooftops are adorned with dishes installed by cable companies that were stealing signal from local terrestrial satellites, of course all under the umbrella of the crime syndicate that was running Rocinha at the time.
Are the Favelas safe for tourists?
In Rio you’ll hear the locals perpetuate rumours of violence that they believe is still prevalent in the Favelas.
Before I entered the tourbus, an unmarked white panel van, the girl at the local padaria shrieked’ “You going up hills to Favelas? POW POW POW POW!” [shoots me with invisible gun].
No doubt we were taken to the cosier parts, and of course since Hosinga had been pacified it has been gradually convalescing, however it still remains a fascinating place and with the right guide, well worth a visit.
I heartily recommend this tour if you’re going to Rio. Two years later I reached out to Marcelo from the Favela Tour Company for a catch up and he provided me with this distressing information.
“Actually the situation in Rio got worse, as there are less tourists coming, a lot less, many people are afraid to come to Rio given the bad news going out from here and Brazil overall.
Hope that this may change in the near future but I don’t see, so far, any way out, this country is quite chaotic by the moment, still beautiful to visit though..”
Sad news from ground zero. But this should not deter you from booking a tour. It’s a once in a life time trip.
Catch the last episode of my Rio tour with a trip to the Selaron Steps.