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Published: September 11th 2010
Day 5-10th September
Day 5 began with both of us waking up at 7am (as you all know this is extremely unusual behaviour for my husband!) there was a faulty AC unit outside our window and it kept making a really loud buzzing sound....not good. However we both got up and pottered around for a bit before the hostel breakfast was served. For all of those people who wondering how Ellory would cope in such a meat-eating continent, I would say...hmmmm....right now! Breakfast was a good example of this. Everyone gets a tray of some yummy fruit, bread and....ham and cheese wrapped together. I thought it was great and hoovered it down, Ellory was not so impressed!!! Think the lack of sleep didn’t help matters either. However, we were soon both fed and watered (getting a taste for Brazilian coffee!) and working out what to do with our day.
First thing was: we needed to find an English doctor. Ellory’s ear was swelling and itching where he had the operation in July and we were getting a bit worried about it. Quick emergency phone call back to Mum in the UK for some medical advice (thanks mum, hope we
didn’t freak you out!) and we decided to get it checked out.
Good old Google found a multi-lingual medical centre called the Clinica Galdino Campos and off we wandered to see what they had to say. R$250 later (ouch) we had a prescription for some anti-inflammatory tablets and a sneaking suspicion they had no idea what was wrong or indeed what operation Ellory had actually had done! However, we will have to see for now and hope it works out ok.
So what to do with the rest of the day? We decided it was about time that we saw some of Rio and when we spotted a sign in the hostel for a Favela tour, we decided to book ourselves on it for 2.30pm that afternoon.
Our tour guide (who’s name I can’t remember) was a really nice Brazilian girl who was extremely knowledgeable about the favelas. We all walked from the hostel down to Copacabana beach and picked up a bus, for the life of me I couldn’t work out how this bus system worked, it was just a bunch of minibuses that stopped randomly, no signs on the front as to where they were going or
anything! However we got on this minibus and it took us all along the coast up to the entrance of Rocinha, one of the biggest favelas in Rio de Janeiro. Nothing can prepare you for the sight of it up close, it is enormous, covering the impossibly steep sides of the mountain and so tightly compacted you wonder how anyone can move!
Rocinha is one of the most developed favelas in Rio and one of the only ones safe for gringos to go to. The government is trying to ‘pacify’ each favela for the 2014 World Cup, however there are over 500 of them and they’ve only done 12 so far this year so you can see how big a job it is. Some of them, although pacified are in no state for any visitors to go to. (Cidade de Deus-for example, made famous by the film ‘City of God’)
Rocinha is controlled by the gang ADA and has been stable for some time (think they’ve been in control of Rocinha for about 6 years). Before we went in, we were given some advice about not taking photos of any weapons or drug transactions and to be polite!
the favela is so steep, everyone travels by motorbike, there is no way a car is getting through those streets! So we each hopped onto the back of a motorbike and were taken up to the very top of Rocinha. I’ve never been on a motorbike in my life but it was so so so much fun! Riding up these twisting roads and having kisses blown at me by residents the whole way! Very funny and exhilarating and I think we were both a bit sad when we reached the top, didn’t want that bit to end! However the view that greeted us from the top was unbelievable, the whole of Rio spread out below us with Christ the Redeemer and the Sugar Loaf far in the distance. We stood there for a bit and took some photos before starting the walk down through the favela.
As we walked the tour guide, as I’m writing I think her name might have been Aora, explained to us how the favelas built up. Many of the jobs in Rio are minimum wage only (approx R$500 per month) and you have to live in Rio or in some cases the Zona Sul
(near Copacabana and Ipanema) in order to get those jobs. Average rent in those areas is approx R$1000 so you can see how it can fall apart. In the favelas, you build yourself a house out of whatever you can afford, so we saw some brick houses and we saw some made of sheet metal and wood. Electricity is tapped off the city’s power supply and the same goes for the water so no utility bills. There is almost no road infrastructure, we walked down tiny little alleyways and up mad staircases, and there is no way you could wander around without getting lost. The further up the hill you are, the poorer you tend to be, we climbed right to the top and met some of these people who have built houses out of whatever they can find, there was an old lady there and I have no idea how she manages to climb up there using the very steep and rough steps, we struggled! People have set up businesses everywhere, apparently there was a McDonalds at one point(!), and we tried to contribute to the community a bit by buying a delicious orange cake and a bracelet. We
also stopped to hear some local kids from the drumming school and despite the fact their drums were in fact a cooking oil can and a plastic bucket, they were really really good and appreciative of the Real we gave them for the performance.
As we continued walking, Aora told us a bit about the gun crime in Rocinha, the amount of innocent people that are killed from stray bullets was horrifying, 39 in the first 3 months of this year alone are officially recorded, however this doesn’t include any young males as they are assumed to be part of the gangs. As we walked past a school she told us that an 11 year old boy had been killed by a stray bullet coming through the window earlier on in the year as he’d been sitting learning his lessons with 35 other children. We did hear gunfire while we were there and it was quite upsetting to see how much of the life of Rocinha it is.
We continued to work our way down through the favela, and we could see the buildings were made more and more of brick and concrete and there was more infrastructure and
then suddenly we were right at the bottom of the favela. Rocinha has a gateway to the ‘outside world’ which is a huge archway designed by Oscar Niemeyer. The police and the residents of Rocinha have a loose policy of tolerance around this point, as long as neither party sees the other doing anything openly, everyone ignores each other. We then proceeded to pick up another mad minibus and head back to Copacabana.
Ellory and I were very quiet for the rest of the day and decided to have an early night. It had been the most extraordinary day. Rocinha was and wasn’t all at the same time what I expected. The poverty was like nothing we’d ever seen but the people and the sense of community was amazing. However at times, the pressure of being seen as a rich gringo was intense and it was hard not to be resentful at times that some people assumed we were going to give them money. Especially the kids, that was really tough. We learnt a lot though and were both very glad we’d seen the other side of Rio de Janeiro, 1 in 4 people live in the favelas so
it’s no small amount! Thank you Wendy and Allen for that fantastic wedding present, it was an experience that will stay with both of us forever.
Lots of love
Note from Ellory:
I was adament about going to a Favela while being in Rio, ive seen a few films and documentaries about them, and not only was i more interested in that side of life here than the beach but felt it would be almost disrespectful not to go.
I felt that the Robin Hood style attitude of the residents and gangs towards the government and police inspiring, being from a poor background and often in trouble with the police, school etc myself as a kid. I thought life was pretty tough at times so I used to lash out at authority, not because i had been wronged by them in any way but simply because they were there and i liked to push my boundries and give the middle finger to anyone that I thought wanted to tell me what to do.
On the tour we met quite a few kids, one small black kid younger than my nephew, maybe only 4
or 5 years old who was funny and bright, smiling all the time and playing around on these steep dangerous steps his family had rebuilt since a mudslide last year right at the top of the favela there was rancid looking dogshit everywhere, open sewage pipes, broken glass and rusty metal. This was his doorstep, this was his playground. He asked our tour guide if we had any money for him, we.. well "I" had already spent most of our money on the bracelet and the older drummers liz menioned so we had 2x R$2 notes left, he had a couple of friends with him around the same age and i wanted to take a picture of them but as I couldn't divide the money equally between them and i was unsure if i gave it to the kid that he would distribute it with his friends, i didnt do the photo, the guide said no they have no money to him so he asked her if he could count on another tour coming by soon, at the time there was a lot going through my mind but this has bugged me since we got back, i wish i had
just done it, one of those R$ would have fed him or clothed him, or even got him a kite to play with his friends.
We also met a couple of white kids aged about 13 or maybe even 15 who were almost certainly armed, wearing Adidas tracksuits. I had my fake bob marley addidas top fom camden, probably only worth about a tenner, when i bought it three or four years ago, but he loved it! He kept asking me to swap it with his addidas top (which was not a fake!), i didn't realise before we went (Me wearing it, thinking i'd try and remain as inconspicuous as possible.. fail) but this kind of sportswear is the fashion for the upcoming gang members and having an obscure bob marley top may have earned him a few looks from the girls or at least a little street cred from the older boys who were a couple of rungs above on the gang's ladder.
He was polite and funny and i'm sure didn't really expect me to swap clothes with him, nor did he ask for money, it was just his way of saying "nice top mate" and having
some friendy banter.
If a stray bullet or otherwise ever finds that friendly, open and funny boy he would not even be included in the government statistics. Just because he's young and male.
I was a difficult youth, no james dean, but a rebel without a cause. These kids have to play in dogshit and look cute for gringos and then join gangs when they are older to be able to afford the clothes/food/house they want while being ignored by their government and murdered by their own police force.
These are just a couple of the many kids we met that day, i didn't have it tough and in comparison to here neither did anyone i know, i am the luckiest man alive and i am thankful to have met these kids, they provided me with knowledge i couldn't have gained in a lifetime in london.
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