I was adamant that I was not, under any circumstance, going to go on a Favela Tour. I thought it was too voyeuristic and zoo like going to look at the poor people in the zoo. That was until I met other travelers that had taken the tours and explained how it works. Most of the 70 reals we pay for the tour goes back into the Favela we visit to help educate them on the benefits of tourism and to enable them to have other sources of income aside from drugs. There are 100's favelas in Rio and over 20% of the population live in them, so to understand Rio you also need to understand the Favelas. There are 3 main drug cartels that run the Favelas and the one we visited is run by Friends of Friends.
We were taken over to one of the wealthiest districts in Rio overlooking Ipanema and Leblon and also the location of Rochina one of the biggest Favelas in the city and home to over 20,0000 people.
Another view of life
We left the minibus and took motor taxis up the hill to the top of the Favela. The sprawl of the favlea is hard to escape; people literally live on top of each other and in each other’s pockets. The stench is indescribable and how they live leaves me wondering how this can happen in one of the fastest growing economies in the world and host of the 2016 Olympics. But that’s another story.
The favlea houses drug barons, thieves, petty thieves and the entire underworld you’d expect. It also houses people that lead normal lives and work in the city holding down regular 9-5 jobs but choose to live in the Favela as it’s cheaper. That surprised me a lot. They also have systems whereby the water company allows the water to be turned on for 30 mins twice a day so those houses that don’t have clean running water have access to some in the course of a day.
The local shop
These people are a community. Walking through the Favela was an experience. Seeing teenagers with machine guns and children flying kites side by side makes for a strange picture (except you’re not allowed to take any). The guide, Daniel, was extremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic and knew all the people we walked by and impressed on us the need to educate not only the people that live here but the people that visit here too. The energy and hope in the childrens faces warms your heart and seeing the people respond so well to tourists was really encouraging and we never felt under threat at all. However, someone can shake your hand in the Favela but they’ll be the person that steals from you on the beach hours later. It’s such a complicated place and way of living but this tour certainly made us understand that there is hope for things to change but it will come slowly.
Eva and Sophie come to play
Later that night having the addition of Eva and Sophie who had flown over from England and Justin Raila’s friend from Canada we all decided to test our booty shaking skills and go along to the Favela Funk party organized by the same tour company that run the day tours (Be a Local). A bus collects you from your hostel and drives for around an hour into a Favela and take you to a local club where they run the Favela Funk night. For 70 reals you get to go and join in.
On arrival you have to walk through the crowds on the streets, all the scremaing, dancing, loud chattering and laughter. It was strange not to understand a word yet get the sentiment. When you get into the club you are ushered up into the safety of the balcony area where the drinks are twice as expensive and the fun halves. We quickly went downstairs to see how good our booty shakes were. The result came back rather quickly.. Locals 1, Gringos 0. The dancing and music are incredible here and the locals were teaching us their moves and getting us to try and imitate them much to their constant amusement.
It was a great way to come into the Favela and be part of it and see how the community works. The music was amazing and the people were really receptive and welcoming. We had such a great night and it was a great way of introducing Eva, Sophie and Justin to Brasil.
What an experience to see this and be part of it.