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Favela Tour

BRAZIL | Thursday, 9 April 2009 | Views [3511]

Views from the largest Flavella in Rio

Views from the largest Flavella in Rio

A few people had recommended a tour of a Flavela and being a bit of an old cynic, I´d put off until now.  I just saw it as a voyeuristic tour looking at those less fortunate. With an open mind and interested about different aspects of Brazilian society, I booked myself on Marcelo Armstrong´s Favela tour (suggested as one of the best).

There are close to 750 favelas in Rio. Mostly placed on former public areas on the hillsides. We visited just a couple, namely Vila Canoas and Rocinha, the largest one in the country.

On first impressions it wasn´t as bad as I thought. There has been alot of money spent over the years and the Favelas are now equipped with proper sanitation and waste disposal, and unlike how they used to be all the paths and roads are now concreted.  It is hard to imagine what they would have been like with mud running down the hillsides into the Favelas every time there was a rain storm, not to mention the open sewers.  But now life here is alot better, I was surprised how many of the homes have satellite TV.  There are even Internet cafes here and there.

At the Vila Canoas Favella, we visited "Para Ti" community school  financed by the tour. Besides regular classes, the school teaches local kids initial computer skills and the art of making handcrafts. The school has been a great success as previously only about 20% of children from the favela had grades good enough to continue to Secondary school whereas now it is nearly 90% who continue with their schooling. Recently a few students have achieved university places which are a wonderful testament to this family's work. So I am glad that the money I have spent on the tour is going to a good cause.

The buildings here were so close together that they were almost touching. There were tiny alleyways between the houses that were like a maze. I imagine, it is not actually not a bad place to live depsite the stigma.  There seemed to be a good community feel as we were led through the passageways. The other interesting thing is the social divide, on one side of the road there was the Flavela and on the other, lovely privately owned houses.

To get to the Rocinha Flavela (Brasil´s biggest) we drove up the Estrada da Gavea which was a F1 race track in its former life. It must have been a bit like Monaco as the road twisted through the previously forested areas. The guide explained a bit of how the favela worked.  I mentioned in a previous blog entry that there had been a shooting between two rival Flavelas, Rocinha is one of them.  I saw several guys with large semi-automatic machine guns.....just in case there was a revenge attack.  All scary stuff!!!!

We were not allowed to take pictures in the centre....so fearing that I may have my head blown off (joke) I kept my camera in my pocket.  Again with the exception of the druglords carrying heavy guns the place seemed to function just like another town.  With a few differences....
  • The rubbish is just dumped in a big pile at the bottom and the council pick it up,  no wheelie bins here
  • Water and electricity is 'stolen' as the wires and pipes are connected to the city's water and electricity by residents of the favelas.  the wiring reminded me of Asia....a bird´s nest of cables.
  • They do not have permission to build and there are no regulations covering the buildings which grow up.
All in all a interesting tour, for me personally it gave a good insight in to how the Flavelas work..it was definetly not a voyestic tour of the less fortunate.

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