I had heard about the favela's in Brazil before I even got there. Giant hillsides stacked sky high with shacks piled one on top of another. There are shantytowns in other South American countries, and possibly just as poor areas in the US, but the striking in your face-ness of them in Brazil is why they are so well known. Some of the favelas have even been in Hollywood movies, such as City of God, about a favela in Rio with the same name (Cidade de Deus).
Here is a shot of the bus ride into Salvador, Brazil. The bus passed about 10 minutes of these favelas on either side before making it into the city center near the water.
Here is a photo taken at the bottom of one favela in Rio. We went here in February to pick up our costumes for the Carnival parade. In fact, the 'samba school' I danced with, which are usually neighborhood based, was for one of the favelas, Rocinha.
Anyways, on my third trip back to Rio, my friend Anderson invited me, Brian, and Brian's family to his place for a Sunday barbecue. Anderson actually lives in the favela Rocinha.
Not only was it my first time in this favela, but it was Brian's as well. His parents had been in the middle of a favela, maybe one or two times in their lives, but even they said this was unusual for them.
We took a taxi from Brian's place to a parking lot at the foot of the favela. Anderson was going to meet us there before we all headed up in a group with accompaniement. About 10 other family friends also met us at the foot of Rocinha.
After everyone had arrived and was ready, Anderson came down from his house, met us, and we looked for a taxi up. At the foot of the favela's were both motorcyle taxis, and large van taxis, looking to shuttle people up. The 12 of us all piled into a van taxi, and we were headed up the favela.
There is only one road going up through Rocinha. It is a windy, curvy, steep road. Think Lombard street in San Francisco. There were motorcycles zooming up as we navigated the street upwards in the van. About halfway up the favela, only about a 2 minute ride (but a large change in elevation), we all piled out of the van.
I then realized I had basically stepped into a separate world. The streets are lined with houses wall to wall. Then the most unexpected happened. Instead of just entering a house, we went down a sunken stairwell jammed between a few houses. These led to more stairs, which led to more pathways, and more stairs, and more narrow passageways going up, down left, and right. To me, it was like a maze between the houses, with entrances to peoples places all over the place. There was even an outside bar at one point on the side of the stairwell.
Anways, we filed our way in a long line and zigzagged our way to Anderson's place. He had a 2 story house where he lived with his family. The barbecue was on the top floor, which was basically a giant outdoor patio, it was real nice. The patio had an incredible view from halfway up of Rocinha.
Anyways, the barbecue was awesome, they cooked TONS of great food. There was about 20 people or so there, and they were celebrating the return of Anderson's sister, who had studied for a year in Germany.
Anderson was able to tell me many interesting things about the favela. For example, I asked about why everyone had a giant water tank on top of their house. I still don't understand the details of this, but water is free (or stolen) from the residents of the favela. I am not sure how it is pumped into each family's tank. But the rest of Rio ends up paying for the water.
Electricity is often stolen, in one form or another. Many people pay the authority to turn the meter back so they pay for electricity, but just pay less. Also, I had assumed everyone owned their own place. But, the places are actually rented out.
Anderson specifically told me not to take pictures while on the street in Rocinha. There would be people looking and watching. Drug dealers, most likely, and in general people who would not want their identity seen. He said it could be dangerous to take photos for this reason. In his place, from his porch, though, it was perfectly fine to take photos (and I took alot). For this reason, though, I don't really have any photos inside the favela outside of the view from Anderson's place.
When we left, we proceeded through the cooridoors & walkways, back up to the main windy street. There was music blasting from someones car to the side of the street, and we waited there for about 10 minutes to take another van taxi down as a group. Brian saw a guy with a giant gun on a motorcycle riding down (but he did not tell us until later that day as he did not want to say anything).
In general, the favela is almost it's own world, separate from Rio. The government basically has no involvement. The police do not enter unless they want to arrest a specific individual. Each favela has their own sub laws and unwritten laws. A good example is motorcycle-taxi's are illegal in Rio, but completely unchecked & common in the favela's. But different favela's have different laws. More or less, however, it is not safe for foreigners to walk through a favela. Sadly enough, there is a large industry of poverty tourism there. Pay 100 bucks, and someone will drive you up to the top of the favela and walk you down. There are, however, a few foreigners living inside the favela, usually teaching English, and that is understandably ok & safe.
Why doesn't the government do anything about it? Well, that's a question not even Anderson could really answer. It would require immense changes in many different areas that can't be done overnight. For me, however, it was one of the most interesting, educating, and unique experiences of the entire trip. And one heck of a barbecue!
The best shot I could get in the passageway while walking (we are exiting the walkway to the main road here):
How electricity works? Your guess is as good as mine. There is a footpath below, actually:
The blue bins are water tanks:
Anderson & his Dad:
Possibly my favorite food of the entire trip, chicken hearts!
Me, Brian, Sergio: