The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health: The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow. Crunchy numbers A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 11,000 times in 2010. That’s about 26 full 747s. In 2010, there were 85 new posts, growing the total archive … Continue reading 2010 in review
Jubilation!! My first comment. I’m grinning from ear to ear. Someone read my article about favela tours and appreciated it. I tried to get my local newspaper to run this story but they passed. I contacted magazines and websites. Pass. Pass. I said what the hell. I’m starting a blog. I knew this was a good article that people would find interesting and someone read … Continue reading Friends and Favelas
Rogean Rodriguez builds castles in the sand. For eleven years he has squatted on a little piece of shoreline across from the fancy hotels on Rio’s famed Copacabana Beach. On this patch of real estate he creates fantasies by hand with sand and water. His exquisite palaces catch the light and eyes of tourists who walk along the boulevard. Sometimes they contribute a few coins and photograph his masterpieces. At night a watchman guards the kingdom while Rodriguez returns to the hillside “favela” where he lives. On the mountain above Copacabana beach is Pavao. The shanty town that Rodriguez calls home is a short distance yet a world away from his fairy tale castles. “Favelas” are the slums. Created by squatters they are home to many of Rio’s six million residents. It is the Rio that locals steer clear of and tourists are warned to avoid. But these cities within a city are hidden and unique cultures worthy of exploration. With the advent of specially guided tours http://www.favelatour.com.br/ visitors can travel safely into the “favelas” for an eye-opening look at the other Rio de Janeiro.
Andres LeJerraga picks me up at the Copacabana Palace, one of the most splendid hotels along its namesake beach. I join a vanload of curious tourists for the ride up to Rocinha, Rio’s most infamous favela. When laying out the itinerary for my visit to Brazil I decided I wanted to personally witness the poverty I had heard so much about. The point of the visit was not to gawk or exploit, but rather to get an authentic view of how people live. I learn that there actually is a name for this kind of tourism. It is called “poorism” and it is a fast growing market taking off in cities like Rio, Bombay, Nairobi and Johannesburg. Part of my interest, I must confess, sprung from a bit of defiance. I grew weary of people telling me how dangerous Rio was. Don’t walk off the main streets, leave any valuables at the hotel, watch out for drug dealers, be careful who you talk to, beware, beware, beware.
The huge sprawling Rocinha can be seen on a hillside on the urban outskirts of Rio long before we arrive. Andres tells us as many as 200,000 people live in the slum. A Formula One racetrack went through here before Rocinha started developing in the 1940’s. Today the main drag through Rocinha is Cowboy Lane, a busy commercial center with 1300 shops and three bus lines. Stone and brick houses with tin roofs are precariously packed and stacked one on top of the other on the hillside. They were built by construction workers on solid rock. Many have stunning views. From a rooftop one can see the line of demarkation between the poor and the rich who live in high rise buildings on the other side of the road in an area called Sao Conrado. Because these settlements were created by squatters, refugees and displaced people, infrastructure was an afterthought. Many gather water in big blue tanks on their rooftops. There is a chaotic tangle of cables and wires crisscrossing the roads for electricity. Samba music plays in the streets. From eye level it looks similar to urban business districts in densely populated graffiti covered cities but there is a lot more going on in the “favelas” than what meets the eye.