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Brazil - Rio de Janeiro (tiled pavements, favelas and Jesus)

Written on: Thursday September 3rd, 2009

Since we were so near to Rio (well, 24 hours on a bus), we thought if we didn't make a quick detour now, we might never get to see Rio. So we set off on a spontaneous deviation from our (loosely) planned route through South America.

It was well worth the journey as the city is amazing. Set among a glorious combination of amazing jungles and stunning beaches, I really don't think there is another city like it. Certainly not that we've been to anyway.

On our first night we went for a drink at the juice bar on the corner of the road we were staying in, with a Portuguese guy we had met in Argentina and some of his friends. Juice bars in Rio double up as normal bars as they sell alchohol (and food) and people congregate around outside them much the same as they do a busy pub on a summers day in England. This is great as you can sample some of the many Brazilian fruits that you have never heard of (let alone can pronounce) in-between, or instead of, drinking alchohol. Outside this juice bar which was nearest to us there was a group of middle aged and extremely friendly locals who, it felt like, had a party there every night. Singing, dancing, playing instruments, sharing their barbecued (on a home made bbq) food and generally having harmless fun was the order of the day. Although actually on one evening the police had a different idea. The noise had obviously come to their attention somehow and they turned up asking for the noise to be turned down as there was a hospital nearby. But as soon as they were round the corner the men carried on. Police turned up again. Gestured with arms "come on..." they started again. Police turned up again then stopped and talked for a while (long enough for a taxi driver to start beeping the police to get out of the way!) then left again. The party started again almost immediately of course. I imagine the charade went all night that night.

Apart from enjoying the beaches and surrounding countryside we also decided on a guided tour into the local favela (shantytown), think City of God if you've seen the film (the advice is not to go unless you go with a guide). The word favela in fact means wildflower spreading over hills, and the shanty towns were so named, because the first one was among the flowers, and they spread quickly as wildflowers do. The particular favela we visited is the largest in Brazil (around 200,000 inhabitants) and one of the largest in the world, so we were naturally apprehensive before entering (which we did on the back of high speed motorbikes, the best way to get up to the top, apparently). When we were in we were surprised at how relaxed and normal it felt- people buying their daily groceries (from rickety hatches in dodgy walls), mothers bringing their children (in smart uniform) home from school, it felt like almost everywhere we've been this year. From one point where we could look over the entire shanty town, you could see squares of colour floating above the houses. The children play with kites, and some of the older ones place bets on the kite games! The place is quite dirty though, with rubbish strewn everywhere and very poor sewage systems, we passed a very young girl standing in a bowl in a small stinky dingy room which was her bathroom. Our guide explained to us that inside the favela is also the safest place to be in Rio, since the person from the favela who steals your bag on the beach would not dream of doing it in the shanty town, since law, order and punishment, is dished out by the drug lords here, not the police. The police refuse to go in unless with SWAT teams from fear of the drug lords, so they administer justice themselves however they see fit. So, obviously, people do not commit many crimes inside favela, if any at all. Better to do it outside where at least you'll get a fairer hearing.

The downside of Rio is the price. It's extremely expensive. A Dutch couple we made friends with had come via London and they said that it had been more expensive to spend a few days in Rio than it had been in London just before. Although the weak pound may have helped them in London, it certainly wasn't doing us any favours just as it hasn't been all year.

So we spent six nights in Rio in total... just long enough to justify the 24 hours on a bus there and the 24 hours on a bus back again!

J.

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Since we visited, and only a few weeks after Rio won the bid for the 2016 Olympics, favela violence has been in the news a fair amount.

Rio police die as helicopter hit (17 October)
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/8312885.stm

Extra police after Rio violence (18 October)
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/8313631.stm

More die amid Rio slum violence (22 October)
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/8320011.stm

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(Girl From Ipanema Hostel - cheapest in Ipanema, but all communal areas close at 10pm including lockers and kitchen)