Saturday, 31 January 2015

Day 5 - Rocinha Favela

Today I went on a tour to Rocinha favela. I was quite dubious as to whether I should book this because of the reputation favelas have but I grabbed the bull by the horns and paid the R$75 and caught the bus across town. Rocinha is the biggest favela in all of South America and houses around 200,000 people. It has its own gyms, schools, churches and even a sports complex that children are allowed to use providing they don't skip more than 3 classes at school. Those living in favelas stick together in order to keep the government out as if they interfere too much, residents will have to start paying for utilities. More than anything the locals are curious of us tourists but a quick "ola" breaks the ice; they are happy to have us in the favela as it means more money for the businesses. We visited a stall selling the local favourite of "acai" pronounced akiee, which is crushed berries and ice topped with granola of all things. So refreshing and only around 70 pence!

Walking through the neighbourhood houses are built wherever there is available space. They get free wifi and water from the government and tap into the electricity paid for by Rio citizens so they pay for hardly anything. Because of this there will never be a friendship between favela locals and people of the city, according to our guide. We rode pillion on a motorbike to the top (pink helmet for me!) and drank in the views that others in Ipanema and Copacabana pay a fortune for - R$87,000 for one months rent in some higher end areas! Walking through the neighbourhood it is clear to see that these people live in poverty but they make the most of what they have. On most corners stand heavily armed police which definitely made me feel safer, even after we heard sounds of fireworks, a warning sign for drug dealers that the police are in the area. Dealing does still happen here, it is only natural in a city, however there is nothing untoward in view at all and it is under control. When the favela was pacified three years ago, not one shot was fired as all the drug dealers simply moved to another area before the police arrived. At no point did I feel unsafe and felt more at ease than some places in the centre of town.

We went to a small open air theatre where a group of men gave us a performance of Capoeira, a traditional dance incorporating martial arts. This developed from the slaves in the early days as a way to release tension although the rules dictate that they are not allowed to ever touch each other. I got involved straight away and it's much harder than you think!! After a quick samba class we were all now practically fluent in local culture..! Photographic evidence to follow! We made a quick visit to the local sambadrome where Carnaval preparations are in full swing. 4,000 individual costumes are painstakingly made by hand but you can see that the people here relish it. I even tried on a completely crystallised helmet with extravagant plumes of feathers on the top and definitely felt ready to party! On the bus home we rode in silence with the memories of Rocinha playing in our minds; a place I would visit again in a heartbeat and recommend to anyone.