After the bank helpfully blocked my card again so I couldn’t get a cab, therefore was running late, therefore also had no means of contacting the people I was meeting, meaning I was sat in the square at the bottom of the Rocinha favela alone, just hoping nothing bad would happen and the people I was meeting there would wait for me.
After all that lot, as it happened, they did, so we had an incredible journey inside the thing. I will write further about this for a publication, but the colourful and orderly exterior was in sharp contrast to what I found immediately inside. We passed the first look out point for the drug gangs that really run the place, taking a small winding pathway which led past shops, half open doors that looked into homes, and of course dogs and cats.
Everyone says the favelas have the best views, and it seems to be true. Pretty startling to find yourself suddenly at the top of a hill which overlooks the ocean, and remember you’re in a slum the whole time. It’s a double-edged sword, as one guy says ‘I like living here, I’m free here’, and that’s not just because of the views. But that vista also overlooks the stinking rich of Leblon and Ipanema, and it’s hard to believe children here are dying of tuberculosis and it’s only a few hundred yards away.
I met an amazing resident called Marcia who has started a project to help the women there. It seems as though the higher you go, the harder people are to reach. In contrast to the pleasant square at the bottom, people on the uppermost reaches often live in little more than huts, and some never leave the favela, although there is a class structure within Rocinha itself. While I was talking to Marcia, a group of tourists, mainly Canadians and English it seemed to me, suddenly invaded the place. They were here for the human zoo – or the favela tour, as it is known. I found this a bit upsetting, as it had taken me a while to get the trust of the people I had spoken to and after spending a few hours there I had really warmed to Marcia. What will those people say about the favelas, when they get home? Several of them stuffed large notes into the donation box as they left, which is something I suppose. Maybe I’m no better than a daytripper but at least I made an effort to talk to people rather than just gawp and leave.
Reaching the ground again I was in one of the vans (not legal here but used everywhere) that operate alongside the buses, heading to Posto Nove with the azure ocean on my right and the pristine white of beachside apartments to my left. I’ll be back again tomorrow but don’t expect too many pictures, even when I have sorted this darned USB out, because most of Rocinha bans pictures being taken.