When reading many travel guides on whether it is safe to visit or enter any ‘Favela’ in Brazil, more than likely it will say that it is best to avoid these places at any time. Incase you are unsure as to what a ‘favela’ is, a ‘favela’ is the Brazilian-Portuguese word for ‘slum’. I wanted to try and dispel this myth by planning a journey into one of the most famous slums in Brazil.
This slum in particular is the largest favela in not just Rio, but in all of Brazil! This favela is named ‘Rocinha’. Rocinha is positioned on an extremely steep hillside and goes up to quite some height. One thing I find strange here, is that in life and the difference in the rich and the poor is mirrored here in comparison to, for example Los Angeles. Here the poor are the ones up on the hillsides with a view over the rich, whereas in most Western societies it’s the rich that overlook the poor.
Rocinha started off life as a small shanty town and then over the many years has now become what one could call an urbanised slum. In fact, an urbanised slum that now has a population of just under 70,000 people, although this statistic has been argued against and that the true figure is more around 160,000.
Why an urbanised slum? This is due to that now Rocinha contains electricity, water, bus routes, its own TV station and at one time even an McDonalds so I was told! Although, it still has major problems with poverty, crime and unsanitary conditions.
It must also be remembered that Rocinha has had a history of drug dealing, with some of Rio’s most rampant dealers having spent time here. This appeared in major headline news last year when drug kingpin Rogério da Silva (aka Rogério 157) was arrested here in a huge operation that involved approximately 3,000 Brazilian military servicemen and police officers. Absolutely crazy!
Now of course I wasn’t going to just enter a favela alone, as I have seen many documentaries about places like this, so in my most Louis Theroux/Ross Kemp manner, I would be meeting up with a local of Rocinha, named Carlos Antonio de Souza (see pic below), a man who has lived in Rocinha his whole life. I didn’t realise until later on that night, that he in fact had been in a news story written by the BBC several years ago on life in the favela.
He was an extremely intelligent man. Able to speak five languages, including having taught himself English from the age of twelve, and on my tour around this favela, he told me so much about the situation, the politics and the life of the people here.
You could see how much he cared about the favela and the people that lived in it. Making important points about how Rocinha has a serious lack of public investment and the massive infrastructure issues that were exposed all around where we were stood.
Carlos and I then entered into the start of the favela wandering up an incredibly lively and busy street/avenue where he already shook hands with many people and then we stopped at a gang of Brazilian guys all sat on motorbikes…..the adventure through Rocinha was about to begin.
To Be Continued……….