There are one thousand favelas – slums – in Rio de Janeiro alone, with nearly a third of the population of the city residing in one. We visited the largest favela, Rocinha, home to nearly a quarter of a million people. The countless little shacks built upon the hills peer down on the rest of the city and Rocinha is like another world, sandwiched between two very rich neighbourhoods.
So we got a minibus to the edge of the favela where we were met by the local taxis – motorbikes! We each got on one that rode to the top of the favela at lightning speeds, racing each other to get there first! Once we were at the top, we slowly made our way back down again over the next three hours, saying hi to people that walked past and getting an insight into the life of so many of Rio’s inhabitants. Photographs were allowed in most places, but not when men holding guns walked past! The favelas are also home to many of the cities leading drug-dealers, and so the possibility that any photographs of any of them could get out to the public was a big no-no!
Along the way, we passed by schools, art galleries and bakeries, and bought bracelets made from telephone wires. The favela has electricity, but it doesn´t always work as the wires going through the narrow streets are all tangled up and look pretty much like a matted clump of hair. So a good way for some of the local children to make money is by creating interesting patterns from the telephone wires and selling them to tourists.
A highlight from walking through this vast shanti town was seeing a group of boys drumming and dancing along to the beats. The drums were so loud and reverberated right through you, and it was my favourite part of the trip!
At the very top of the favela, the views over Rio were incredible. The rows of houses were endless on one side, and on the other, you could see the rich neighbourhood with its golf courses and swimming pools. It´s fascinating how they are so close to each other, and it opened my eyes to how inequality can live side-by-side in a city famous for its beaches and parties.
As an end note, for all of the Michael Jackson fans reading this, this wasn´t the exact favela where he filmed the They Don´t Care About Us. The one he visited now has a statue of him there!