Having fallen in love with this new side of Rio, Andre thought it would be good idea to spend a few nights in an actual Favela, which sat just on top of the hill of the Santa Teresa neighbourhood.
Given that it was in the Lonely Planet I thought it must be safe and so agreed, although only after seeing that the Pousada website had you tube clips of the directions on how to get there. Given that the Favela’s have only recently been included in any maps at all (late 90’s) this was required viewing since once in the favela, the alleys are not obviously included in the maps.
The fact that the Favela’s (which are in effect little towns) are now recognised on the maps but are not recognised in an specific detail is to my mind a reflection of one of the biggest social issues in Rio and more broadly Brazil. Whilst Brazil recognises the immense amount of poverty there is, in spite of being an economic power house (and ironically now a lender to many so-called developed economies!) there isn’t quite enough policy reform in place to address such a large disparity in wealth.
That said the current departing President (Lula) has made some radical changes during his presidency which have moved a staggering number of families above the poverty line. Having come from a poor background himself and once a shoe shine boy you can probably imagine the celebrity status his has amongst the poorer Brazilians. His most important legacy is what is known as La Bolsa familia directly translated as family bag which is a weekly allowance Given to families with children provided their children attend school.
Whilst an important piece of legislation, having spoken with many from both sides of the social structure it is to the poorer only the beginning of what is required and to the more wealthy enough state support. Interestingly whilst there are no racial barriers in Brazil (which I don’t think can be said for many European countries) there is however, a huge amount of prejudice between the rich and the poor.
You can begin to see a middle class developing which I think will close the gap over some generations. In the mean time at least some of the fevelas are beginning to receive government money to improve the infrastructure to provide the very basic needs such as electricity, phone lines, internet running water etc.
The fevela we stayed in was one of these, the posada itself which was a very simple concrete structure built by a German alcoholic (Soeren) who was the only foreigner living in the favella. He alone was worth the venture into the favela, an interesting man who had been living in Rio for the past 20 years working to help the community in the favela before being allowed to actually live there and begin building his own home a little further down the narrow path leading to our building. Interestingly he was from East Germany and simply preferred the communist way of life explaining that life in the favela reminded him of ‘those good times’. He wouldn’t reveal too much but explained that not everyone could live in the fevela and permission had to be granted. When asked by who he went strangely quite so we decided not too push it too much. Most fevelas are run by drug lords/gang leaders who were untill recently the only beneficiaries to families that live there. It is for this reason alone that they tend to be dangerous places since rival gangs from other favelas or sometimes the police have shot outs which can lead to some normal non gang related individuals being caught up in the firing line.
These couple of days really were a highlight for us and a real eye opener with views ´to die for´ (something even the most expensive hotel could not provide).
Ironically we had to actually break into the favela our first night since the German guy locked us out whilst he passed out drunk inside…this was the only moment I felt a little scared whilst being there since it can be a very dark place at night, thankfully I was small enough to climb through a small window to let us in!