Sunday, February 12, 2012

Where did that guide go?

Hmm, I think we are starting to get the reputation of people requiring tracking devices.

Let me start at the beginning. The trip to Rio was by mini bus and let me tell you, every trip in Brazil has been an adventure of its own. The roads are winding, rough, often near cliffs and they only have 2 speeds, dangerously fast and stopped. Be prepared to hang onto your stuff. Rio itself is busy with many tunnels connecting the various parts of the city together scattered between the mountains. This city gives the impression it is bursting at the seams, the traffic is insane.

The Favellas
So one of our first activities in one of the most dangerous cities (number 8) in the world was a tour through one of the most dangerous parts of the city, the Favellas, a slum area only recently taken back by the police from the drug lords. Complete with pointed out bullet holes. These people are really poor, the area is built mostly by its own inhabitants by building one floor and then selling the roof. Those people build a floor and then sell their roof. Slowly a hotch potch building on dodgy foundations, on the side of a mountain is built. Collapses through landslides are one of the likely and often consequences.


Child Care Centre
We were supposed to get to the top by local motor cycle, the common mode of transport through this steep narrow suburb. Unfortunately and ominously we were unable to travel this way as the police had decided today to do a crackdown and the entrance at the bottom of the hill was full of the military checking helmet rules etc. Most of the locals did not pass muster. The mini bus driver took us as far as he could. From there it was on foot down a very slippery, dirty and cracked narrow path of stairs and slopes over often open sewer lines meeting the locals.

I was initially concerned that this tour was a bit disrespectful like viewing monkeys in a zoo, but it soon became clear that tourists are an important source of income for these people, and more often than not I felt like the rat in a maze. First stop were these young local artists with their works for sale, the influence of their situation apparent in paintings with graffiti walls in them, military references etc but also showing a lot of hope and colour. Second stop were some local young musos putting on a show with recycled paint can bongo drums and a little kid of 5 or so dancing, they passed around a bucket afterwards for tips. Third stop was a deli with cakes and puddings and everybody tried something. I shared a pudding of aceia berries, about the only thing that looked gluten free, with Elizabeth. Fourth stop was like a makeshift market selling local bracelets and the like.

A backyard complete with chickens
The guide then showed us where the drug lord used to watch out for the police, pointing out bullet holes, and I stopped to take a photo. When we turned around the group had already taken off so we took off after them. Turning a bend we could not see them anymore and there were two paths. We gestured to some women sitting there as to direction and an authoritative lady pointed left so we took off. Disconcertingly she started following us and it soon became clear that they did not go this way. The lady kept talking to us but we could not understand and headed down towards what seemed like the exit. We debated going back to find the others, knowing they would be really worried about us by now, but I thought the likelihood of getting lost was high, so we persevered through a maze of market stalls and came out where we started. The lady had given up on us by this stage as we had stopped listening concerned she was trying to lead us into trouble. We stayed put, hoping our group would find us before they sent out a search party. Eventually they came out, having doubled back several times to try to find us. So all ended well and we were a source of lively humour for several days, with a suggestion that we name this part of our blog ¨We survived the murder capital of the world in the most murderous part¨.

Christ the redeemer from the botanical gardens
Don't be discouraged by our experience as visitors are important for the favella community. The lady was probably just trying to show us the way out and at no point was anyone threatening to us, most people were friendly. Big tip, stay near the front of the group :-) We did do the normal tourist things as well such as visit 'Christ the redeemer' (huge), take the cable car to Sugarloaf Mountain (breathtaking views), and went to a soccer match of Brazil's 2 top teams, but trying to get a bit deeper into the countries we visit than the norm is the aim of the trip. It is estimated that 1 million people live in favellas in Rio. This place and most of South America has opened our eyes to how well off and how spoilt we are in Australia but going on happiness and friendliness money does not mean much. We may be broke by the end of the year but if life is a collection of experiences then we may be well in front.

 Last night in Rio and with this tour group. What was left of our tour group snuck into the closed pool area on the top of our hotel roof to celebrate this portion of our trip and say goodbyes.

Hasta luega amigos.


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