On my last full day in Rio I did a favela tour with the same company I had done the city tour with ‘Be a local’, this was something I had always wanted to do and it was a great experience.
We got picked up from our hostels and taken to Rochina, it means ‘little farm’ but is now the biggest and most populous favela in Brazil with roughly 75,000 people living there. The favela is built on a very steep hillside overlooking the ocean and city below and is the favela that Fast & Furious was filmed in!
We started right at the top where we were able to view just how big the favela was (and it was mind blowingly big) and then made our way down the narrow and windy streets right to the bottom.
We were told we could take photos but not of people and to not act suspicious when taking photos. I think we would of been ok if we had taken a photo when we weren’t meant to but firstly this would of been really disrespectful and secondly as the guide said it created problems for him, the company and the guide himself had a really good relationship with the locals and you could tell this by the way everyone said hello to him and the children hugged him when we walked by and it would be horrible for this relationship to be broken by some silly tourists.
We did hear however that a few years ago 2 tourists went into the favela on their own and one was shot, but seriously what were they thinking! They couldn’t speak Portuguese and when confronted ran so a local shot.. I don’t have any sympathy really!
The favela we visited has been through the Pacify process, this means the police have been in, highly reduced the crime rate (mainly gun and drug crime) and now have bases in the favela.
I asked about schools and the guide said there are a few schools now and that children get free transport and free lunches by the government, he also explained that there is a leisure complex at the bottom of the favela (which we saw while at the top) that had a pool and football and basketball courts and there was an agreement that children could use it for free as long as they attended school so it was really positive to see how both the locals and government are working together. I did the tour on a Sunday so we saw lots of children walking around and they smiled and waved at us. Sports are also huge in Brazil, especially football and some of players that play for Spain and Portugal are from the favelas in Brazil so this is often a way out for some people.
Another way we saw a positive relationship with the tour and locals was that the locals had set up ways of earning money from the tour groups rather than begging for money. When we stopped at the top of the favela we visited a shop full of amazing artwork which we could purchase, later on 2 ladies had set up a stall with bracelets and key chains and then further down another lady had set up a shop with some amazing cake treats, the guide reminded us that we shouldn’t feel pressured to buy anything, there would be another group arriving tomorrow, we all brought a bracelet of some sort and a cake anyway but it was nice not to feel guilt tripped into it.
A highlight too was about half way through 2 teenage boys and some younger children put on a little performance with music and dancing, the guide told us they were practicing for carnival which is in February, they start practising 40 days before and there’s a big competition between each favela on who can give the best performance.
Of course it isn’t all positive, there are still fears of flooding due to heavy rainfall, poorly built houses falling which then creates a domino effect, disease due to the amount of people sharing such small areas and the lack of sanitary, the low wages people are earning if they earn anything at all and there is still crime happening. What is maybe worst is that the favela I visited- Rochina is one of the more established favelas, the city and country is still full of favelas with people who are worse off than this and without services such as schools, hospitals and have high crime rates.
Although there was a lot of negativity on the World Cup in Brazil in 2014 and Olympics in 2016, especially on how much money was being spent while a high amount of the population is living in poverty, I can only assume that more tourism has created more jobs and with the world watching Rio the government are now doing more to provide better services for people living in poverty.
I’m really glad I did the tour, it was an interesting insite into how people live, we hear and see a lot in the media about favelas so to witness it for myself was an interesting experience.
I would recommend anyone going to Rio to do the tour and to do it with ‘Be a local’.