Rio – Not just Favelas. Don’t forget about the sights

Taking a tour of the favelas is certainly on my recommended list of activities for you to do when you in Rio – it’s both eye opening, and challenging to the perceptions I had.  I didn’t know if I should even take my camera with me, or if I had to keep it in my bag the whole time – in fact that was one of the first things I asked Gabriel.

Maybe you’ve heard too how dangerous the favelas can be, and I believe some of them are, but with expert, local guidance, they are as safe as any other street in any other city.  Just like in London, there are neighbourhoods you can go, and places you shouldn’t.  Having a local to help you tell the difference is essential, especially if you are new to Brazil, and don’t speak Portuguese, like me!

And of course, there is more to Rio than the Favelas.  You probably know Sugar Loaf Mountain, and the Christ The Redeemer statue, which are worth visiting for the view on a clear day.

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Luckily, and not entirely coincidentally, I was in Rio for most of the Carnival – the Biggest Party on Earth, apparently.  I think a million extra people come to Rio, just for the celebrations.  Now, a million people is kind of a lot at a street party, and I was a little overwhelmed with it at times.  I tried my best to join in and have fun – such a struggle for me!

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To be honest, a couple of days of this was more than enough, and I was very happy to retire to my wonderful guesthouse in Urca.  Urca is at the foot of Sugar Loaf Mountain, and one of the safest neighbourhoods in Rio.  There’s only one guarded road in, and a number of military bases stationed there, so if you want safety, it’s the place to stay.  It’s a little off the beaten track too, with no local metro station, so it’s not the most convenient to get to, but certainly one of the most peaceful.

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I found my guesthouse through AirBnB.com – and it was excellent.It’s newly refurbished, and the hosts are wonderful.  Graziella will be running the place usually, but as she was away for the carnival, I spent most of the time with her wonderful mother, Edilene.  She prepared a delicious breakfast, and took care of me like a long lost son.  On my last night she cooked dinner for me and two other guests.  In exchange, I made her a pretty strong passion fruit Caipirinha.

After the Caipirinhas, I had one more stop in Rio – the official Carnival parade.  While most of the Carnival happens freely on the streets, with people young and old following trucks blaring out music, the parade is the real show of the Carnival – dubbed the Greatest Show on Earth.

I wouldn’t go that far, but I would say it was pretty amazing.  I spent some time, unfairly, comparing it to the Olympic Opening and Closing Ceremonies.  It’s on that scale, but it’s not same.  It’s about 8 hours of thousands of people in brightly coloured costumes, parading along the “Sambadrome” – A custom built walk-way, with spectator seats either side. Some of the dancers are on floats, and some walk and dance along.

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There weren’t quite as many women in skimpy outfits as I was lead to believe from all the marketing.  There were however thousands of people with enormous amounts of colourful plastic stuck to them.  Everything from human snakes with footballs in their mouths (I don’t know why), to scuba divers, to, like, a kind of human oil slick.  Hard to explain, weird to see. Only a few of the floats really amazed me – like the one with some kind of giant animatronic neanderthals, and the one with a giant glowing lizard with free floating jelly-fish.

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I guess it’s the kind of thing that has to be seen to be believed, and I feel very lucky that I got the chance.  Now it’s on to Salvador, the end of the Carnival, and discovering paradise in the North East of Brazil.

Ballet and Boxing in the Favelas: Visiting local communities

Those of you who have seen the award winning Brazilian film City of God, or even the more recent Elite Squad 1 and 2 might be curious about the realities of life in the poorest communities of Brazil’s largest cities.  Often referred to as slums, shanty towns or favelas, these growing communities are playing a large role in megacities around the world.

Of course as shown in the films, life in these communities can be tough and there is violence, but perhaps surprisingly, two thirds of these communities in Brazil have sanitation, and more than 90% have water, electricity and waste collection. 

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(Photo by F. Antunes)

On the second day of the Brazil Inspiring Adventure, we plan to visit Brasilandia, a low income community in the north of São Paulo city.  We shall see with our own eyes what life is like, and visit some of the organisations making a difference, and improving their local community.

During the visit we will be able to visit to a community run organic garden, and find out about a conservation project for the forests in the surroundings areas. 

We’ll have the opportunity to buy some hand made recycled products designed by a ladies’ cooperative, visit the poorest areas, see the street art, meet some of the inhabitants, learn folkloric songs and dances and discuss the changes that the community is going through and how they are helping each other to improve their lives.

Professor Graziella, PhD. MBA. from the University of Sao Paulo, has offered to join us for the beginning of this trip into Brasilandia, and tell us about the projects she has encountered through out the years, setting the scene for understanding social enterprise and development in Brazil. Professor Grazilella is a social enterprise expert, and is the Deputy Coordinator of the Center for Social Entrepreneurship and Management in the Third Sector.

Finally, when we visit Rio, we’ll also visit one of the communities there, called Cantagalo.  You can see a video of Cantagalo on the BBC website here – you might be surprised to see the ballet and boxing classes. The video introduces us to the young entrepreneur who wants to change people’s perception of life in these communities.

As you can see, it may not be what you expect.