When Bruno and Anthony arrived in Rio de Janeiro they immediately went to Bruno’s best friend, Paulo’s house, located in the favela,(slum) called Pavaozinho.
In the tall hills above the fashionable beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema you will find three favela communities called: Pavao, Pavaozinho and Cantagalo.
It is interesting to note that in Rio and all major cities in Brazil, including Florianopolis, the poor people live on the hills with beautiful views. The hotels, wealthy homes and luxury condominiums are below with no views, except if you are fortunate to be right on the ocean.
The View from Pavaozinho is absolutely spectacular. You can see the ocean and turn round and you will see the Corcovado, the statue of Christ with His arms outstreached, on the very top of the tallest mountain overlooking the city of Rio de Janeiro.
You have to keep reminding yourself that this is a slum, look around you and you become be aware of the slum realities. However, during the daytime it is very colorful and interesting. Brightly painted graphites covers many of the concrete walls with real works of art done by the Locals. However at night you would not choose to be visiting this place. Most Favelas, including Pavaozinho, are governed by the drug Lords.
My personal experience was my visit to Rio’s largest Favela called “Rocinha.” in 2008 and again in 2013.
Rocinha means “Little Ranch” and it was started in the 1920’s. It is impossible to accurately count the number of people who live in this 0.80 square mile area but it is estimated to be between 150,000 to 200,000.
The houses are interesting. They may be as tall as 6,9, or even 11 stories high. This occurs when children marry, the parents build another story to the house for the newlyweds.
The favelas are surprisingly well organized; cities in themselves and governed by drug dealers. We were able to get special permission to visit, had the feeling of being watched but felt safe during our visit. We were taken up and down many narrow stairways between the homes and could easily look in various open windows of the homes. The rooms were small, dark, with very few furnishings. The kitchens usually had a wooden table with a long bench on both sides. The walls often had scenes cut out of magazines or colorful religious pictures of baby Jesus or the Virgin Mary. The windows did not have glass, only wooden shutters.
When a new home gets an addition and electricity is needed, they simply connect a wire from their house to the nearest electric pole, without getting permission to do so.
There are about 600 fevelas in Rio de Janeiro. Approximately 6% of Brazilians live in slums. The 2010 census estimates that 11.4 million of the total 190 million population of Brazil live in favelas.
In 2009 the Pacifying Police Unit called the UPP was formed in Rio to guard the Rio Favelas. Unfortunately there is a mistrust of the UPP. Rio is doing everything in its power to make the Favelas safe, especially with the FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics. They have even started to build walls around the Favelas; they said to limit their growth, but many suspect the walls were to hide the slums from visiting tourists.
Many favelas have been demolished and relocated. The construction of the Trans Carioca Expressway which will carry people to and from the Olympic events, has caused much of the favela relocations and discontent.
In 2013 we took my 13 years old grandson to visit the Rocinha Favela. He lives in an upper middle-class beach community in California. He was very quiet during this tour. When it ended, we asked “Max, what did you think about the favela life?” He thought for a good 30 second and answered:”They are happy!” A shocking insight from a 13 years old.
Rio continues to look for ways to handle the policing and improvements of these large slums. It seems to me like an insurmountable problem. If you are visiting Rio, I strongly recommend that you visit a favela, but make sure you are with a reputable tour company. It will give you another perspective of life in Rio other than five star hotels, and it will give you first hand knowledge of how the poor live and flourish, in their own way.