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City of God… City of Potential

Charming yet uneasy, picturesque yet unsightly, calming yet unnerving. Rio de Janeiro cannot be described in simple nor agreeable terms. Basso Nova over a caipirinha one minute, evading two would be muggers the next.

ChristoPerhaps the world’s most recognized city, even country, landmark, Christ the Redeemer sees all. If the sheer size of the soapstone art deco statue isn’t enough, the view is absolutely breathtaking. Panoramic views of favelas (slums), forests, skyscrapers, and beaches are within eyeshot. As the sun set over the mighty Atlantic Ocean, the disjointed city below lit up in a blur of vibrant colors.

But Rio de Janeiro isn’t all about the sense of sight. Music is as much a part of the dynamic vibe as the beach and nightclubs.  Besides samba, the people are obsessed with the melodic jazz tones of bossa nova. Ash and I spent an evening in the company of a talented percussionist, bass violinist, and guitarist performing the rythmic music. I’m not sure what it is about live music, but you can’t help but walk away tapping your foot with a smile on your face.

Sugar Loaf & Rio Bossa Nova Jam

 

 

 

 

 

Our last day in the City of God was spent in the sprawling Rocinha favela on Rio’s southern side. This is just 1 of 1,022 shanty towns surrounding Rio. Words are hard to describe the layout, way of life, and ordered chaos that governs the Brazilian slums. Our sarcastic guide, Vitoria, related unflattering facts about Rocinha and slums like it. Drug sales are the life blood and kids are the heart that pumps it. And the allure of mattresses brimming with cash has resulted in the smuggling of weapons including rocket propelled grenades. Even the draw of money is sometimes too much for corrupt police to turn down. The early twenties “owner” of the slum is lucky to celebrate his 25th birthday as rival gangs from competing favelas are constantly in a power vacuum and infrequent raids by BOPE, Brazil’s elite favela police squad, all threaten their livelihood. In addition, the average family size is over nine because more kids mean additional income. In fact, we met a 24 year-old favela Mother of 5 whom happens to also be a Grandmother. The list of anecdotes could crash Google.

Rocinha FavelaOf course, the sensational stories above make the headlines. Despite all the bad, we were able to safely ride motorcycles to the top of Rocinha  then navigate the favela’s twisting alleys. We purchased baked goods, toured a daycare, and spent time in an artisan shop. Most people were everyday people that aimed to simply provide for their family, even if their means are unbecoming. Though the drug lords perpetuate the slum life, they do provide the consistent framework by which the people live.

Ironically, our safety in the Rocinha favela was guaranteed by the same thugs who facilitate the meddling crime in Rio de Janeiro. Without exaggeration, 1 in 4 people regardless of sex at the hostel ran into serious trouble in the Copacabana, Lapa, Centro, or Ipanema neighborhoods. High noon or last call at the club, these visitors were robbed at gun point, bribed for $200 by police, or mugged with the threat of violence. Needless to say, we played our cards tight to the vest. Unfortunately, when it was Stacked Favela Homestime to hit the International Airport, we could only stand on Atlantica Avenue for 15 minutes waiting for the bus at 7:00pm in the rain before opting for a $30 cab ride and safe passage.

Though well aware of it’s reputation as a dangerous place, we chose not to pass judgement until experiencing it for ourselves.  Rio has so much going for it and innumerable treasures to discover.  However, the fear of being mugged or worse was constantly on our minds.

City of God. City of 2016 Summer Olympics. City of Potential.

- Greg

Tips

1) Safety – Don’t underestimate the potential danger in Rio. We had two very close calls (Centro in broad daylight and Copacabana at night) that were avoided by being aware, maybe hyper paranoid. Evaluate cabs before entering, stay in groups, don’t drink too much, and trust your gut.

2) You can hike Christ the Redeemer (3 hours roundtrip) and save the $20 train ride. We opted to skip the summit of Sugar Loaf as we were told the view from Corcovado (where the Christo is located) is better.

  • Kim Dietz

    Wow! This is amazing. You think about going into writing! These pictures are great too! Be careful.

  • fofs

    Kim – I can accept any credit for the writing. We pay a ghost writer.

    - Greg

  • fofs

    Kim – I can accept any credit for the writing. We pay a ghost writer.

    - Greg

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