Blame it on Rio

Many things can happen in Rio and sometimes it’s just because of the feeling and atmosphere of the city.  The people are so full of life.  Cariocas, as people from Rio are called, see enjoying life is a high priority.  I must say that I’m a bit jealous that I don’t see this approach to life on this scale in the US.

Today, we visited Rocinha, a favella located near Copacabana.  I’m told that the term Favella is not a favorable term because of its negative connotation, so from here on out it’s the Rocinha community.  From a distance it looks like stacks of dwellings that are just part of the landscape but up close this is a bustling community with hard working people.  My take away is, we have to learn to see people and communities with economic challenges as they are and not with judgement of ethics or standards.  Through the winding roads up a steep hill are people, businesses and a society busy working hard for the same life as anyone being ignored and/or maybe judged as their community is looked upon from a distance.

We arrived at Rocinha with Alvaro Filho, owner of Forest Tour Rio.  Forest Tour Rio tours are done by Jeep, which in my opinion is the best way to see any part of Rio. You get to soak up the sights and sounds of the city.  Maybe this is why dogs put their heads out of the car window.  It’s like taking in the cities through all of your senses.

Once in Rocinha we first met Mary, a local woman and artist who creates jewelry and crafts with recycled materials and paints her daily environment on canvas.  We then took a walk through a part of the community and here is where you’re entrenched in the sights, sounds and smells.  Through narrow streets and alleys are shops for fruits, vegetables and meats.  It’s obvious that we are visitors as we try to stay out of every ones way but never managing to do so. We are amazed how everyone is navigating the environment without fail in such close quarters.  Guys are pushing carts, delivering goods to the shops, carrying large parts of beef on their shoulders.  Ladies are shopping and people were moving about their normal day of work and life.  There was something going on at every turn and we were amazed at it all.

Later we met with Carlinhos, the owner of a house that he is extremely proud of and for good reason.  He probably has one of the best spots in Rio.  He operates his business called Terrace Tourist which is basically a tour of his home on his terrace.  We are told by our guide that, here you build your own home.  After three years if the government or no one else makes a claim it’s yours and all you do from this point is pay utilities and taxes.  His place is three stories, I think.  After climbing so many steps I lost count.  On his terrace there is a view looking over the community below, a piece of Copacabana, the side of the mountain, the Tijuca Forest and from his kitchen window a view of Christ the Redeemer.  He’s bursting with pride as he shows pictures of celebrities who have visited his Terrace along with photos of his young self, his daughter and grandson.  Thank you Carlinhos for your beaming smile and exuberant personality.

Ja’Vonne on Cycle Taxi

Each time I visit a place a see how a community turns a need into a business venture.  Here, because of the steep climb from the bottom of the mountain and where the Rocinha begins to the top, the narrow and busy roads and the need to get there, motorcycles are used as taxis.  This seems to be the main mode of transportation except for small trucks and vans that operate for businesses.  I decided to take one just to get the feel of the ride and soak up more of the community.  For the cost of 2 reals or $1 each way I went on a 5 minute ride from the top to the bottom and back to the top again with my driver Chiago, I think that’s how he spells it. These taxis zip up and down the winding roads and rarely do you see one without a passenger.  We go down down down hugging the curves of the road, squeezing between traffic, passing other motorcycle taxis and being mindful of people dodging in and out of traffic.  I don’t know which way to look because there’s so much activity all around me. I wish I had a hat cam so I could share the experience with you because it’s hard to truly explain.
The experience of visiting Rocinha will always be a part of me.

I’ll tell you about food and the nightlife next but right now I’m getting ready for hang gliding. Woo Hoo!

Photos by Gene Harley & Howard Little/Video Twist Productions