I had wanted to visit the falls at Iguazu since I’d lived in St Martin and heard stories of how amazing the spectacle was to behold from travellers I had met there. It was sure to be one of the highlights of the trip.
The "Carnival Show" at the hostel in Iguazu
We had been warned that the town, on the Argentinean side at least, was nothing more than a tourist trap, designed to hold people overnight who were going to or coming from the falls, and the warnings were right. It was not an ugly town, but it was evident that it s sole purpose was to supply the visitors to the falls with accommodation, coffee, grub, souvenirs and tour opportunities.
There was no lack of restaurants and eateries, but we struggled to find something decent that would not kill our budget. We avoided the hoards of Israeli’s that had taken over the hostel we had chosen, and after we had eaten we headed straight to the dorm and to bed.
We left for the falls bright and early, and arrived at the park just after the gates opened. As we had been directed by previous visitors to the falls, we took the train out to the first walkway that led directly over the main waterfalls, named the “Devil’s Throat”, the largest of the 270 odd falls in the series. I had been slightly jaded by our travels, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to be blown away, or even surprised by many of the sights we visited, but Iguazu did not disappoint.
The breathtaking "Devil's Throat" falls, with the Brazilain Tower in the distance.
The view was breathtaking, and the roar of the water rushing over the edge of the falls and into the deep canyon below was awesome. We stopped to take it all in, then we took the obligatory photos, and then we looked again. It was too much to comprehend. The power and force of nature, once again reducing us as nothing more than fragile human beings, temporarily residing on Mother Earth.
We spent the rest of the day walking around in the searing heat, occasionally getting a good soaking from the falls, spotting Tucans in the trees, and exploring the falls.
We came across the boat dock and deemed it a good idea and another one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences that we would regret not doing, so we packed our stuff up in one of the waterproof bags handed to us by the boat operators and climbed aboard.
The boat manoeuvred itself so that it was directly in front of a gushing fall, we all stood up to take photos, and then were directed to take our seats. Once all the passengers had complied, the skipper motored the boat right into the stream of water. We were all instantly soaked by the force of the water crashing down all around us, and blinded to everything but the white water curtain that surrounded us. The boat eased back out from under the water, circled in front of the waterfalls and then returned us to the dock. A short and expensive excursion it certainly was, but worth every penny.
We changed into our drier clothes and climbed back up to the path, which we followed to the cafeteria.
We had seen pretty much all of the main attractions, and were suffering from the unforgiving heat beating down upon us, so after downing a bottle of overpriced Iguazu water, we made our way to the exit.
On the ride back into town, Jacquie, obviously affected in some way by the falls, decided it would be a good idea for her to flash me her boobs in the mirror. I burst out laughing just as she lifted her jacket, a truck came over the brow of the hill towards us, I reckon she made someone’s day that day.
The following day, we took the bus from Puerto Iguazu to Cuidad del Este, a tax free zone on the triple border between Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil.
A rare "treat", taking the bus to Cuidad Del Este
The Bus driver, as most Paraguayans, was never far from his Matte Cup and matching Thermos
Entering into Paraguay, a new world of Chaos and disorder
My iPod had recently passed away, and I was looking for a replacement. After the relative peace and tranquillity of Iguazu, Cuidad Del Este was a veritable bustling den of iniquity. Everywhere you looked, people were rushing about carrying black plastic bags willed with newly purchased electronics, men where wheeling Refrigerator laden trolleys into stores, locals peddled fresh fruit, empanadas and sandwiches, and motor taxis zoomed around piloted by maniac kamikaze riders. I searched a few shops until I was offered the model I wanted at the price I wanted, made my purchase, and got the hell out of dodge.
We took the bus back out over the bridge, through Brazil and into Argentina for one more night until we returned to Brazil to view the falls from the other side.
Halfway along the "Freinship Bridge" the flag painted on the wall changes from the Argentine blue and white to the Brazilian Green and Gold
Our Brazilian experience was shorter, more expensive, but no less thrilling than the Argentine side. The people we had asked about which side to see the falls from had all agreed that in truth, one needed to see the falls from both the Brazilian and Argentine viewpoints. And they were right.
The View of the Devil's Throat from Brasil
We spent the night in our ridiculously oversized private room, complete with Jacuzzi bath and power shower-with hot water, and after our breakfast of Dolce de Leche on toast and chocolate cake (I liked my breakfasts here!) we rode out and into Brasil proper.We noticed immediately the difference between Brazil and the other South American countries we had visited.
There were far less jalopies on the road, and no more grazing cows or wandering horses by the side of the pavement. The roads were in pretty poor shape, yet there was a tollbooth almost every 150kms.
Everything cost us double. Gas for the bike, the room in the hostel, bread, cigarettes, water, everything. This might have to be a quick in and out job.
We were aiming for Curitiba, for no other reason that it looked to be a good stopping off point before we continued to Florianopolis, further south along the coast. We arrived, found us a little hotel, and settled in.
We strolled around the city as the sun went down, and were once again surprised at how much daylight we were loosing, 6 weeks before, in Ushuaia, we had daylight until 11.30pm, now it was dark by 6. It took some getting used to.
We lay in bed that night, and by stealing an unsecured wifi signal from an unsuspecting neighbour, I was able to check my e.mails. I had a friend in Brazil. We had competed together in my past life back in London at several cocktail competitions, had mutual friends, but had never really hung out before. I knew he lived near our current position, but couldn’t quite remember where. I searched through my e.mails until I found the one I was looking for, from Myles.
I nudged Jacquie, reading her book next to me;” he’s here” I blurted out.
“Who” was Jacquie’s only option for a response, and she took it.
I reminded her that I had mentioned I had a friend from London who had married a Brazilian and moved to Brazil, “Well, he lives right here, in Curitiba.”
I sent Myles a message, and the next day he came round to our hotel, gave me directions to his shop, and took Jacquie on the bus to our rendez-vous.
I had just retrieved Garth from the parking, and was on my way to Myles’ shop, when another Harley pulled up beside me. The rider shouted something to me in rapid Spanish; to which I replied, in my best “I have no idea what you are talking about” tone; “What?”
The rider wanted to know where I was from, and where the bike was from, and what I was doing in Curitiba- to be honest, there wasn’t much there for the tourist. I gave the standard responses, and answered all the usual questions, and when I had finished, the rider told me I would have to follow him to the Harley store. It was Saturday morning, and every Saturday morning, the local riders met at the store for coffee and doughnuts and a good chinwag.
I tried to explain that I had to meet Jacquie, but he would have none of it, and had a ready rebuke to all of my objections. I followed him to the store and was introduced to his pals, and to Fabian, the PR man of the store. He asked me more questions and took a few pictures of the bike, before running off to get me a Dealer T-shirt, compliments of the management. Now that was worth getting it in the neck from Jacquie.
I made my excuses and rushed off to find Jacquie and Myles.
I arrived at Myles’ about a half hour after he had, Jacquie had guessed what had happened, and wasn’t at all surprised at my tardiness. I explained that I had been press ganged, and Jacquie and Myles smiled at me knowingly.
Opposite Myles’ bicycle shop was a car wash, and I deemed it was high time for Garth to take a bath.
I took him over there and was told he would be seen to in about half an hour. We watched as he was sprayed with water, then soap, then a bright pink liquid that tightened our throats with its noxious fumes. An hour later and I was picking him up. Garth was gleaming. The black of the engine was black again, not brown, the chrome shone brightly, and the paintwork dazzled. Then I looked a little closer. The bike had been stripped of much of its varnish. Sure, all the dirt had been removed, but so too had much of the paint on the inside of the fairing, where the gauges and radio were. The decal along the centre of the gas tank was lifting off, as were the graphics along the side. Well, we won’t be doing that again, will we now.
We returned with Myles to his flat and met his wife, Susi, and their little boy Axel.
Myles and Susi really welcomed us into their home, they showed us around the city, fed us and gave us the use of their washing machine, which we merrily filled with pretty much every item of clothing we owned.
It was lovely being back in a home environment; we even got a taste of home when Myles pulled out his DVD collection, containing the whole of “Gavin and Stacey”, a British comedy that Jacquie and I were most partial to.
They took us to a Plaza in the city centre that was also the location for classic car owners meet as well as a Harley owner s’ get-together. We had a look around at the cars and then made our way through he narrow streets jammed with market stalls and street food vendors.
We spent a few days relaxing and recovering at Myles’ place, before heading out for a weekend break to Florianopolis, a semi-detached island a few hours south from Curitiba.
Our first peek at the beach in Florianopolis, hurrah!
We stayed in a surfer hostel at the southern tip of the island, and spent our days lying on the beach, watching more movies, and walking into the “town” centre. It was liberating, invigorating and revitalising, being back on the beach.
I spent a day alone with Garth exploring the island while Jacquie relaxed on the quiet beach outside our hostel
It dawned on me that I am more of a beach guy than a city guy. I’m more into white sand than spangley malls, more into turquoise water than ancient architecture. I could have happily stayed weeks in Florianopolis. Our little corner of the island offered a gorgeous stretch of beach that was almost always for our sole use, and the pace slowed way down. We read, chatted and chilled. It was just what the doctor had ordered, and we headed back to Curitiba feeling refreshed and ready to move on.
We went to stay one more night with Susi and Myles, but our stay was unexpectedly extended.
The morning after we arrived back at their house, I woke to find my right leg seemingly locked. I couldn’t straighten my leg at all, and could barely get out of the bed. I hobbled about for a day, but when the leg showed no sign of improving, we set off for the hospital. My leg was locked in “riding position”, that is to say a 90-degree bend at the knee. Susi’s brother is a taxi driver, so, after several failed attempts at straightening the leg, we piled into his cab and drove over to the hospital. Before long, I was wheeled in for an X-ray. A few minutes later, a young Doctor was explaining something to me in perfect English, about my tendon getting locked in a “familiar” position. I had developed “50,000-mile" leg. Over the next week, I was injected 3 times with a bright pink liquid by one of Susi’s neighbours, who happened to also be a nurse.
After chasing me round the living room for a while, I was captured, subdued, and injected. I hate injections. I was reminded of Nicaragua, where I had been prescribed a course of injections to cure a rash, and on entering the Pharmacy, I was asked to step behind the counter where the pharmacist deftly injected me in the butt, in a shop full of customers.
A couple of recovery days later, with our bags full of clean clothes, a fresh tub of Marmite, Jacquie’s favourite, and a few extra plastic bags full of herbs from Myles’ cabinet, we left our mates behind and made our way to Sao Paolo. We rode out of the city, and onto the highway. We passed through another bunch of tollbooths on this road. The only thing that eased the pain of having to pay to ride on potholed, single lane highways, was that the symbol for a motorbike on each of the toll booth price lists was an old Harley Davidson FXR.
We rode all day, arriving at the outskirts of Sao Paolo just in time for rush hour-on Friday. In a city with over 11,000,000 residents, this is not the best time.
We joined the queue of traffic and hoped we were heading in the right direction. To make matters worse, the University teachers were staging a march through the city, and of course, they were marching on the same street that we were riding down.
The 125cc couriers in Sao Paulo were without doubt, the most nihilistic, death defying lunatics I have ever seen!
We sat in the traffic, slowly melting in our riding gear, and making very little progress. Local couriers whizzed by us on their little 125’s, going through gaps millimetres wider than their handlebars, and far too small for us. When we did manage to find a gap in a lane that could accommodate Garth’s girth, we were soon being honked and tooted at by the stream of smaller bikes we were holding up behind. I guided Garth as quickly as I could between the lines of stationary cars. The 125’s were darting all around me like flies, in death defying feats of lunacy and daring. They threw their bikes about so wildly, it was a wonder they lived as long as they did. We had come across a couple of accidents where couriers had been knocked off their bikes. Luis and I helped a young guy who had been side swiped and knocked off his bike while undertaking a small truck. I was surprised at the time that it didn’t happen more often. The couriers often wore their helmets resting on top of their head, and not pulled on or fastened. Packages were sometimes ridiculously large, balanced precariously on the postie bikes favoured by most of the couriers. We saw a rather portly gentleman wobbling along on his scooter with a huge sac of corn on his lap that was so wide, he could bet get his arms around it and on to the handlebars. Once he did manage to grab them, and twist the throttle, he had no way of steering the bike as the sack was wedged in behind the handlebars so that they could not be turned either way.
Come to think of it, you never really saw any old motorcycle couriers. You can draw your own conclusions from that!
We squeezed ourselves off the main avenue and wove our way through the smaller parallel streets, in the general direction of the marker on the GPS.
Eventually we rejoined the main avenue further on down the road, where the traffic was actually moving, and continued on to the hostel.
Sao Paolo really is a big city. A crowded metropolis, alive with street vendors, roadside markets, what I can only call “traffic light entertainers”.
First spotted in Chile, where a group of break-dancers in Antofagusta were putting on a show every time the lights changed, I generally enjoyed the art of the traffic light entertainers. I pulled up to the front of the queue where the group were dancing, and cranked up the music from Garth’s stereo. They loved it! Here in Sao Paolo there were jugglers, jugglers on stilts, one-legged jugglers, brother-sister jugglers, jugglers on unicycles; we had seen a whole range of street talent in Chile, cheer-leaders, mime artists, slap stick comics, the works, here in Sao Paulo, juggling was King, and Queen, Prince and royal corgi.
Sao Paolo, however, was merely a stop over on the way to Paraty, we were heading back to the beach, and weren’t much in the mood for a city. We had no interest in checking out the museums, nor the malls, nor the art galleries, we just wanted some sand and some sea. After getting sorted in the hostel, we went out in search of a bank that would accept our cards, not an easy task in Brazil, and took the opportunity to have a mooch around our immediate vicinity.
We didn’t seem to be in a very lively area of the city. We walked around, but weren’t inspired to walk for long, so we picked up some Yaki Soba from a "Chinesa", cooking busily away at a wok in the street, and went back to the hostel.
We rode out the next morning, and Brazil revealed itself to us a little more. We headed out of the city and took the shortest route we could find to the coast.
We rode through lush green fields, rows and rows of coconut palms and tropical forests, up and over mountains, and then down the other side to be greeted with spectacular views of the unspoilt coastline below and the turquoise blue sea beyond.
We followed the winding road down the mountain, and parked up on the first slice of beach we came across. We stopped next to a small beach bar and ordered sandwiches and fresh juice. We zipped ourselves out of our riding gear, and made ourselves comfortable in the plastic chairs in front of the beach bar, watching the waves rolling up and down the beach in front of us. This is what everyday should be like, I thought to myself. This ride was turning out to have all the requirements for a perfect ride.
Garth takes a break by the beach under a palm tree, he loves to be beside the sea side
We had left early in the morning, barging our way out of a city that was just coming to life, had ridden for half a day and was now on the beach. The sun shone brightly, the air was fresh and invigorating, and breeze from the water cooled us.
We savoured the moment, sipping on our fresh pineapple juices on the beach with our mate Garth chilling out under the palms behind us. Perfect.
Getting lost in Paraty
We rode into Paraty in the middle of the afternoon, we got lost, then found our way again, and made it to the Blue Jungle hostel. Time for a quick dip in the pool. We didn’t even check in, we just stripped off and dived in the water. The perfect ending to a perfect day. But the day wasn’t yet over. The guests in the hostel included a young English couple, an Irishman, and Aussie and a Yank, and we quickly all became friends, thanks mainly to the efforts of the German owner, Phelia, and her boyfriend Fabio.
That night, we headed in to town with the other English couple. Paraty was our first colonial Portuguese town, and it was a gorgeous town. Quaint but deadly cobble stoned streets were home to numerous boutiques, bars and restaurants. We ate in a per kilo restaurant, where you pick your food from the buffet, weigh it, and pay for the weight of your meal, we found this was a great way to eat so long as you avoided the fluff. Pasta, chips, vegetables, and salads were unworthy; our plates were piled with meat.
We ate, drank and chatted and the strolled through the historic centre of the town. It really was a charming little place, just on the verge of becoming a tourist trap, but not quite there yet, thankfully.
We finished off our dinner with ice cream from the per kilo ice cream parlour, and Jacquie and I agreed that we had had as near as damn it a perfect day.
There were a couple of things worth seeing around Paraty, not surprisingly, the first place on my list was the local Cachaca distillery. Jacquie and I ate breakfast at the hostel, and together with Dan and Sarah, the other English couple staying at the hostel, we walked into town and got on the bus for Penha. We had a bumpy ride on the cramped local bus, and our route took us past several areas where the road was still half covered with earth from the recent mudslides.
We got off at the entrance to the falls, which were directly opposite the distillery, and decided we would check the distillery first, then go visit the falls.
The Engenho D’Ouro distillery is a small family owned affair, which produces organic Cachaca from the same water that fills the waterfalls across the way. We met Jorge, who gave us a quick tour of the site and a brief explanation of the distilling process. After the tour, Jacquie, Sarah and Dan went over to the waterfalls, while I stayed a little longer with Jorge, who had invited me to taste some of the different types of Cachaca made at the site.
Some of the Cachacas from the Eugeio D'Ouro Distillery in Penha
We tasted aged, oak barrelled Cachaca, the regular silver Cachaca and a selection of delicious Cachaca liquors, honey, basil, strawberry, mint and orange were just a few that we tried. By the time the tasting was over, I was a little the worse for wear, it was, after all, barely past 11am. I walked over to the waterfalls and met up with the others, and joined them watching the locals sliding down the waterfall.
The water coursed over rock that had been so smoothed down that the locals had taken to using the falls as their own waterslide.
Locals enjoy the natural waterslide at Penha
The coolest of the locals had the perfected the art of descending the waterfalls whilst standing upright, barefoot skiing down the falls.
Dan went and had a go with the young guys from the village, whilst the rest of us walked up the side of the waterfall to the top where we sat in the pools above the cascades.
We took the bus back to Paraty, and the rest of the day was spent wondering the cobbled streets of Paraty.
Our next adventure in Paraty was the boat trip around the bay. We had been told that the trip from Paraty was one of the best boat trips in Brazil, so we decided to take another day off the bike and instead spend the day relaxing on the calm waters around Paraty.
Most of the hostel guests were going, so we all walked to the port together, picked a boat, haggled a price, boarded, and were on our way. The boat, no more than 20 ft long, was painted in the Brazilian colours, yellow and green, and had a small upper deck for the sunbathers.
We motored out of the harbour, past a beautiful white washed colonial church, and out into the almost open water. The sea was dotted with little islands, some of them home to exclusive restaurants, others that were set up to host corporate and private functions, and others that were simply covered in trees. Stopped at a couple of the islands, once for some lunch on a deserted island, well, except for the restaurant and the coconut vendor, it was deserted, and we snorkelled above a reef just off the shore of another of the islands.
Another beautiful day, we were loving Brazil. The skipper took us boys to the shore where we climbed up and over some slippery rocks and followed a track through the jungle to where we were going to jump off a “small” rock and into the water beneath. Well the small rock was more like a mini cliff face. The skipper was first to jump, and he pulled off his back flip dive with suitable aplomb for an islander, followed by the rest of us in a much less graceful manner.
We returned to dry land just before sunset and strolled back through the town and to the hostel. We sat around a BBQ that night, enjoying the company of our fellow travellers and their tales. It made life so much easier when you met people of a similar mind set when travelling. We all sat around the big wooden table outside the hostel, listening to the sounds of the frogs and insects surrounding us, and laughed and joked with each other.
The days passed lazily in Paraty, we took another bus ride out to a beautiful nearby beach, which was spoilt only by the persistent sand flies. I had pretty much come to the conclusion that paradise didn’t exist. There was always something amiss. Mosquitoes were a big problem; occasionally the wind kept them away, but this usually also meant one was likely to receive a proper sand blasting. There were of course other considerations. I had a mental list of requirements for my ideal beach, my “Playa Nirvana”, my Paradise.
It should be a sandy beach, fine, white sand. It should be accessible by paved road, and should not involve a hike.
There should be one, maybe two structures on the beach, providing fresh fruit juices, a small selection of cocktails-Mojitos, Pina Coladas and Caipirinhas-tasty snacks and fresh fish.
The water should be turquoise, clean and clear.
There should be a few people on the beach, not too many, but enough for a small amount of people watching.
The sun should be in an ideal position for sunbathing, and should be present from early morning until its sets behind the horizon, sinking into the sea.
There should be a gentle, cooling breeze.
There should be a complete absence of any sort of insect, flying or crawling.
There should be a small reef, providing an ideal opportunity for snorkelling.
Palm trees should line the beach, offering shade for the fairer skinned, and coconuts for the thirsty.
The occasional beach vendor wouldn't go amiss, so long as they were rare, and when they appeared, they would be fully stocked with all necessary beach goodies that we may have forgotten to pack, or run out of.
Not much to ask really, but after visiting beaches on both the Pacific and Atlantic sides, including a small selection of the Caribbean, I was still searching.
Mexico had some idyllic beaches around Puerto Escondido and Zipolite, but they were over populated, and the waves so high, and the rip so fierce, that we were prevented from going into the water. El Salvador and Nicaragua both had beautiful black sand beaches, and I think Nicaragua was the closest I came to an ideal beach, at Maderas, however the beach was too hard to get to and offered but one choice of accommodation, which was less than basic.
Beach wise, Brazil was shaping up nicely. A good deal of the beaches were home to apartments and condos for the rich and retired, and even though the `Brazilian government had a policy of keeping all beaches public, the beaches in front of the condos were only reachable by boat, unless you were a resident and could gain access through the gated and guarded entrance.
The temperature had been steadily rising during our stay in Paraty, and as we came closer to Rio, the heat coming off the road was uncomfortable. We rode into Rio, over numerous bridges and under yet more mountains, Christ the Redeemer looked down on us as we drew closer to the centre of the city, and we followed the directions of the GPS to a hostel in Botafogo.
Generally, we had found the descriptions of the hostels in guidebooks and on the Internet sites as being quite honest, when we rolled up to the hostel in Botafogo, we knew there was something amiss.
On closer inspection, we noticed that the pictures of the dormitories and bathrooms were from an entirely different hotel, not even a hostel, the staff were indifferent to the point of rudeness, and the rules, covering most of the walls in the reception, were exhausting.
We had stayed in some strange places on the trip so far, some of them had some strange regulations, rules that you would hope weren’t necessary, and excessive signage. This place had all of that, and some.
“Only one person on the toilet at a time”
“No shouting after midnight” “Please don’t fill the fridge up with Beer”
“Don’t brush your teeth in the kitchen sink, it’s disgusting” (is it?)
“Flush the Loo after you Poo” and other classics adorned the walls of the hostel.
We were put in a dorm with no fan, no air con and no windows, and were told that the rate quoted on the Internet was incorrect and had now gone up. We took the grumpy reception staff to task, and soon found that almost every guest in the hostel had a gripe about something or other, and soon there were a dozen disgruntled guests behind me voicing their complaints, which must have proved to much for the receptionists, who after telling us to go forth and multiply, promptly walked out of the building, leaving a group of dazed and confused travellers in their wake. We looked at each other, exchanged looks that said “ oh well, its South America”…
The place didn’t create a good first impression, but the guests were all pretty cool, and a bunch of us headed out in search of sustenance. The hostel was located close to a supermarket, but as all the kitchen utensils were under lock and key, and the keyholders had just left the building, home cooking was out of the question. We were looking for more of a street food option, but it appeared that the only thing the hostel was close to was the supermarket. We couldn’t find a restaurant, a café or a bar anywhere around our hostel, and decided our evening might be better spent on the computer looking for alternative accommodation for the rest of the time we were going to be in Rio.
When we returned to the hostel, replacement receptionists were in place, who didn’t look up from their mobile phones or facebook accounts when we came in. This really wasn’t the sort of Brazilian hospitality we had previously experienced, and we couldn’t wait to get out of there.
We moved into another hostel down the road in Ipanema the next morning. Our hostel was in a small mews type street, with maybe 6 or 7 houses on each side of the street, of which 8 were hostels. The vibe in the street was always upbeat, travellers were always in and out and it was a cool place to hang out and meet people and get good tips where to go, where to eat and what to see.
We booked ourselves on a trip to see the largest favella in Rio, Rocinha. We wouldn’t usually for the organised group tour, but an unguided stroll through a Favella of some 250,000 inhabitants, policed and run by machine gun toting drug lords and narcos didn’t hold much appeal either.
We were picked up by a mini bus, and joined a group totally 14 or 15 other gringo tourists, eager to catch a glimpse of life on the hillside residences that peered down onto the white sandy beaches and high rise condos of the more fortunate Cariocans.
Roughly 19% of the 6million Cariocas live in the favellas that hang precariously on the hillsides around the city. They are the blood that runs through the veins of the city. They sell coconuts to beach goers, wash dishes in the glitzy hotels and restaurants, they shine the shoes of the businessmen, the relieve tourists of their cameras, and supply the drugs to the party set and dope smokers who ride the waves on the pristine beaches.
The beach at the bottom of the Dois Irmaos mountain
We were driven to the foot of the “Two Brothers” or “Dois Irmaos” mountain, from where we all climbed onto the back of local moto taxis, and driven through the favella to the top of the mountain, under strict instructions to put our cameras away and hold on tightly to our bags and the driver.
We re-grouped at the top and were given a brief talk about the history of the favella.
The shantytowns first sprung up in Brazil after the abolition of slavery in the late 1800s. Rocinha’s history dates back to the 1920s, when the depression spurred on a massive migration of country folk to the cities. The growth accelerated in the 50’s when several smaller, surrounding favellas were demolished by the government in order to make homes for the growing community of wealthy Brazilians.
the view from halfway up the mountain
Over time, the wooden shacks were replaced with concrete and brick, with homes being built literally one on top of the other, sometimes up to nine stories high. The land being built upon was, and still is owned by the government and is part of Rio’s national parks network. Most of the residences, and in turn their inhabitants live there illegally, under the radar. The water company runs water through the favella for half an hour in the morning, and half an hour in the afternoon, and the residents who are not plumbed in directly to any source of water go out to the street and collect water from the pipes.
A few of the residents have addresses and are registered, giving them the opportunity to vote, but the vast majority simply don’t exist.
We began our walk through the heart of the favellas, our guide occasionally going on ahead of us to let the spotters who were on the lookout for police that we were approaching, giving them the opportunity to hide away their guns, and giving us the chance to take out our cameras.
Children played happily in the narrow streets, running up to us and posing for photos or showing off their drumming skills on plastic bottles and old paint cans. The favelados we met were all welcoming and friendly, with the exception of a few gaunt, lanky men, whose necks were adorned with more gold than Mr T. They looked us over suspiciously while inhaling deeply from their joints.
Overhead, the electricity poles had a stupendous amount of wires twirling off in every direction. A few residents had electricity supplied directly to their homes but the majority simply ran their own cables from the poles, tapping into the supply in their own inimitable way. Their supply was rarely constant, but it was certainly cheap.
DIY Electricity supply in the Favela
We were shown around one of the many NGO projects in the favella, an art studio where local artists displayed their work, and a bakery where young favelados where taught how to bake bread and cakes.
Our guide seemed to know the name of every child we came across, and told us how he had seen the favella become safer and safer over the last decade or so.
The narcos still held the power in theses neighbourhoods, and much like the East End of London under the rule of the Kray twins, they kept the peace as well. There was very little crime in the favellas. Mostly because no one really had anything to steal, but also the narcos wanted to keep the favellas safe so that the tourists would come and drop some cash here and there, and also to make it safe for their business, to sell drugs.
We were fortunate to have a dry day on our visit to Rocinha. There is no rubbish collection, instead the inhabitants let nature take care of that, leaving their rubbish for the rain to take down to the bottom of the hill and dump the residue on the beach below.
With no trash collections in the Favela, gravity and rainfall take care of removing the debris
I was invited into one of the homes on the hill, and was shown to a window that offered a view of the condos and the beach below, less than 1 kilometre away. I could only imagine how painful it must be to wake up each morning in the tiny crumbling house, home to a family of 6, and look out of the window to see that unreachable dream. So close, yet so very, very far away.
We left the favella and half an hour later we were back on Ipanema beach, buying sarongs and handmade bracelets from the very same people we had just been visiting in Rocinha.
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