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05/12/2010 / korayozsoy

Half day in Favela de Rocinha, the largest favela in Brazil

It was 7 o’clock in the morning; I woke up to a nervous feeling even though I was in Rio de Janeiro, one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Nervous sounds surprising especially right after having watched the amazing samba carnival, a classic in February. That strange feeling should be because I had heard many people advising not to go ‘there’ since they think it is really dangerous. ‘There’ represents ‘Favela de Rocinha’, the largest favela (slum) in Brazil. Fast forwarding the boring demographics, I want to share mainly my personal experiences together with some scenes which I captured during my half day tour in this one of the most developed slum areas of Brazil. For detailed demographics we have Wikipedia, right?! 😉

'Some' experiences in Favela de Rocinha

After meeting our guide early in the morning, we started driving. It went all fine when driving next to seaside. But things came to change drastically after leaving a tunnel that ended with an amazing hill view where the favela was settled. The size of the slum area, houses, the structure (!), the big chaos made me speechless at least for couple of seconds.

The location

We started climbing up the hill. The interesting thing was there were not only poorly constructed buildings, but also villas even with fancy swimming pools. Pointing at those, our guide told us that the hill was surrounded by neighborhoods of famous people from different industries; such as music, sports and media. What diversity! But I was already familiar with similar situations because of coming from Istanbul, a city full of diversity. Our guide continued by telling scary stories related gang wars. So, I felt the tension again.

Climbing up the hill

Climbing up the hill, on the way to Rocinha

We finally arrived to our first stop. Last warnings by our guide before getting off: “Don’t leave the group. Hide your photo camera. Make sure that you ask people for permission before taking photos…” What, where were we?! Contrary to what I was expecting, people were extremely nice and talented. We bumped into a small group of craftsmen and street musicians. However, they did not let us make pictures unless we bought bunch of things they were selling. Sorry for missing that part. 😦

When heading towards the second stop, I noticed something unusual. At some particular corners there were young people on motorbikes. What strange was, each of them was fully armed with relatively heavy machine-guns. Shortly after, our guide went into details of the common business that they run in this neighborhood. So, it was clear that those were the guards of the main business. What was it? Basically, the main business was established around drugs and there was no reason to create any chaos and trouble unless someone would put his nose into that business of big bosses. Opposite to the picture that the city people commonly used to draw, any other illegal business was not welcome to Rocinha at all. I even heard some of the native people saying: “We have Ipanema for p*mps and their wh*res”.

A street in Rocinha

The photo above was taken at our second stop that was the beginning of a avenue. Yes, I said avenue because this favela was already developed through services which we were accustomed to seeing in cities: private bus line shifting between city center and favela, private TV channel, banks, even a MCDonalds branch that was closed short time ago… The other remarkable thing, which you might have already noticed, was the chaotic look of cables that went all the way down from right to left and vice versa. They said of course it on purpose: “Curiosity is one of the things to destroy oneself”. However, I could not calm my curiosity down and started to follow one of these cables. YES, I LEFT THE GROUP! 😀

One for all, all for one.

This small cable took me to the reality of Rocinha community that was the common idea of sharing all kind of services with one another. On top you see a TV channel infrastructure (!). The rule is, one buys and at least other twenty benefit. And here is the result of this philosophy (above). So better to say: “One for all, all for one”.

I kept on tracking these cables wondering how they would come to an end. Eventually, I bumped into different astonishing scenarios. Among some examples shown below, there is a very naive implementation on the bottom; tiny cable going towards a house.

Snapshots from streets in Rocinha

Of course, they need some superstars to hack high level of technologies in order to support their overall philosophy to share all services. Tony (below) should be one of them.

Tony Eletronica

Snapshots from narrow streets in Rocinha

Back to the group… We were in the entrance of a typical local street (above). Our guide warned us again: “When we start walking, please don’t even think of trying to shoot houses!”. Right after the first minute wondering about this warning, I was quite sure that it was the narrowest street I had ever been to in my life. Literally speaking, one was able to reach the next house just with couple of steps. Colorful kitchens, living room, laundries and so on… We kept on walking among these brick and concrete buildings accompanied by different Samba melodies on our ears. It was really tough not to use the photo camera. However, I could not stop myself  when I came across a kindergarten. I held my breath and hit the button of my photo camera (below).


Wooden seesaws, slide, paintings on the wall, laundries and of course cables next to them. They all were completing a composition, the reality of this neighborhood and how people reserved room for children no matter how difficult and challenging their conditions were. But where were all the kids? So, the group was forwarded to an elementary school to meet them.

Snapshot from an elementary school

After 5 minutes of walking, we had arrived to the elementary school, where we witnessed very heavy conditions; classes and even fridges missing doors, windows full of bricks, broken fans… So our guide started to talk about the realities and unwritten rules in Brazilian educational system. Basically every body, especially many of teachers were so concerned about showing the overall education level in their country as high as possible that they ignored students’ failure in most cases in such slums. But the reality was totally the opposite which no one wanted to face so far. Considering the given conditions, there was no way to find out where the main problem were being derived from, but it was obvious that sooner or later someone should start facing this, which I hoped to happen soon. However, any of those negative aspects could not stop the motivation and warm energy of the local students to become better and skilled personalities.

Cute students

It was time to take a look at the panoramic view on top of a concrete building to see how locals were to enjoy the life. We stopped in front of a scary and mysterious building. It seemed to be deserted some time ago. Of course I wondered “why?”, but no chance not to go inside as a part of the group. It took just some seconds to get ‘wow’ expression by every one. They all were fascinated by the view that was to picture the colorful structure as well as nice ocean view, whereas I was more focused on the next balcony. Iron bars covered by plastic bottles, hmm…

Another kindergarten on the roof.

The bell rang right after I saw blue gallons and a lady taking care of laundry on the roof. Women used to wash laundry on the roofs thanks to blue gallons that help them collect water, and sun that takes care of drying. How would you look after your children at the same time? So, mothers defined these roofs also as a playground for their kids to keep them busy and easy to look after. As a result, it was impressing to see the obvious need and a pure approach for solution right at the place.

Lady taking care of laundry

Back to the panoramic view… The chaos, but it all make sense to favela people. Nice view of the beach and ocean, right place to party. Not much to say.

The view from Rocinha

Before concluding, I would like to suggest two movies that you should definitely watch if you consider making a trip to Rio de Janeiro. First one is titled as “Elite Squad” (imdb) and it is about a special unit called “BOPE” (wiki) whose members are specially trained for such slum neighborhoods. This movie is picturing the issues closely from good guys’ perspective. Second one, “City of God” (imdb) might be more familiar to you. It is telling stories more from bad guys’ perspectives. I personally like this contrast of perspectives as they both highlight various aspects which completes the other.

Films good to watch

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you are looking for more tips and advices related to a Rio de Janeiro trip. Saúde!


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