Yesterday a group of us from my hostel did an escorted tour of the largest favela (shanty town) in Brazil, home to 300,000 people. We did the tour with a company that the hostel is linked with. (I think it was Inside Rio, but I could be wrong about that). It cost us R$75 each, which is just under 20 pounds, and that included private transportation from outside and hostel to the favela and back again.
The favela culture is widespread across Brazil, and the government lets people settle on hillsides in and outside major cities simply because it's cheaper for them if the people build their own houses. Then the government will bring electricity and public services such as schools and healthcare to the areas (although these are renowned for being sub-par).
There are 1,024 favelas in Rio alone, which is incredibly difficult to comprehend, even for me being here. 900 of those are still not pacified and are run by drug dealers and gangs. The government has put into place the UPP, a sub-section of the police force designated for the pacification of favelas, but with 900 still to go, there's a lot to do before the World Cup and the 2016 Olympics here.
And even Rocinha, a pacified favela, still has outbreaks of violence. I found out from a Brazilian friend last night (after having been round Rocinha) that two weeks ago there was a shoot-out in the area and there were a couple of deaths. Oh, thinks I.
I studied Rocinha in Geography in Year 9, so I was really keen to go and see it while I'm here. So I was very happy when the tour guide told us that's where she was taking us. She did ask us not to take photos of people, but that views were fine. I had heard about trouble from locals when tourists ignored these warnings, so I made sure to avoid having any people in my photos. Overall, the locals seemed really happy to have us there, and many wished us a good day as we walked past. Children were a bit more disparaging, with a couple of choice phrases shouted at us, including a particular quote from Team America. None of us were American, but okay.
The first stop was a row of craft stalls, overseen by a group of armed UPP officers. One of the reasons tourists are welcomed to areas like this is that they bring in revenue to the local shops (of which many wouldn't have looked out of place in my local area in Birmingham).
And from there we walked over the top of the hill and down through the favela to the other side. It was a real mixture of areas, with some nice brick buildings, many colourful apartment blocks surrounded by trees, and narrow, winding, cockroach-ridden alleyways surrounded on all sides by rubbish, dripping water and people's front doors.
These photos should give you an idea of what it was like:
Seeing the favela was a really good experience, and I'd definitely recommend doing it. But even going round a pacified area in the middle of the day I could tell that it wasn't an area to wander into by yourself, and it would be easy to get lost. Definitely a big part of Brazilian culture to experience if you have the chance though.