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I say the city of god as this day in a favela in northern Rio de Janeiro called marè reminded me of it the film, I am referring to if you have not seen it try and get a chance to do so, “City of God”
So I began researching organisations early in 2017 which work or have done so in the past in these communities. I didn’t come across much at all but lutapelapaz kept on popping up. Which in Portuguese is fight for peace, I reached out to as many people who were linked to it as possible and my emails were readily replied to with my personal links to boxing I was interested in an organisation that uses discipline, controlled aggression and pathways to control or replaces the negative ends of each of these. My aim was to spend a day or two in the community where the community centre or office was based. Which was marè described as one of the most hostile of the favela communities in Rio de Janeiro?
As email where exchanged, I was passed to the marketing member of staff to explain what I wanted to do which was a training session and a day documenting through photographs I would take an offer to Lutapelapaz as thanks. I was contacted by a Patrick Ashcroft an Englishman who spends 6 months out in Brazil the other 6 in England working with the organisation. When I had confirmed my dates we then spoke over the phone and Patrick told me the date I fly into Rio he flies back out to the UK but he would put me in touch with Roberta a local lady who would help me, explain what could happen and what could not happen. And a key person to get an update on the situation on the day we would be going.
All agreed on the emails, WhatsApp messages and phone calls the date was looming December the 4th 2017 I would fly into Rio gone midnight countless delays no hotel booked I arrived with half of my luggage missing from boat paddles to a hat and a few things in between a deliberate action. But none the less I was in Rio de Janeiro carnival party capital of the world my feelings of jet lag and material losses soon faded. I went out to find a cab and in my broken Portuguese/Spanish/English. I asked for a hotel in Catete an area I had narrowed down before my take-off at Lisboa airport Portugal. He was happy to take me, although it was not a far journey due to the fact he must off went through 10 red lights. I thought my trip would end early or it was the norm in Rio which I later found out which, I thought was as illegal as anywhere else in the world. Hotel found on Rua Catete which was a local hotspot with countless condoms in bedside table bathroom cabinet and on the bed seem to be a special kind of hotel. No judgment but each to their own I decided as soon as I got into the room I would spend one night here. Being around 1 am in the morning I showered and needed to get some food and enjoy a little bit of Rios nightlife as on my road there was a 24-hour, Salgado corner store selling Acaí berry smoothie and Salgado for 10 real. I was told about Acaí a few times before getting here so I thought I would try it. My verdict most refreshing smoothie I have ever had. I spent an hour here before heading back to my hotel and went to sleep which ended my first night in Rio.
As I woke up from minimal sleep in a slightly seedy hotel I aimed to find my Airbnb host connected to wifi and sent a few messages they replied quickly as I had not spoken to them yesterday as I had gotten to town way too late. I finally arranged to meet them at the small 24-hour shack from the previous night. She found me and we spoke to each other I was shown the way to the accommodation which was a literally 30-second walk from where we had met and a minute from my hotel of last night. It was an Argentinian student and Colombian student both studying at Rio university one to do with maths the other something to do with government-related topics. Both very welcoming and was worrying about the night prior as I had not contacted either of them they thought the worst but relieved all was ok.
As the day heated greeting and day plans discussed I was thrown into the deep end ‘Daniel do you feel like going for a run’ my face dropped it will be 30.C soon enough I just said yes luckily I had been a bit active before my trip as I was getting as fit as I can for the upcoming expedition in Colombia. So there it was the beginnings of the plans of the day we were off to a walk firstly to the beach on a running track we had walked through a park in central catetè passed a cinema and a house of indigenous people a museum I planned to go through later in the week. So we did our running at 35°C at least we both struggled to begin with but it got easier after the first mile the body accustomed to it. So I spent the morning with Catalina an Argentinian studying in Rio https://www.airbnb.co.uk/users/show/19594998 the Airbnb profile if anyone is interested in getting the laps in down flamenco beach.
Mile Numero uno
So after the unplanned run we headed back freshened up and headed back off out I went out to the park we briskly walked through earlier on, began to photograph anything and everything I came across. a few heron species fishing in the park and freshwater turtles sunbathing on an exposed spot in the pond.
So I spent most of the day here until I was heading back to get my belongings and find another hostel or somewhere to sleep at the least. As I travelled back around six, seven O’clock it began to get dark quite quick as tomorrow I was due to meet Roberta to spend a day in Marè favela. A town in the highly volatile northern part of Rio de Janeiro, I was slightly apprehensive to say the least, as the mere thoughts of Rio and its favelas is of pure lawlessness I pushed these to the back of my mind. Focused on my travel back to the accommodations and to find a new place to stay. So of I went, as direct as a route I could go back through the park and then onto the main road and turn right look for the graffiti I would recognise, while hoping for the best. The graffiti I would unmistakably remember was a bright purple mirage type portrait
I would never miss this and there it was 15 minutes walk back from the park to my accommodations I went to the girls willing to host me. I told them it wasn’t necessary for the hosting no longer and explained I needed to go as my planned meeting tomorrow would be at a local hostel I was yet to find nearer to Rua da larenjeiras the intended meeting point.
As I collected my belongings and stuffed them in my huge 120lt bag. I thanked the ladies and headed off to a hostel I had seen early in the day in the rough direction of larenjeiras. By this time it was dark out, but there was still loads of people on the street as if no one had a home to go to or work the following day. Clothes shops still bustling and MCs on the microphone outside each one of them convincing people their clothes or the deals were better than there neighbours. The walk back from the Airbnb to the new hostel was a pleasant one a few dark streets only lit by taxi lights was enjoyed thoroughly by myself.
As I finally found the hostel again I paid as quickly as I could and dropped off my gear. I freshened up and went to find a pub or local entertainment some form of salsa I was hoping for. I headed back off out and about. for the first bit, I would just stay on my block as I couldn’t get lost if I continued in a square, I would like for landmarks statues banks or graffiti. So I could get some kind of bearing as I would feel more comfortable walking around if I did have an idea of where I was or how far I was. The first pit stop cafe or pub led to a 2nd and a 3rd. Until unavoidably I got lost in the city of Rio de Janeiro. I felt fine on my directions and had only 2 beers and a Salgado with acaí juice. I went to a small bar and football was on, I have no idea about football and I was asked about it by countless people in this bar. In Portuguese, I had no idea I just repeated what was said but I sounded a lot more Spanish ‘ si lionel Messi es muy bueno’. I was then replied to in Spanish ‘ooo tu eres Espanol’. I went blank I think they got the picture my Spanish is better than my Portuguese but my English is better than my Spanish.
As I began to enjoy myself a bit more, I realised I had an early morning tomorrow to meet Roberta for the day of photography in Marè I finished the beer and snack, I headed off outside to realise I was genuinely lost. An old rusted car which seems to be the place where the youths of the local Cantagalo favela gathered. Along with a small steel pan band began playing as I headed off so imagine the scene an old car a small shack type bar in the bottom of someones house, with a car that is older than me and seen some better days as I looked at it it seems to have a number of small holes, in my imagination I said bullet holes if I was right the scene I was a part could never be experienced again by myself if I planned it.
So the next day a bit difficult to find as I walked from catetè to laranjeiras, I went first to the market about half a mile down Rua catetè stock up for the journey mainly on water but açaí smoothy went down well. So my best attempt at downloading offline maps and following as best as I could it wasn’t very long before I was in a completely new neighbourhood where the streets were constantly in shade from the vines all over and huge trees blocking the sun out. Was as picturesque as a capital city, in my opinion, could get, I caught the occasional glimpse of marmosets on the power lines, lianas and forks of the trees on one occasion next to a persons plan pot on the outside windowsill. I continue through a number of blocks with similar sights and sounds not many people walking up or down the street just a few motorbike riders. So as I got through the winding roads and streets and ended up on a 6 lane road with what seemed to be drivers with no road rules people were cutting each other from buses to motorbikes, some never even stopped for the red light which made me, even more, confused as my first night was a similar experience in Rio. I finally got across the road with a swift sprint and looked at my google maps again I found a petrol station around half a mile down larenjeiras and contacted Roberta, Who spoke good English which was perfect as I couldn’t speak any Portuguese and at best broken Spanish.
I went to the petrol station for tea or coffee with a piece toast at around 1030, so on my call to Roberta I explained where I was and sent my location via WhatsApp she then went onto explain I was at the wrong place and she knows where I am roughly, so I went outside and sat to wait for the lift. With no luck in 10 or so minutes, I began to worry if this will happen today I rang again put a local man working at the station to explain to her where exactly I was. He obliged I thanked him, Roberta replied via WhatsApp “5 minutes”. Anxiety set in wondering what to expect in a favela everyone says to stay away from and a region nobody other than local Brazilians go to, excitement and fear play a funny way on the mind.
Roberta arrived a young lady not at all what I expected a young lady working in one of the most dangerous areas in Latin America. Pulled up with a huge grin on her face I asked are you Roberta I said, ‘I’m Daniel’, we went to the petrol station She got a coffee and asked if I was getting anything I explained I have as I have been here a while due to not knowing where to go, as I was in the wrong place by about 2 blocks. We laughed it off and headed off to the car, to begin with getting to know one another, how she had recently moved back in with parents and was not happy with it. So she was looking for a new apartment of some kind and how I also was living with parents as to help me save my $s to travel as much as possible. Roberta also asked if I had seen the fight for peace in London I hadn’t again Roberta laughed and said ‘you are coming to Brazil to see the centre but I haven’t seen the one in London’. I said yes Brazil has been a dream location for me and fight for peace was an opportunity for me to come to the country and explore it a little. I hadn’t seen much but I had explored a little, but tonight and tomorrow I will do a little more.
So as we edged closer into north Rio the atmosphere changed very little although a lot more police presence and a lot more poorer people within the communities. As we got closer to the favela in question quite a few more were popping up below the highway and above it, it was a constant sight inspiring and intriguing. Traffic slowed to a gradual stopping and starting with as we got closer traffic seemed to be one way in and one way out there were less police and more groups of individuals. Roberta wound her window down put a sign up in the window which stated Lutapelapaz and took her seatbelt off I presumed we were getting out to walk the remainder of the way she told me to wind my window and take my seat belt off. Confused but I, of course, did as I was told. In all the travel I have done this was the one time I wasn’t at all responsible for my self which was a strange feeling Roberta told me that was the entrance a small lane which could only fit a small car or a motorbike either way. It was a typical Brazilian community although Roberta said these things you must not stare at the guys with guns the seat belt and window need to be always down and the belt off, also you don’t look at the girls as a typical young man I was inclined to do so and of course the obvious no cameras or phones on the street, I could only imagine a shot in my mind as the sunset a teenager walking down the street with a sandwich and an assault rifle leaning up a 600cc superbike.
We got with 10 metres of the favela and Roberta said do you see him armed the first one I didn’t as I was focusing on the tarmac in front of the car as to not do the above. As Roberta seemed comfortable I seem to relax just a little and as my eyes roamed there were guns on every corner, drug deals happening openly and homemade bollards in the road to prevent the police in the previous year’s pacification efforts. Which was a specialist police unit tasked with decriminalising the favelas some efforts have been effective but in marè not so much. Without community involvement, it will be a failure so this is where Fight for peace work in the benefit of the community and changing the hearts and minds of the young people. Which is evident as the post goes on.
I arrived in marè passed at least 15 armed kids from what I could see, or aware of there was a lot more I would guarantee. But if you follow the 4 rule system and be accompanied by a fight for peace staff all should be well.
- Seat belts off
- windows down
- Cameras and phones off the street
- Don’t look at the girls
Next post will be the day in the city of god
a esperança é a última a morrer