The Only Gringos in the Village...
Upon arrival into the sprawling but beautiful city of Rio De Janeiro, the vibrancy of the 'Marvellous city' as it is affectionately known by locals was immediately apparent - even at 6.30am - and I couldn’t wait to explore this extravagant metropolis!
Several days were spent soaking up the G-string clad atmosphere of the world-famous Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, but while coconut milk was the drink of choice whilst relaxing on the white sand, the nightlife of Rio was lubricated with a whole different world of poisons!
Rio is split into 7 or 8 districts, and we were staying in one called Lapa, which was coincidently where the infamous street parties always started. The on-street bars and the potency of the Capirinha cocktails produced an infectious, carnival-like atmosphere which we made the most of on a couple of occasions - usually regretting it the next day!
Aided by the majestic sugar-loaf and Christ the Redeemer landmarks, the spectacularly scenic city of Rio is as easy to get your bearings around as it is to get wonderfully lost in the bustling backstreets. The street food consists of various types of skewered meat (probably best not to ask which meat exactly), and the street vendors' supplies of ice cold cervezas never runs dry.
We'd ticked off most of Rio's must-see boxes, but there was something that Anna and I were particularly keen to do, explore the infamous favelas of Rio De Janeiro. Unease, dangerous, mystery and trepidation are all commonly used to describe the reputation of the favelas, and I felt that I had to explore them before I could say that I'd truly got under Rio's skin. Were they the dangerous ganglands that the international media portrayed them as? Or were they vibrant, protective communities simply trying to ensure their inhabitants survival in tough conditions?
By chance we were put in touch with an English guy who had lived in Rocinha, Rio's largest favela, for over a year - along with its 400,000 other residents. Despite the cockney accent, Egyptian heritage and diamond geezer appearance, Mosey proved to be a wealth of information about this emotive environment. Always keen to avoid an organized tour, I tentatively asked Mosey whether we could join him for a few beers on a Sunday night. Amazingly, he thought that this was an excellent idea, as Sunday night was the wildest night of the week in the favela and he was sure we would 'have it large'!
Partying in an underground nightclub in Rio's largest slum - whilst supposedly looking after your little sister - might seem like a crazy idea, but to me it blended my two favourite things, partying and getting stuck into the local culture. So, after a few beers to wash away any last minute nerves, Mosey, Anna, Big Mike and I headed down a flight of stairs into the club, emotions.
The music was deafening, the smell was terrible, the ratio of chicas to chicos was excellent, and the atmosphere was electric! We all had a fantastic night, as did the locals who delighted in watching the only gringos in the club trying to master the gangster versions of the famous samba dance! As a big brother, I might've been concerned by the collection of fairly large Brazilian men surrounding Anna, were it not for the immensely friendly, welcoming attitudes of her continually-smiling dance partners.
Rather than animosity from the locals, I felt a warm acceptance and joy at the opportunity for them to share their culture with outsiders. Several hours and numerous beers later, it was time to end our eye-opening evening, although it had only served to whet our appetite for exploring the favela further.
The following day we spent the whole afternoon in Rocinha - without the safety net of Mosey - exploring until our hearts were content, and contributing heavily to the local economy. The beauty of the favela was it's strong sense of community, of everyone pulling together as a collective; something which I believe has been mostly lost in Western Society, much to it's detriment.
Food, beers, 3 pairs of Havaianas and one haircut later, we felt like we'd had a valid experience of daily life in a favela and unfortunately it was time to leave. Our time in Brazil was short, but the experience we had and people we met have made me excited about my return at some point later in the trip...