When you mention Rio de Janeiro, inevitably its favelas come to mind.
A favela (today the term comunidade is widely preferred) is a cluster of buildings and houses built in abusive land usually on hills’ slopes (morro) by people who couldn’t afford living in the asfalto (asphalt), where the upper classes lived, to avoid paying housing taxes. This urban sprawling dates back to as far as the 1930s when mass migrations from the countryside poured into the city and occupied lands without previous government’s authorization. Having the favelas spread on hills’ slopes, in many parts cars are not able to access. Some of the biggest favelas, such as Rocinha, boast their own banks and hospitals. Life conditions are obviously not what you can dream of, in some places there’s lack of water and electricity, but I believe, as Brazil is one of the fastest developing countries, also inside the favelas life is improving.
Each favela has its own history and society, and although they have the infamous reputation of being a nest of drug dealers, and I’m sure there are pushers, I also think most dwellers carry out a normal working life and share a vibrant community. Fantastic samba and capoeira dancers mainly come from the favelas.
As for every other thing, there’s hardly a black and white interpretation.
I have been to Cantagalo, the favela perched on a hill bordering trendy Ipanema district and offering breathtaking views of the beach and the skyscrapers. I haven’t stayed long enough to feel its spirit nor gone far inside, but from the inhabitants coming in and out, the first thing I thought was that, sadly, I had seen worse.
I’m aware there are “favela tours”, but I won’t be doing one, both because I think they hardly show the authentic lifestyle of the community and because I wouldn’t feel comfortable hanging around with my camera as if in an exhibition. I’d rather wait until I meet a local who will show me around the comunidade giving me authentic insights of what living there is like.
For now, only a picture from the Mirante, panoramic viewpoint accessible via a lift that connects also Ipanema with Cantagalo.