“Make sure that you don’t go out alone or end up in a favela when you get to Rio. It is one of the most dangerous cities in the world.” Everybody we spoke to prior to our trip to Rio de Janeiro a few years ago said this exact same thing to us. So during our first few days in Rio we stuck to the safe sights and visited Copacabana and Ipanema beaches (Chris’ suggestion!), the Christ the Redeemer statue and of course the famous Sugarloaf Mountain. Those sights were mightily impressive, but somewhat touristy, so when some guy in a pub told us about an informal tour that could take us to see the real Rio, we were intrigued. It turned out he was offering us to take part in a favela tour in Rio.
Favelas are shanty towns, where poverty and violent crime reign. Tourists are strongly encouraged to stay out of these favelas for obvious reasons, but Chris (who genuinely thinks he is bullet proof) thought that if we go with a guide it should be safe. As soon as we got to the favela people started staring at us incredulously. They weren’t hostile stares as such, more like are-these-tourists-on-a-suicide-mission? stares. We started walking around and saw cute children playing in the streets and women hanging up their washing. It was just like a normal neighbourhood.
The favela tour in Rio seemed to be a really pleasant thing to do actually. Then our guide started getting a bit nervous and he asked us if we wanted to see the best view of Rio? Sure we want to, but why is he so nervous about that? “I will take you to a house with a speactacular view, but you must promise to hide your camera, and not under any circumstances take any photos of the owner or his friends.” Sure, no problem! Some people just don’t like their photos being taken (my grumpy husband for example), so we could respect that.
So we walked into a rather large house and up a staircase to a roof terrace. Our guide wasn’t exaggerating. The view was awesome. We could see over all of Rio. The house looked very different to the surrounding shacks though. It was spacious and really quite luxurious for a favela house. Forgetting the golden rule for a second, I leaned over the banister to take some photos and saw some smiling people waving at me – which was nice but for the fact they were all armed with various kinds of weapons, from AK-47s upwards!!! Right, those must be the owner’s ‘friends’ then our guide was referring to earlier. I waved back nervously and slowly walked back away from the banister. I quickly took a shot of the Christ the Redeemer statue as sneakily as possible, and then decided to stick rigidly to the guide’s advice of not taking any more photos in future.
And then came the owner of the house. He was tall, very well built, and laden with gold jewellery, teeth included. He then asked us if we wanted some coke. Oh dear god! Suddenly it hit me why our weirdly informal and slightly secretive tour was so expensive – we’d basically just paid a load of money for safe passage and protection, and had somehow landed up in a drug lord’s house. Personally I am not into drugs but what will he do to me if I refuse his coke? He will probably just kill me on the spot, take all my money and bury my different bodyparts throughout Rio. So I nervously nodded and off he went to a backroom. Why did I decide to go on a favela tour in Rio again? A few heart-pounding moments later, he came back with two cans of beautifully chilled coke. Phew!
For the next what seemed like an eternity Chris and our new gangster ‘friend’ chatted away about football, with Chris making the bold decision to raise the fact Wayne Rooney is known as the White Pele. Luckily (very, very, luckily) it turned out both Chris and our gangster friend both support Man Utd, though I’d like to think if our host declared his love for Luton Town, Chris would have diplomatically followed suit!
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