Many people, due to a heavy media influence, are quick to assume that the term “Favela” (Slum or Shanty Town in English) can only be associated with negativity and despair. It’s a well known fact that many Brazilians and tourists would not even think about entering one. Even my Mother, a Carioca (Rio native), says that she would never do it out of choice. Many would ask, “What even is the point?”. After ignoring my mother’s advice, I set off on my quest to enlightenment to try and discover what the favelas in Rio were really about.
Beautifully overlooking the sands of Copacabana and Ipanema lays the densely populated community of Pavão-Pavãozinho. Even though it is as notoriously poor and violent as other communities such as Rocinha, these parts of Rio have ironically, some of Rio’s best views.
Luiza, our official guide from Caminhos Language Centre knows Pavão-Pavãozinho back to front, as one-third of her family lives in this infamous part of Rio. As soon as you enter, it would be hard to not find the physicality of it all quite confronting. There are animals wandering the street, rubbish scattered amongst the tight alleyways and definitely a strong sense of rebellion. Let’s us just say that you can’t make yourself feel bad for feeling vulnerable. However, Luiza was quick to settle our nerves with some comforting words,
“You’ve got more chance being robbed in the centre than you do here”.
As we went deeper into the labyrinth of steep and narrow curves, our nerves began to settle the more we began to understand the workings of Pavão-Pavãozinho. Our media-influenced preconceptions of mayhem, disorganisation and violence were quickly quashed, as we were kindly welcomed into the community. Many friendly Boa tarde’s (Good afternoon) were exchanged as we witnessed how things worked and it was even mentioned that the organisation of the community could be seen as borderline medieval – with having normally only one man that controls everything.
Even though in the past and present, Rio’s favelas such as Pavão-Pavãozinho have had many problems, nowadays, they have generally cleaned up their acts. There are now more opportunities for the children to have access to education and extra-curricular activities, access to water, electricity and plumbing and even the infamous houses of these communities are starting to become legally registered.
The heavy pavement pounding caused the hunger pains to kick in, so we swung into the humble kitchen of Tia Maria (Rio’s own culinary goddess who has also adopted 27 children in her lifetime). She provided our curious minds with some of Brazil’s humble culinary offerings such as farofa (toasted cassava flour mixture), feijão (black beans) and frango assado (roast chicken). In fact, a lot of Brazil’s national dishes originated in the favelas.
So, if you’re dying to figure out what makes ‘farofa’ taste so good and want to know a little more about the history of Brazilian food, head to her kitchen and Tia Maria will be more than happy to take care of you!
Even though the winter rains started to pelt as we made our way up the final ascent to the Jardim do Céu for a spectacular view of Ipanema, it became more apparent that these turbulent hills of Rio de Janeiro hold a very important place in Rio. Yes, there is violence and yes, there are problems, but the thick air of culture and respect show that it’s anything but a tourist attraction.
– Try to keep taking photos to a minimum. If you would like to take a photo, always ask first.
– Many doors are left open, so respect the families that live inside as you are walking around.
– Don’t worry! You are with a very experienced guide who knows the ins and outs of Pavão-Pavãozinho, so you have nothing to worry about.
If you’re interested in taking an Educational Favela Tour around Pavão-Pavãozinho with Luiza or Agatha, book your spot through Caminhos Language Centre at http://caminhoslanguages.com/activities/paid-activities