Brazil: Into the Favelas!

Brazil Travel post #4: The Favelas (intro post is here).
Come on, let's explore the winding alleys and hilltop views of the favela together.
Come on, let’s explore the winding alleys and hilltop views of the favela together.

Today, we journey into one of Brazil’s favelas. What exactly is a favela, you ask? At it’s simplest, a slum, but the favelas are so much more than that. 11.4 million people live in one of Brazil’s ramshackle hillside communities. Let’s explore exactly what makes a favela so unique.

The favelas of Rio de Janeiro are world renowned stacks of poverty, drug use, prostitution, and violence. Rivaled only by the slums of Mumbai, you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy than in the favelas of Rio. Or at least that’s how it used to be.

First, some history.

View from Rocinha favela.

Before “favela” became a generic term, it was the name of one particular village. The first favela was formed at the turn of the 20th century, after the War of Canudos, the bloodiest military-on-civilian massacre in Brazil’s history. The soldiers killed nearly every man, woman, and child in a 30,000 person settlement in a military action dubbed a civil war.

When these 20,000 soldiers, many of whom were suffering from what we would today call PTSD returned to Rio, they found no government assistance nor any place to live. They founded the first favela, and it was named after a skin-irritating tree found in the massacre region.

From these inauspicious beginnings, more favelas cropped up as more poor citizens were displaced and found no other option but to band together and fend for themselves.

Rocinha is the largest favela in Rio.
Rocinha is the largest favela in Rio.

If your choices in MURDERED lead you to work with Agent Danly, and his subsequent investigation leads him into the favelas, it’s a prospect so dangerous that he’s hesitant to allow you to accompany him.

“Listen, you’re doing great, but I’m not sure you should stay with me. I aim to get to the bottom of this, even if that means coming head-to-head with the drug cartels in the favelas. You can’t even imagine what it’s like in there—gangsters dance in the clubs while shooting AK-47s in the air. Even the kids are armed and they won’t hesitate to shoot you if they think it’s worth a laugh. I can’t put your life in jeopardy like that…”

So if these place are so dangerous, why were we crazy enough to visit?

Pacification

In preparation for 2014’s World Cup and this summer’s 2016 Olympics, Brazil has made a considerable crackdown on crime, and this includes “pacification” of the favelas. Pacification is a hostile take-over of the slums in a military operation. Elite special forces are sent in to take out any violent resistance, and then a permanent police force is left to keep the region free of drugs and firearms. In fact, once a favela has been pacified, the Brazilian flag is placed on a high building top — to show that the government has conquered this foreign territory within its own borders.

So while I was expecting this:

What we got was this:

A favela musician and his "manager." The man spoke perfect English and includes favela children on his albums.
A favela musician and his “manager.” The man spoke perfect English and includes favela children on his albums.
A vibrant city market attracting customers from all over, much like a farmer's market in the states.
A vibrant city market attracting customers from all over, much like a farmer’s market in the US.
Might want to cook your meats well-done, just to be safe.
Might want to cook your meats well-done, just to be safe.
"Jackfruit" is common, but has a love-it-or-hate-it taste.
“Jackfruit” is common, but has a love-it-or-hate-it taste.
Pet fish?
Pet fish?
Fresh fruits, spices, everything.
Fresh fruits, spices, everything.

Rocinha is one of Rio’s older pacified favelas, having been pacified in 2011, and our visit was full of unexpected experiences. The people who live there can range up to middle class, our guide informed us, and in addition to pacification, the city government has helped the community receive clean water, free electricity, even wi-fi.

We were a bit wary of a visit, not because we thought we’d be unsafe, but because we didn’t want to offend or exploit people or go on some sort of voyeur tour.

The visit was anything but. Our guide is a well-known figure in the community and the tour company gives back a portion of every ticket, totaling to tens of thousands of dollars donated thus far. There were smiling faces waiting to greet him by name, and we were even given a trip to see the schools they support.

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Stepping into another world.
Our guide, Alfredo, in the school.
Our guide, Alfredo, in the school.
Even English classes provided.
Even English classes are provided.
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Feliz Natal (Merry Christmas!).
Who knew the kids were fans of the zombie genre? (heh)
Who knew the kids were fans of the zombie genre? (heh)
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The locals take pride in the unique look of their communities.
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We did!

In addition to the portion of our tour price donated, we bought jewelry made by the students, music and paintings made by locals, and even the “best caipirinha in Rio” at an alley shop.

If you ever get the opportunity, I’d highly recommend a visit to the favelas. Just make sure the one you go to has been pacified, use a reputable guide, and don’t go at night. Just because improvements are made, doesn’t mean those elements that gave the favelas their reputation are gone completely.

That’s it for today. Up next? I don’t know about you, but I’m getting hungry. Let’s check out Brazil’s food and drink!


Thanks for reading! Did you enjoy your trip into the favelas?

Feel free to comment below, and don’t forget to share and subscribe!

 

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Brazil: Graffiti

This is post #3 in my Brazil Travel series. If you haven’t kept up from the start, you can check that out here.

Graffiti has a big role to play in MURDERED. In fact, taking a picture of a graffiti mural is the whole reason your tourist character leaves a public street and becomes forever embroiled in a murder mystery. While the mural I describe in the book exists solely in my mind, the real street art of Rio inspired my imagination:

“In the preview on the LCD screen, you notice there’s the beginning of a graffiti mural sticking out from the adjoining alley. You peek around the corner to see the full image. It’s an angel, larger than life and in stunning detail. His hair is long and his face is placid, much like a beardless Christ.  Yet this is a dark angel; his wings, not feathered, are formed from two AK-47 machine guns divided in broad symmetry. Two snakes wrap around his legs, originating from behind his ankles and enveloping his lower half like the caduceus, their heads biting his wrists and spreading his arms. A nuclear mushroom cloud which serves as his halo bursts forth from behind his flowing mane. In stylized calligraphy, the caption above reads, ‘Vou testemunhar.’

It’s called anything from vandalism to street art, but no matter what you call it, tagging can be a powerful method of expression in large cities, specifically by its poorer citizens. While I don’t think this justifies someone putting their initials or callsign wherever they can, I do think that some graffiti transcends into art. Here are a few examples that stuck out to me during my travels. Unless otherwise noted, all pictures are from Rio de Janeiro.

Manaus
Manaus traffic circle. Child with the colors of the Brazilian flag.
Manaus
Manaus traffic circle. Left unfinished by choice or circumstance.
A simple Merry Christmas, or deeper meaning?
A simple Merry Christmas, or perhaps a deeper meaning?
Favela stack design painted on an actual favela stack in Rocinha. So meta.
Favela stack design painted on an actual favela stack in Rocinha. So meta.
Rocinha. Great use of colors and perspective.
Rocinha. Great use of colors and perspective.
Taken in Rocinha. A deeper meaning might be gleaned by those who read Portuguese.
Rocinha. A deeper meaning might be gleaned by those who read Portuguese.
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The juxtaposition of Brazilian pride and abject poverty really spoke to me.
In some favelas, there are so many alleyways that they decided to give them street names. This "heart labyrinth" is beautiful.
This “heart labyrinth” is beautiful. Note: In some favelas, there are so many alleyways that they decided to give them street names.
Brazilian mascot for the World Cup.
Brazilian mascot for the World Cup.
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Love the expressions, and the use of color.
Its always interesting to me where youll find graffiti. Like this dirt lot on the other side of a neighborhood.
It’s always interesting to me where you’ll find graffiti. Like this dirt lot on the other side of a neighborhood.
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Looks inviting, right?
Mural Part One
Mural Part One.
Mural Part Two
Mural Part Two.
Full sign was "Money is Violence" but I like "Bus Violence." It s rare to see murals in English.
Full sign was “Money is Violence” but I like “Bus Violence.” It’s rare to see murals in English.
St Sebastion the Martyr is a common image, here re-imagined as a beach bum. The pattern on his board shorts is also recurring theme in Brazil.
St Sebastion the Martyr is a common image, here re-imagined as a beach bum. The patterns on his board shorts are also recurring theme in Brazil.
Michaela says she has seen this "oil angel" several places in South America.
Michaela says she saw this “oil angel” several places in Rio.
Dracula and zombies. Nuff said.
Dracula and zombies. Nuff said.

Good one to end it on? Sure, good as any. The point is, it’s not like I asked a cab driver to take me around to all the best graffiti in the city. The stuff is just everywhere! These are all designs I just happened to see as I explored. In face, over half were taken from moving taxi windows. In my humble opinion, it adds character to the city. A certain depth and color, both literally and figuratively.

Click to continue: Brazil: Into the Favelas!


Thanks for reading! Where do you stand on graffiti? Eye-sore or art?

Feel free to comment below, and don’t forget to share and subscribe!

Come with me, Vamos o Brasil!

I’m back from spending the holidays with my wife in Brazil! As promised, I’m going to tell you all about it.

The trip was split into two parts. First, we took a riverboat deep into the Amazon jungle. The Amazon river itself is far too settled for a true rainforest experience, with industry and cities crowding her mighty banks. Instead, we went on the adjoining Rio Negro, living on the boat for a week. During this time we took day excursions into the jungle on foot and explored the islands, inlets, and archipelagos with smaller watercraft.

The Tucano! Our home on the river.
The Tucano! Our home on the river.

It was a magical, crazy experience that included fishing for (and eating!) piranha, seeing our guide “charm” an enormous, bird-eating tarantula bigger than my hand out of its burrow,  watching giant river otter chase a large caiman alligator onto land, and much, much more.  I’ll blog about these stories (with pictures!) day-by-day as we go along.

For the second half, we journeyed to Rio de Janeiro, a vibrant city home to more than 12 million people, and the setting for the vast majority of the events featured in MURDERED. Here we saw the sights, ate like locals, strolled the beaches — and found adventure as well.

One of Rio's many "favela" slums. Yep, we went here.
One of Rio’s many “favela” slums that dot the hillsides. Yep, we went here.

Each day, I’m going to share with you pictures and stories from the trip, as well as highlight those experiences that you can live for yourself in MURDERED.

I’m not going to present all the photos and stories chronologically, lest I risk turning this into a family vacation slideshow. Instead, I’m going to share my experiences in Brazil by subject. I’ll show the people, the places, graffiti, food, the jungle, and more. Because my book begins in Rio and moves out to the jungle, so will this blog. Each day will be something new.

How many days? I’m not sure yet, but I hope you’ll join me in reliving this truly epic journey.

Click to continue to the first topic: Brazil: Resort, Hostel, Palace, Guestroom


Thanks for reading! What parts of Brazil are you most excited to see? Have you ever been? Requests for stories or anecdotes on travel?

Feel free to comment below, and don’t forget to share and subscribe!

My Big Trip — To Brazil!

Redeemer
Can you guess how excited I am? Thiiiiiiisss much.

In a few days, my wife and I are headed on the trip of a lifetime. A bucket-list trip, if you will. We’re going to Brazil, first to take a boat down the Amazon, see the jungle, and then head to Rio de Janeiro to see the sites like the one above.

I know what you’re thinking–didn’t I release MURDERED two years ago?

Sure did, and I made the setting as authentic as I could–for someone who had never visited Brazil. And in doing that research, I created a travel guide of sorts that I now aim to follow.

Originally, I thought I’d blog about the trip as I went, but after some thought I’ve decided to delay that until the return. I don’t want to have to rush to an internet cafe everyday and I don’t even think it would be feasible for my river/jungle portion. Instead, I’m going to blog each day as it happens, day by day, then publish it when I get back in daily episodes as if the whole thing were only on a delayed timer.

So when I get back, I’ll tell you all about it.

I’m going to stay in the hostel your character is staying in at the start of the book. Eat at the same Copacabana Palace you can eat at in the book. Ride the cog train up to the Christ statue. I’ll even head into the favelas! During the day, of course. I know the consequences…

Test your detective skills in the shantytowns of Rio de Janeiro's favelas.
And, more than anything, I’m going to paint the town red.

I hope you all enjoy your Christmas break as much as I will and I’ll catch you in the new year!

Edit: I’ve started blogging about the trip. Check that out here.


So, what do YOU think? Have you ever been on a trip like this? Doing anything fun over winter?

Feel free to comment below, and don’t forget to share and subscribe!