I flew over to the City of God at the best possible time, The Carnival. Because of the time of year they airlines kindly bump up the prices to fly into Rio de Janeiro so I flew into Sao Paolo and spent a night there beside the famous graffiti ‘Pichacao‘ before flying into Rio. After leaving Galeao Airport I started the trip staying in the Rua Goncalves area of Rio and the first thing I noticed when wandering to my hostel was the poverty, there were homeless people sprawled across the pavements of busy streets, makeshift homes outside shops and everyone just going on about their daily business, of course I knew that the gulf in classes was going to be substantial…I just wasn’t aware it was going to be that big.
Is the poverty so bad because of lack of education, poor economy, system failure or laziness? I’m not sure, but even when I was walking around, within 2 hours of being there I could see police shooting at a parked car only a few hundred yards from me and a busy street. Despite this I was not keen to pigeon hole this place and give in to the stereotype that Rio is dangerous, there is danger in any city in the world if you look for it, obviously I wouldn’t go for a stroll down the Gaza strip but Rio is not in a 2000 year old civil war.
Although I said previously that there is danger if you go looking for it, it would seem I stupidly did, not so much looking for danger but more an infamously dangerous place. I went for a jog one beautiful day, around midday and arrived at the bottom of the famous mosaicked steps which lead up the mountain deep into the favelas, so this idiot here thought it would be a good idea to venture up and see them for myself. I have no idea why I done this as I knew that it wasn’t a good idea but I thought I’d just go up one flight and have a look for myself…I couldn’t help it.
After jogging up one flight, I thought, this isn’t so bad so I jogged around and found another set of steps and continued up, deeper into the Favela. It did not look like id expected as there were shops, some of the houses didn’t even look like slums (although most did) and kids playing around in the mud. Again I went further up, with some more dubious looking places, I saw a young couple go up another flight of steps so I thought I’d keep going, as I reached about halfway up the steps I noticed a young guy wave at me as he was coming down the steps, so I stopped to face him, it was then I realised that he had a bright shiny handgun in each hand.
The guy was only about 20 years old and built for floating in the wind with shaved head, army shorts and no shirt (guns are obviously more of a priority than melanoma). All I could try and do was to try not stare at the guns and look lost. He was asking questions in Portuguese, I was trying my best to answer in deep Scottish mixed with Eurotrash Spanish learned at school. He mimicked jogging waving these guns about while doing it and I just nodded away then he turned and pointed up the steps, I can only surmise he said “I would not go any further up you idiot” and I just agreed and waved at him and nonchalantly (while my heart rate was at about 200 beats per minute) jogged down to the bottom of the steps, then when I was just out of sight of him, I sprinted like Usain Bolt out of the place, I’m sure if Usain actually seen me he may have been a bit worried about his title.
In all honesty I did not think he was going to shoot me (I could have been wrong) but I had my iPhone on my arm so thought he may have taken that off me but he was friendly enough (as friendly as a person can be with two pistols). I think he was just shocked that anyone could be that stupid, maybe he was actually thinking “this guy is a complete nutter coming up here unarmed and pasty white skinned, I better not aggravate him”, but either way it could have ended up a lot worse but I learned my lesson and will not be venturing into the Favelas without an armed guard again.
Apart from that, I stayed in Flamenco, Sao Paolo, Copacabana, Rua Sao Bento, and upper Rua Goncalves all while the ridiculously busy Carnival was going on, walking down poverty stricken streets and dark alleys and never felt in any danger. I must admit that I can see why people would be put off or intimidated by dark alleys full of homeless people but they do not bother you, they just go on about their business and did not even give me a second look.
Absolutely loved this city and would go back in a heartbeat, but…. Do NOT enter the Favelas for a look J Don’t be like Ryan….Ryan’s an idiot