Sunday, September 7, 2014

On moving in the Favela

Part 1: Cantagalo, the lay of the land

It's officially been confirmed. You CANNOT drop a pin on your house if you live in the favela, sorry iphone user.

The view from Cantagalo overlooking Pavao/Pavaozinho
(You can see my old house from here)

For the last 9 months I have been living in the Favela here in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It has definitely been an interesting experience that I tend to avoid touching upon as to not scare the s*&t out of my parents. However, recently I have relocated to my third place in the favela, and after a stressful week of minimal training I figured I'd share a little about what its like to live here in the community.  I currently reside in Cantagalo, 3 blocks from the beach of Ipanema and home to athletes like Fernando Terere (alliance) and Jackson Sousa (checkmat).

Most people think that the term "favela" stands for a "ghetto" or a "shantytown", but it doesn't, in actuality "favela", is Brazilian for an absurd amount of stairs and/or hillage. Brazilian favelas line the mountain sides that rise above the affluent neighborhoods of Rio. The narrow streets and passages constitute an urban labyrinth that winds up the mountains of Rio. The higher you get the more confusing and potentially dangerous it can be. Close to the top of the favela, the houses and formal structures thin out and there is nothing but forest. If you want to look at the favela from a tactical perspective, its guerilla warefare at its finest. 

Kid running towards two women fighting in "quebra"

For those of you that aren't in the know, people build houses where ever they can find space to build. Climbing down into ditches, along ledges, or across roofs is not necessarily uncommon when trying to reach more remote places. I've lived in the favela for almost a year, but I don't tend to venture too far away from the main roads. Wandering around the favela is like wandering around in the woods at night... You may think you're going in one directions, but in actuality, you're completely lost. If you speak Portuguese, then it's easy to ask for directions, if you don't speak Portuguese however, like in the case of my gringo friend Moz, getting lost can be somewhat scary. While I  can easily find someone to point me in the right direction, he finds kids that point finger guns at him.

(Note: It should be taken into consideration that if no one knows me and I keep my mouth shut then I pass for Brazilian, Moz on the other hand is straight up white boy from England that does not managed to blend in in the least bit). 

On guns in the favela:
Are there guns in the favela? Of course.
Most of the visible guns, however, are owned and operated by the police. Emphasis on the visible part. Police walk around the favela with a ridiculous amount of guns and I'm not talking about your standard issue Berretta like in the States. No,no cops here roll with M4, M15s, and the occasional M16 as well as a handgun (Once saw a gun about that was about my size). And they point them EVERYWHERE which is somewhat disturbing. One time I saw a cop car coming up the street (the real one) with the trunk open. Hmmm, that's weird I thought to myself. The car passed by and it turned out there was a guy hanging out the trunk with a huge gun, go figure.

Getting into the favela:
There are four entrances into the communities of Cantagalo, Pavao, and Pavaozinho.  So when your moving, all of your stuff has to come in or out through one of these babies. There are many factors to consider when choosing the right entrance such as vehicle accessiblity, stairs, and hills. The main entrance that I use is an elevator in Ipanema that is at the metro. This entrance goes up to a place called "quebra" at the base of the favela at which point you have to go up about 100 more steps to get to the "estrada" or the main road. This elevator only runs till 12AM (11 PM on Sundays and holidays). Arriving past 12AM means a nice brisk walk up 28 flights of dark, dirty stairs.

The estrada... and good place to stand if you need something

So once you get off the elevator, the next step would be getting to the Estrada, or the "street". Its not really a street though...You can get through it on a motorcycle (if you good) but not in a car. Either way, it's the main "road" that cuts through to the favela and connects Cantagalo to Pavao/Pavaozinho. If you follow the estrada from the elevator it will take you to the "rua" or the street. This IS an actual street.

If you go down, the street forks and you can get to entrances 2 and 3 that lead to either Copacobana or Ipanema. These are the only entrances that are car accessible. It is, however, damn near impossible to get a taxi to take you all the way up the street due to the fact that its narrow and Brazilians drive crazy.

View from my window. Rooftops and Front doors

If you go up the hill, you'll find the UPP, or the local police station that was put in place when the favela was pacified. Beyond the UPP is a social project called Crianca Esperanza which is a building that houses a numerous amount of facilities including two jiu jiutsu academies and a boxing gym and several cheap places to eat. Crianca Esperanca runs several kinds of government programs that offer a grade school and technical classes for adults as well. The last entrance to the community is located inside. The second elevator will also take you down to Ipanema, but you have to be some kind of blessed to ever be able to take  his elevator because it barely ever works.

On moving in the favela:
Ok now that we've gone through geography 101 you might understand how moving under such circumstances can be a pain in the ass. Needless to say, Uhual is out of the question.

The elevator and walk way located at the metro station. 
View from the stairs. 

The first step to moving is finding a place to live. This can be difficult for two reasons. First, places in the favela are not only hard to find, they go quickly and you need to speak damn good Portuguese to find one. Second, finding a good (decently priced) place to live requires a cria, or someone raised in the community, preferably one in good physical condition. The quality of the place you find to live depends highly on the quality of your Cria. Employment of a Cria is essential if you want to avoid a painful syndrome known as getting Gringo'd. Symptoms of getting Gringo'd may include, but are not limited to: small and inadequate living conditions, expensive and uncomfortable transportation, and/or reoccurring financial losses.

And cut!
                                              To be continued....
                                                                                          I have a BJJ tournament to go to

Check out part II to find out about more about my cria and how I got all of my stuff up 100s of flights of stairs!!

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