City of GodMay 18th, 2009 | Posted by in 16-Brazil
We thought long and hard about going on the tour of Rocinha, Latin America’s largest favela or shanty town. The voyeuristic and danger sides to it did not appeal but after speaking with others whom had been we were ready to see the unique kind of city dwelling made famous in the movie ‘City of God’.
Rocinha is one of 515 favelas in Rio and all bar four are run by drug lords. Each has its own set of rules but the general slogan is: nobody robs, nobody hears, nothing is lost; those who are wise obey those who give orders.
The tour started on the back of a motorbike, racing up one of its only streets and where houses are built upon houses up the jungle-covered mountain. At the top we slowly walked down through the tiny passageways, stopping to visit an artists’ studio, a kids’ day-care centre and some friendly locals who were learning about the politics and laws of living in a place where police and rubbish-disposal removers rarely enter. When police do to try and control the drugs, almost always a bitter feud ensues with no shortage of blood shed. Last month some 50 gang members were killed and one tonne of marijuana airlifted.
Home to some 300,000 of Rio’s citizens most of whom are teenage drug gangs and we did see some rather young members armed with gold-plated guns which was a little too close for comfort – and not the time to start flashing your camera.
Overall the tour company, Be a Local, was highly sensitive and respectful to the residents’ privacy. They are well respected because of their affiliation with the schools and the income they bring in by way of tourists. That aside, it is still a scary scary place and you know in the back of your mind that it would only take one coked up uneducated 10 year old gang member to take offence, pull out his piece and pop a cap in our ass – game over!