Sunday, June 5, 2011

Favela tour in Santa Marta

[Note: As soon as we got on the bus from Niterói to Rio we realized we had forgotten our camera. Please know that all of the photos included here were taken by Peter Mountain and were previously posted on a similar account of a favela tour of Santa Marta over on the very enjoyable Sem Destino blog.  Do go check them out.]
My first experience with a walking tour of a favela community was with Zezinho in Rocinha.  Nobody does it better. But now with Luiz in the tour guide biz, his class was taking a tour of Santa Marta, a favelinha climbing the hills behind Botofogo, in Rio. I tagged along to see how they do it.
Santa Marta was the first favela community to be so-called “pacified” by the police chasing out the criminal syndicates that often control favelas. Now the Rio police occupy the “top of the hill” office space.  Residents report being grateful for the calmer quality of life these days.
This community is nearly vertical.  It is amazing how houses have been built on such a dramatic slope. But there are thousands of houses.  I was nervous about having to climb hundreds of stairs to take the walking tour, but to my relief they have an electric tram (free) that takes residents up the hillside.

We started out by taking the tram to the top and then walking a bit further up to get spectacular views of Rio. The tour guide focused on the pacification process, pointing out bullet holes in cement walls. She kept it light, but also seemed to want to dazzle us with the danger of past years.

There is an unlikely football court on the top of the community.
We stopped by the tour guide’s home, where she introduced us to her (very cute) husband and darling little daughter. The house, while small, was quite comfortable.

From there we slipped further down the hillside and went to the now-famous little plaza where Michael Jackson filmed the “They Don't Care About Us” music video (much of which was also clearly filmed in Pelorinho, Salvador). It has since become a fountain of money for local entrepreneurs. There is a little bar, a cocktail vendor and a hot dog stand.  While we were there a group of men showed up with instruments and started some terrific pagode.

Finally, long after the sun went down, we wormed our way through the maze of walking paths and stairways to a tram stop and rode it back down to sea level.
While I did not find the tour as informative or inspiring as that which Zezinho provides in Rocinha, it was nice to see the flow of cash from tourists (in this case tourism students) into the community.
Check out this video made by the folks at Sem Destino.

Favela Santa Marta - Rio de Janeiro (English subtitles) from Pedro Serra on Vimeo.


bee and jay said...

Jim, is Santa Marta where the Favela Painting works have taken place?

Ray and Gil said...


Favelas were a completly different thing, they were VERY poor homes made with left over lumber from stolen from construction sites and fragile tin roofs, no TV, no running water, no sewage, nothing.
I didn't see any of this in the video and you kind of don't see THAT level of poverty anymore, you see POOR houses, but I think poor as in lower working class, but they look like they have running water, basic sewage, brick homes, paved side walks, Cable TV, I bet many might have computers and internet.
Gil alwyas says that if you painted FAVELAS all WHITE they would look EXACTLY like those charming GREEK towns on the hills by the sea. They already DO have the BEST view in the entire city in my opinion.
I think in the future FAVELAS will be just that, they will be the coolest places for the tourists to stay at charming little bed and breakfast "Pousadas" with the BEST VIEW OF THE CITY.
Sometimes if you look at those shots from little Italian towns on the hill by the sea you could swear they look exactly the same as favelas, I know there are major differences between the two, I am just talking about aerial shots here, but I trust that these Rio "communities" will only improve for the better and the Michael Jackson statue is a good way to attract lots of tourists to the area.


Jim said...

b&j - yes.check it out.

Ray, Santa Marta was the first favela with universal WiFi internet access. Rocinha also has community-wide free wireless.