I hop onto the back of a motorcycle taxi not really sure where I am about to go, my Portuguese still sucks! The rushing wind gives me relief from the heat as we climb higher and higher up the mountain and I desperately try to hold onto the helmet that doesn’t fit. Sandwiched between lush green mountains and the Atlantic Ocean a surreal feeling comes over me, I’ve made it into a favela.
We arrive at the very top of Favela do Vidigal our hearts in our throats, after narrowly escaping death several times on the way. The favela lies between two of the richest neighbourhoods in Rio De Janeiro, Leblon and Barra. It climbs up the side of the mountain and has, arguably, the best residential views in Rio.
A favela is basically what the Brazilians call a slum; a poor, overpopulated and a lot of the times dangerous community within a city. Favela do Vidigal is on the safer side, it has been pacified, which essentially means the police were able to move in and set up some kind of order. Nonetheless, you still need to be careful, sometimes even of the police.
Despite the warnings I felt relatively safe; we were up high and the thrill of being there coupled with the breathtaking views quickly took my mind of worrying. We came out to a small bar overlooking the main part of Rio, the roofs all around us were dotted with children playing with their homemade kites.
It seems cliché to say these days but really the kids looked so happy, running around, laughing, and playing well into the night. It was inspiring to see and a little paradoxical to see them inhabiting the best real estate in Rio.
The sun started to set and we wanted to find the best spot in the favela to watch it. We navigated the maze of make-shift stairways and rooftops until we came across a house with a view over the ocean in front and Rio behind. Perfect. We asked the lady in some broken language, halfway between Spanish and Portuguese if it was alright to watch it from her roof.
She didn’t think twice and happily let us up. We sat in the cool rising ocean air high above the city having a few beers and silently taking in the spectacle in front of us. It was a magical experience. Watching the sun set is one of my favourite things to do and I have been fortunate enough to see some of the best all over the world.
For me however this was the most memorable, high above Rio with not a care in the world, I could really appreciate the reality of life for those that lived there. Life was so different but it didn’t seem to be any less happy.
I think we all crave community and belonging. While these people were what we might consider poor, their lives were rich. It was inspiring and humbling and I’ll never forget my night in a Favela of Rio.
“The poorest is the one who needs a lot to live ” – Jose Mujica
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