Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Favela...finally updated!

Hi Everyone,
Rio is one of those rare cities you could spend a long time in and not get sick of because it is so lively and has so much depth to it. Nonetheless, many of Rios own inhabitants have never seen one major aspect of life in Rio--the favelas. Most middle class Cariocas (as inhabitants of Rio are called) fear the favelas and refuse to enter...except to buy drugs. Unsure if we could go into a favela alone, Mike and I decided to take a tour, which unexpectedly was much better and less voyeuristic than expected. We went to two favelas, Rocinha (one of Latin Americas largest and most well know slums) and Vila Canoas. About 20% of Rios population live in the more than 700 favelas. Unofficially, in Rocinha alone, there are 60 000 people, although the electric company claims that based on electricity consumption, there must be as many as 120 000.

Favelas came into being when former slaves were given the supposedly unproductive rainforested land on the steep hillsides for helping fight a Brazilian war. Piecemeal, these isolated bits of land grew together into communities, but were ignored by the governing authorities and thus lacked any sort of real infrastructure like water, power and sewage. However, today, as a result of a government initiative to turn the slums into real neighbourhoods, both the favelas I visited had all the necessary amenties (more or less anyway...we did see open sewer drains and were told that the poorest of the poor in the favelas still need to haul water long distances from common taps), even street signs (and therefore addresses and mail delivery), a bank branch, restaurants, shops, and also many satellite dishes (on account of the huge importance of telenovellas or soap operas in Brazilian society).

Favelas and people of the favelas are seen as dangerous by the majority of Brazilian society, despite the fact that the favelas are often right beside the wealthiest neighbourhoods and many favela dwellers work in the homes, restaurants and hotels of the wealthy and middle class. Our guide assured us that we were perfectly safe there, although there were several places we were not allowed to take pictures because of the high concentration of people in the drug trade around. Drug lords are the ultimate authority in the favelas and they keep the favelas safe enough for their clients who are mostly from outside the favelas. Basiaclly, they donºt let anyone make a mess in their backyard because it isnt good for business (same reason they dont sell crack actually...it is not good for business because it kills the clients too quickly). The guide also told us that generally, the only time the favelas become violent places is when the police enter and interfere with the business of the drug lords. The ¨security¨ system they use to alert the drug lords when police enter consists of young boys who wait at all the entrances of the favela and set off fireworks at the first sign of intruders. At that point, the drug sellers and drug lords fade away without a trace and inhabitants claim not to have seen or heard anything. What is interesting is that these alert boys make about $200 rais a week ($100 CDN) where the minimum wage is $350 rais a month ($175 CDN, only $2 rais or $1CDN an hour), making the drug trade very appealing to those with few legal opportunities to create a decent life.

As interesting as it was to see the winding alley ways and mish-mash construction of Rios favelas, we realized that we had already seen and been in favelas in Recife without realizing it (they have a different look in Recife because there is more space to spread out) and that some of the capoeiristas we know live in more difficult situations than what we saw on our tour.

We also got to learn a little about the school system in Brazil which was off major interest to me in particular, especially after going to school with Rivane in Recife, and also about the perversion of law and order that occurs in the favelas...but Im pretty sure no one but my grandmother is reading the blog anyway, so Ill hold off.

Ciao for now.

Mass of apartments.



Vila Canoas

Toma na cu Vasco!

Hi Everyone,
Mike and I went to a soccer game between Vasco de Gama and Flamengo (both home teams) at Maracanã stadium the other night. Being that soccer is the national passion, we thought it might be mighty entertaining to watch the fans...the game too, but mostly the fans.

When we got there, we sat down thinking that we were in the Vasco section since everyone was singing this song that we couldn't quite understand but ended in the word "Vasco" each time. However, Vasco got the first goal and the section went nuts so we realized we must be in the Flamengo section...so we listened closer. They were actually singing "Toma na cu Vasco!" which means literally...well, I don't want to translate it...telling the other team to drink from some part of the body you are definitely not supposed to drink from. Anyway...

Although there were fireworks, a drumband, giant flags and banner and no shortage of alcohol, the fans were suprisingly subdued. There was no one rolling down the aisles with their pants around their ankles such as I witnessed in Germany and no one was throwing big glass beer bottles at the field as Mike experienced in Ecuador. Not to say we were disappointed, just a little suprised since soccer seems to be such an emotional thing here, or at least World Cup was.

We decided to miss the rush at the end so we left so we left during the second half, which turned out to be the right decision. Later that night on the news, we saw a policeman beating a fan with a nightstick for being unruly and lots of shots of bloody people lying on the concrete. Police brutality...a part of Brazilian soccer culture I am glad I missed.

Fans and flags.

Fans and fireworks.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Florianopolis to Rio with a few stops in between

Can you see Christ the Redeemer?? He may be 30m high, but he looks tiny from Sugarloaf.

View of Copacabana from Pão de Açucar.

It's rabbit...no, it's rat...no, it's the world's largest rodent, the capibara, running free in a downtown park in Rio. Apparently this is just a little guy, they grow up to the size of a small dog.

Super sweet library we happened to encounter.

Where am I? Blumenau! (Brazil, not Germany)


Practicing capoeira at Barra Funda near Florianopolis.

Mike with a Jaca tree, tasty, but bizarre giant fruits.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Her name was lola, she was a showgirl...

Hi All,
Mike and I are in Rio de Janeiro. We left Florianopolis with the intention of spending a few more days in São Paulo before heading up here, but when we arrived in SP (after 10 nauseous hours on a night bus) all the hotels were booked up due to a Formula 1 race going on...so much to my chagrin we jumped on another bus for 6 more hours before finally arriving in Rio.

Our first night we spent in the biggest dump we've stayed in yet, definitely a "sandals-place." That is, the second lowest rung on my hotel classification scale, a place where you need to make every effort not to touch the ground with you barefeet. It has since been downgraded even further, based on all the bugbites I woke up with. The only cool part about it was the fact that it was right across from the mansion where the presidents of Brazil lived from 1897-1954. It was also where dictator and later legitimately elected leader, Getulio Vargas, (who also, incidently, was the guy who legalized capoeira in Brazil as a way to promote Brazilian nationalism...I wrote a history paper about it once...) shot himself in the heart after the military forced him to resign from his post.

Anyway, the next day we found ourselves an apartment to live in for the next ten days until Mike's family arrives. It is a step-up from a "sandals place" for sure...but not by a whole lot. But, on the upside, it is a block away from Copacabana, which you can see out our window.

That is about all for now. Will write more after we have done some exploring here.

Leanna and mike

The view of Copacabana from our window.

Cool little rhinocerus beetle we found at a bus station on the way to Rio

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Curitiba and Paranaguá

We´re currently in Florianópolis, in Santa Catarina. Arrived Yesterday, and so far have just been chilling out watching english news on cable... we´ve got HBO! But anyways, this blog is about Curitiba and Paranaguá. Curitiba is the first southern town we´ve hit, and as expected, it is different from the other cities we´ve been to in Brazil. The south was largely populated by European immigrants, and doesn´t have the same slave history as the north, so the people are mostly white Europeans, giving it a North American feel to it. The down side of this is that it is somewhat boring. However, the main attraction was always to be the train ride into Paranaguá.

This first pic is of me in São Paulo on the "Bandeirantes" Monument.

And this one is from the Botanical Gardens in Curitiba. Not much there though really...It is strange in Curitiba because they have this awesome tourist infrastructure that takes you places like this...but once you get there, there is not much to see...

This picture was taken out of the train window on the way to Paranaguá...this part of the scenery is known as the Devil's throat

Another train pic

Finally, this is a picture for Pat, Leanna's mom, since most of the time it is Leanna taking the pictures. This was in Paranaguá. We decided to go there because there was supposed to be a really sweet museum there...unfortunately, we went all that way (past 30 mins worth of fertilizer storage wearhouses to boot...) only to find it closed indefinitely because the building was falling apart. Oh well...it's the journey not the destination.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Pleasantly suprised in the City of Stinky Fish

Hi Everyone,
I have never in my life heard anything nice about São Paulo. I heard it was ugly and dirty...and dangerous. In fact, when we landed here in May we hightailed right to Recife to avoid spending any time here. But, because we have been spending so much time on a bus lately traveling across this massive country, Mike talked me into staying overnight here for a stop-over to break up the trip to Curitiba. However, oddly enough, I/we like it here. It is isn't half as ugly as I expected...there are lots of interesting buildings and it isn't even close to being as dirty as Belo Horizonte. It is nice too because there is good infrastructure that makes it easy for us as tourists. The metro is simple and fast, they have free city tours on weekends and information booths scattered around the city. Not to mention we are in a super nice hotel...with hot running water (are you jealous Nicole?)

So we took one of the free tours yesterday where I learned that the original name for São Paulo was "São Paulo de Piratininga"...the local Indian name for stinky fish, because apparently, there was quite a stench from the rotting dead fish left in the mud when the river here ebbed.

We also got to see where the city was founded in 16th Century by Padre Anchieta, a Jesuit, now beatified. We also got to see his femur...and the cloak taken off his dead body, when they dug up the femur I guess. We also went to Museum of Art yesterday which had an impressive collection with lots and lots of big names...Picasso's, Reubens', Renior's, Monet's, Botticelli's, a Raphael, etc. etc.

There are 25 million people here...and there is a lot more variation in how they look compared to in the Northeast especially, from years of immigration. Food here is awesome, in part because there is so much variation from all those immigrants. We had some awesome Yakisoba that we watched get made in a giant wok on the street for lunch yesterday. Today, we are headed to the Liberdade district, where there is a high concentration of Japanese immigrants for some Sushi! Finally a break from rice and beans!!!!

Anyway, we are out of time for now...

Leanna and mike

Flags of Brasil and São Paulo State

São Paulo isn't ugly...

Check out the huge imperial palms leading up to the awesome neo-gothic cathedral.

The pride and joy of São Paulo, the Municipal Theatre.

Hulk holding up a balcony at the Municipal Theater.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Minas Gerais

Hi All,
We are in the mountains of Minas Gerais ("General Mines" in English) in a place called Ouro Preto right now, using some time at an internet cafe while we digest our last meal of pork, with pork on the side, fried in pork fat with deep fried pork fat (with little piggy hairs still on it) used as garnish. Since the last blog update we took an 18 hour bus ride from Porto Seguro to Belo Horizonte where we spent three days indulging in the incredibly cheap (and delicious food). Mike was impressed to find places where you can get 5 pasteis (pastries with cheese or meat in them) for 1 real...$0.50CDN....only to be blown out of the water to find places where you can 6 for that price!

Belo is not like any of the other Brazilian cities we have seen as of yet. Firstly, we have run into more English speakers in the last couple of days than on the whole trip up until now. It is also more big-city-like than most places in that the belo horizonte is blocked from view by all the sky-scrapers. Traffic is nuts here since alot of the intersections have traffic coming from 8 different directions (the streets are like a large grid superiposed on another smaller grid at a 45 degree angle) which makes things pretty chaotic--especially since jay-walking is almost expected to get across anywhere. Also, the air pollution here is disgusting...I would put it as bad as London, and worse than my own experience in Mexico city.

One of the highlights was a really interesting modern church with some awesome painted tiles describing the life of St. Francis. We also spent one day going to a cave about an hour outside the city called "Rei-do-Mato". We wanted to go to see the ancient cave art...which was off limits...but the rock formations were still pretty cool. Then, the morning before we left, we rushed to go see an art gallery, created by the local famous architect Neimeyer. We got there to find that it was modern art...meaning stuff just kinda strewn about. Maybe we just didn't get it.

From there we came here to Ouro Preto or as it was originally known, "Vila Rica de Ouro Preto," "Rich Village of black gold." Slaves built the city funded by gold overflowing from the local mines which was rumoured to be the fabled "El Dorado" when it was first discovered. The most famous slave of all was Chico-Rei who was a tribal king in Africa before he and his entire tribe were captured and brought here to work in the mines. By hiding gold dust in his hair and under his nails, Chico was able to buy his and his son's freedom, before eventually freeing the whole tribe and buying the mine he worked in. He then started holding a royal court here in Ouro Preto...which led to a Portuguese crackdown on slaves buying their own freedom. We got to see a church here, dedicated to the black Saint Efigênia (whose was a queen in Nubia) built by and for slaves, financed by the gold from Chico-rei´s mine.

We took a tour today where we went into one of the slave-built mines. Between layers of petrified from a pre-cambrian forest we got to see gold dust twinlking on the walls...but because it is a protected historical city you are not allowed to alter anything and there is no more mining allowed within city limits...besides it doesn't seem like a good idea to me to have mines underneath a city.

Leanna and mike

Igreja São Franciso de Assis

Rei do Mato

On our city tour...quite a leg workout!