In major cities the most expensive properties are elevated, providing pristine views and exclusivity over the rest of the masses. This couldn’t be more opposite in Rio de Janeiro. The poorest neighborhoods exist the higher you climb, and they’re called favelas.
The word “favela” in itself can be a loaded one – politically, socially, and emotionally. It’s something that translates to a variety of words or phrases depending on the person: slum, ghetto, ugly, drugs, violence, instability, danger, fear, Brazil’s embarrassment, society’s failure.
Each favela is different from the next, but the sheer complexity inside makes them similar. Like a living organism, each one has a pulse of its own, a rhythm that’s organized, yet chaotic. The colorful homes stacked upon one another like boxes create the lining for the narrow paths that snake through the hills as minuscule veins. Recently added police stations patrol the neighborhoods, attempting to be a heartbeat, pumping positivity for common folks and fear for drug dealers.
Favelas can be compared to other parts of the world, but I find them uniquely Brazilian. The history of their creation, how they appear like a painting on the sides of the mountains, and the diverse souls than inhabit the favelas could have only been produced here in Brazil.
The favelas are a dichotomy. They are both separate and ingrained in everyday society, existing near and far. But without their existence, one doesn’t know the real Rio, a Rio that is much more than just spectacular beaches and caipirinhas.