Thursday, July 2, 2009

Rio Days 2-3: From Harlistas to Favelas - July 1 - 2

Wednesday 7/1 - Harlistas Everywhere

One of the great resources for crazy-ass motorcycle riders is a web site called Horizons Unlimited. Aside from sharing information, a lot of us meet other bike travelers on this site. Information I've gotten here has saved my butt a number of times, and I've met some very cool (and a few not-so-cool) people through HU. That's how I had come in contact with Artur, a 56 year old retired Brazilian air force colonel living in Rio. Artur is a Harlista... a pseudo-Spanish word for those of us who are endowed with Harley Davidson`s. I`m riding my Kawasaki at the moment, but that doesn`t kick me out of the club.

On Wednesday Artur invited me to go for a ride and lunch. We were a bit delayed because his Harley (no comments... I have one too!) had a dead battery that we had to deal with. But eventually we got to a beautiful beach where his friend Walter joined us for nice lunch and a ride back through the crappy Rio rush-hour traffic.

Although they suggested I meet another group of their friends at a bar that night, I was still fighting the feijoada-ala-Montezuma's Revenge, so I called it an early night.

Thursday, 7/2 - To The Slums

Although I couldn't spend nearly the amount of time I would have liked in Rio, there was one other area that I wanted to see. This was the famous "favelas" of Rio. These are the slums, or shantytowns that have grown up on the hillsides around the city. One of them was made famous in the book and movie "City of God".

Some of the favelas are huge. We visited Rocinha, with an estimated population of 200,000.

Fortunately - because it would not be safe to just wander around here - there are a few organized tours. We had 11 people on ours, all from various hostels.

The first challenge after arriving in the van was to get to the top of the hill. Somehow it doesn't make sense to walk up and ride down. So one gets to the top is by "taxi", a motorcycle where the passenger rides on the back. Now realize, I've now ridden 30 thousand miles on a bike through South America, but this was the scariest part so far. I haven't had this much of a thrill since the moto-taxis in Cambodia, but those were on fairly level ground, not 89 degree grades!. At least the girls could grab the driver around the waste... the guy were told this is a no-no!

Arriving at the top we were told not to take any pictures in this part of the favela because there are too many guys with walkie-talkies and machine guns who are drug dealers and they are not kindly disposed to pictures. I can't imagine why! Actually, we didn't see anyone with either a machine gun or a walkie-talkie, but maybe it was some kind of drug-dealer holiday that we weren't aware of.

We went wandering off through the small streets that comprise the favela (staying close with our guide), until we were finally told that we had left "Drugolandia" and were allowed to take photos.

One interesting, but not surprising, phenomenon in the favela (as I've found in many poor neighborhoods) is the bootlegging of electricity and other services. Having just wired my new bathroom in Cerro Azul for electricity, I have some appreciation for a neat wiring job. It was interesting to see the many, many connections that people had made to the electrical, phone, and tv cables, and it would be interesting to know what percentage of services are actually paid for. Talk about your "octopus" connection!

Surprisingly, the people did not seem hostile towards a group of gringos doing a "slum tour". Not that anyone invited us in for tea, but neither did they wave machetes or small arms at us. People were generally polite, and there wasn't an undue amount of begging.

Rodrigo, our guide, has been doing this tour for years and has tried to keep the children from asking for too much. Also, he made sure to take us to several local businesses so that we could support the favela economy.

At one point we stopped at a day care center run by a charity. Cute kids, whose parents either have jobs or are trying to find work.

Out of Rio -

After the tour it was time to pack up the bike and head out of Rio. I left at 1:30, and spent the night in Campos de Goytacazes. Nothing special, but a place to sleep.

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