By Jack Berglund
Rocinha is one of the oldest favelas (slums) in Rio de Janeiro and the largest in Brazil, perched on a steep hillside overlooking the city. I am lucky enough to be taken round by Alberto, a resident come tour guide for a close look at the streets, back alleys and to my surprise his own home in the favela.
Two weeks prior to my visit, the Rio police occupied Rocinha in force in an attempt to drive out drug dealers and return order. Hundreds of special forces police and navy commandos backed by armoured military vehicles and helicopters moved into the slum before dawn.
From what I can tell, this was a move generally welcomed by the majority of residents who are hoping for a reduction in crime and better prospects for the future. My guide, Alberto, has lived in Rocinha for over 30 years and took a ‘for now its good but we’ll wait and see’ attitude. As a photographer, the good news is I am able to openly take photos which would have been impossible before the police action.
Transport in is by local 15 seat mini bus. These privately run, unregulated buses, leave when they are full and will stop anywhere along the route to drop off and pick up passengers. As the bus climbs up the main street into Rocinha, the sheer scale of the place hits me. Everywhere there are concrete houses jammed together stretching up as far as the eye can see into the hills.
The higher we go, the more dilapidated the houses seem. Despite the better views from higher up, living closer to the base of the favela is desirable where crime is generally lower and getting out to the rest of the city is easier. For the tour, or ‘cultural experience’ as Alberto calls it, we start walking down from the top on a wide street. As one of the older Favelas Rocinha has a reasonable amount of infrastructure. Crazy webs of wires run across poles and into buildings and for the most part people have access to running water. On the street, there are a number of surprisingly well maintained shops and even a bank.
Alberto asks, would you like to ‘take a short cut?’ We turn down one of the many narrow alleyways between higglety pigglety buildings and I just can’t believe I’m walking the back streets of a favela and feel very privileged to be able to see, experience and most importantly take photos here.
As a final treat, Alberto takes me into his house. He’s very well spoken and well read, often quoting interesting idioms and sayings that would be impressive even for a native English speaker. As he says, ‘nobody believes I really live here’. His sister seemed a little startled to have a stranger in the house.
Rio is a great city to visit and for me, visiting and exploring Rocinha is a highlight and an experience I will remember for a long time. See the rest of my Rocinha photos on flickr