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My Brilliant Trip to Rio

Today I spent some time reflecting on the changes to my life over the past nine months. Last year I was working twelve hour days for a faceless corporation, stressed out, fed up and wondering when I actually decided this was the life for me.

Yesterday, I woke up at 9am in my hostel, three blocks from Ipanema beach, in the heart of Rio. At 9:30 I got a motorcycle taxi to the top of the hill in Rocina, Rio´s largest favella to meet my guide who took me for a inside view of the other side of Rio.

After 3 hours in the favella it was midday and 30C, time to head for the beach. I spent three hours there reading, swimming and watching the cariocas (Rio locals) at play.

That night the hostel residents hit a party at a mexican bar called Guapa Loco where we drank ice cold margaritas long into the night. I met a couple of carioca chicas (Rio girls) who spoke some english, later in the night the chica I was talking to turned to her friend and asked her a question in portuguese. Her friend said to me, she does not know how to say (in english) that she wants to kiss you. Enough said.

Today my biggest stress is wondering how I am going to leave Brasil and whether I will actually complete the rest of my trip. The stress of work last year seems a long long time ago.

Visiting the favellas gives you a balanced view of Rio, not just the tourist sights and beaches. Rocina is a city within the city, 200000 people crammed into an area the size of a city suburb. The first thing you notice is the density of the population. Building is unregulated and totally haphazard. On the informal real estate market a house here can sell for between 5000 - 20000 reals (1500 - 7000 $US). The lack of recognised property rights contributes to the poverty cycle, no bank will recognise the value of a house in the favella so it is impossible for the locals to get a micro loan to start a small business or to invest in their childrens education. Everyone steals their electricity which makes for interesting electrical wiring and the streets have open sewers which give the place a distinct scent. The economy is dominated by drugs, estimates are that in Rocina alone $US 10M in drugs are sold each month. The visit was totally worthwhile and opened my eyes to the incred ible contrasts between the favellas and the wealthy neighbourhoods that exist here in Rio side by side.

On my second last night in Rio I went to the Maracaņa stadium to see the final of the Copa Brasil - Flamengo (Rio) v Santo Andre (Sao Paulo) - the biggest domestic football game of the year in Brasil. It is difficult to describe the scene on arrival at the stadium. Part riot, part massive street fiesta. Hundreds of street vendors selling beer, food and soccer shirts surrounded the stadium as thousands of flamengo supporters flowed into the ground. Roving packs of chanting fans roamed the streets being dispersed by sword wielding mounted police, people running in every direction as the police fired tear gas to break up the crowd.

Getting into the stadium itself was basically like being in a massive mosh pit, 10000 people all pushing and shoving their way towards a 1m wide gate. Crowd control consisted of riot police manning the barricades swinging their batons with the same adrenalin as I was feeling riding the crowd. Being a guy of above average height who enjoys a mosh I negotiated the crush fairly easily and was the first of my bunch of gringos inside the stadium.

As kick off approached the 80000 or so Flamengo supporters chanted and sung while the goodyear blimp buzzed the stadium doing high speed passes 20m above the roof. The night finished much the same way it started except this time the riot police were chasing the supporters out of the stadium rather than in.

Oh, and the game? Flamengo lost 0-2 with a display an under 15 team would have been embarrassed by.

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