The day I woke up in a Favela
Where: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
When: September 2010
How bad: 3/5
I had been travelling solo for 4 months when this story took place. I had spent 2 months in Africa and was now into my second month in South America. One of my best friends had flown out to meet me in Rio de Janeiro for a 3 week holiday and to celebrate our 30th Birthdays together. Our plan was to travel along the Brazilian coast all the way to Iguazu falls on the Argentine/Brazilian border.
On our first proper night we had decided to attend the Favela funk party that is organised by all the hostels in Rio. “Lots of single girls” was the sale pitch used by the guy at the hostel that flogged the tickets. WE WERE SOLD!
A Favela is a Brazilian shanty town, usually perched on the side of a hill looking down across a city. These places are not safe, especially for foreigners and are home to the poorest people in the area. Drug gangs run the show and violent clashes with armed police are a regular thing.
A Favela in Rio de Janeiro
The Favela funk party was thankfully not quite as dangerous. Strict security and a VIP area only for foreigners made even the most fearful of souls feel at home. A bus picked us and most of the other guests in the hostel up. We joined the rowdy and packed bus full of tipsy backpackers. You could tell this was going to be a good night. The journey took around 40 minutes to reach the venue and the tour guide gave us one valuable bit of advice. The bus leaves at 4am, if you are not here we go! The area around the venue was best described as chaos. It was called a favela funk party because it was supposed to imitate a traditional favela party and it was also located next to one of Rio’s Favelas. Hundreds of drunk people filled the streets, a mixture of locals and backpackers.
The venue was huge and from what I remember the music was a mix of western pop and Reggaeton. Not really my cup of tea. We decided the best thing to do was to get smashed and seek out some girls. Beers turned into Rum & Cokes which again changed to Vodka & Redbulls. By this stage I think the correct term to describe our state was ‘wasted’. It was time to hit the dance floor. We tried and failed miserably to dance like the locals and the only thing that surpassed our failings was our poor attempt to chat up the local girls. Neither of us knew any Portuguese so we relied on our slightly better Spanglish to impress the ladies. We were failing! A new plan was needed. My friend decided the old ‘nick a girls hat and wear it’ trick was the way forward. It worked. She thought it was funny, and so did here friend. We were in.
Inside the Favela funk party
We danced with them making time for several more trips to the bar for refreshments in between. Soon the night was at an end. The security ushered everyone outside and the chaos was once again upon us. Everyone was piling into their buses and making their way home. Accept for us that is. We were talking with our new ‘friends’. I use the phrase ‘talking’ lightly because it had similarities to a conversation a couple of 2 year old’s would have.
Mixing with the locals
By this stage my memory was hazy at best so I have to recall upon the events as my friend witnessed. Apparently our guide was frantically wandering around looking for 2 English guys that were missing. He found us! “Come on guys, we go. Take their cell number’s and call them tomorrow”. This did not appeal to us and my friend begged the guide to squeeze the 2 girls on the bus with us. “Impossible” was the reply. He eventually got fed up with waiting and the bus disappeared into the darkness.
Our new friends
We were now the only Gringos left and the severity of our situation was numbed by the alcoholic content in our bodies. We were 40 minutes drive from our hostel and we were in a somewhat sketchy place. We went to a bar across the road for another beer we DID N’T need!
The next proper memory I can recall is the next morning. It was like the opening scene from the Hangover movie. As my eyes slowly focused I felt disoriented. Where the hell was I? I did n’t recognize this ceiling. This was n’t my hostel. To my right I saw a girl. I remembered now, I had met her last night. Further to my right I saw a bed. To my left I saw my friend sound a sleep and next to him another girl. It then occurred to me that the reason the surface I was laying on was so hard and cold was because in fact we were actually lying on the floor. I thought this was a strange situation. Why on earth are we sleeping on the floor when there is a perfectly good bed? On closer inspection of the bed I noticed another girl sleeping. Next to her was a small child and next to her was a toddler. This was weird. As I surveyed the room I noticed exposed wiring hanging from the light going direct towards the light switch.
I woke my mate. “where the hell are we?” I asked. “Its bad, real bad” he replied. He began to tell me the full story. The girls felt sorry for us because we missed our ride home so offered to take us in for the night. But the problem was, they did n’t live in a regular house in a regualr neighborhood. They lived in a Favela, and deep inside a Favela. We had walked for 20 minutes or so getting higher and higher up the hill side until we had reached the very top and entered at best a basic looking home.
The view from the window
Our conversation had woken the others in the room. The strangers were all fascinated with us especially the small girl. The toddler started crying and it was nappy changing time. One of the girls said “comida?” I understood this as food. We looked at each other and nodded. They all the left the room locking us in from the outside. We began to discuss how we were going to get out of this mess and considered going out the window and making a run for it. We opened the wooden shutter and were greeted by the immense size of the Favela we were currently housed in. There was a 15 foot drop to the ground, we were well and truly trapped!
The girls returned with juice and hotdogs and now locked the door from the inside. I was surprised further when one of the girls produced a brand new Sony Vaio laptop and logged onto Facebook. How did they afford such things and how the hell did they have WiFi? It became evident why the door was kept locked. A mans voice was heard and the door was knocked. Was this a brother, father or even worse a boyfriend? I think we all agreed it was time for us to leave. The girls waited until the coast was clear and snuck us out through the door. We stayed close to the girls as we walked through the Favela. The locals all looked and starred as we passed by. It was a sketchy feeling. We finally reached the end of the Favela and a normal looking town emerged. the buildings had glass windows! The girls kindly flagged down a taxi for us and told the driver where we needed to go and agreed a price we were happy with. We were finally on our way home.
When I walked in through the hostel, the receptionist asked if I wanted to go on a Favela tour later that afternoon. I laughed and said I have just been. To this day this is still one of my favourite travel stories to tell. Other backpackers always laugh at it. I know we were stupid and extremely lucky to escape unscathed. If it was n’t for the genuineness and kindness of the 2 girls we may have ended up in a real bad situation.
So my advice is, if you go to the Favela funk party,get wasted and meet a girl. Get her number and get on that bus! You may not be as lucky as we were.