Visual Vagabond

Just because I'm wandering doesn't mean I'm lost.

Be sure to put your feet in the right place, then stand firm.
Abraham Lincoln

Boa Noite: The Pão de Açúcar bondinho (cable car) emerges through the clouds from Morro da Urca.

A Slice of Heaven from the Sugar Loaf: Pão de Açúcar mountain has the best view of Rio hands down. I have trekked nearly all of the peaks in Rio de Janeiro with a view and this blows them all away — quite literally, its windy up there from being situated on a peninsula in the ocean.

Take the path less traveled and hike up the first mountain Morro da Urca. Quite steep right out of the gate, the trail is a quick challenge. It only takes an extra 20-30 minutes and saves you around R$10 by avoiding the first bondinho (cable car) ride. Take the second bondinho from the summit of Morro da Urca, across the gap and up the steep rock face of Pão de Açúcar.

If you arrive just before dusk you’ll be witness to a city and sky that change color like a stressed out chameleon. If that weren’t enough, it is also one of the best views of the iconic Cristo Redentor statue — and much better than the view from it as well.

With a good zoom lens you’ll finally be able to replace that Ansel Adams print on your wall with one of your own.

Great place to live… if you’re deaf. That’s what I’d say about Rio. Lovely and relaxing if you’re deaf.
Karl Pilkington, An Idiot Abroad

Random Rio: Here are some images I couldn’t categorize, yet couldn’t exclude — a collection of photos as random as the city that birthed them. 

Cantagalo Favela: The view of Pavão and Pavãozinho favelas seen from Cantagalo, a neighboring favela in Ipanema. Our guide Pepeto — seen in the beginning — has proudly lived there his entire life.

Favela: Named after a spiny plant that grows on the hillsides of the North East of Brazil — are better known as slums or shanty towns.

In the late 1800’s soldiers returning home from war had no where to go — but up. The hillsides were the only remaining unclaimed land. This is where they chose to build their homes and name it after the local plant. Freed slaves — also with no place to go — increased the numbers of these towns. Legend has it that the popularity of Brazilian soap operas  (novelas) also had a part to play. They depicted a beautiful natural environment and a thriving economy in cities such as Rio de Janeiro and São Paolo. Viewers in the arrid and unemployed North East of Brazil headed south in search of better fortune and thus instigated the second exodus in the 1970-80’s.

As part of our cultural indoctrination, my group and I visited several of these “communidades” (as the locals prefer to call them). With local guides we toured three pacified favelas — meaning they are under UPP (Police Pacification Unit) control and no longer run by drug traffickers or gangs. Our tour included our local favelas Vidigal and Chácara do Céu and another in Ipanema, Cantagalo.

This is where I would like to put stereotypes to rest. Winding corridors and staircases lead you to colorful structures made from ad-hoc materials, stacked on top of one another. The locals — all with large smiles — socialize in the doorways of bars, nail parlors and cafés. Children play soccer and ping-pong after spending the afternoon in schools with internet labs, language centers and lap pools. Satellite dishes adorn rooftops — heaven forbid a local or national game is missed. Clothes lines sew together the patchwork of buildings that inhabit a self-sustaining and proud cultural community.

The favela — although often (and rightly-so) portrayed as destitute and violent — may be one of Brazil’s more endearing attributes.

*Disclaimer: I recommend that any gringo (non-Brazilian) visit these slums only with a local guide and carefully weighs the risks. Even if pacified proceed with caution when entering an area that is prone to violence. Two Germans were attacked and shot in Rocinha, a pacified favela behind our apartment the same day we were visiting another, Vidigal. Use good judgement.

I had to go. It was my last chance to be a boy.
Theodore Roosevelt, concerning his Brazilian expedition.

Life in the Lixão: The shock never wears off at the plight of the people and environment in the most poverty-stricken favela in Rio. The above images are compiled from my three visits, depicting an average day the dump.

Lixão de Gramacho: This panoramic reveals the absolute poverty surrounding the favela at the Jardim Gramacho landfill. Where children innocently play on mounds of refuse in endless fields of waste — and return to their homes constructed of trash — in an ordinary day at the dump.

For Kicks: I’ve just returned from a charitable mission in one of the most poverty-stricken favelas in Rio de Janeiro. As part of the team from Wellspring Trust I returned to the lixão (dump) I had visited this past September. The area better known as Jardim Gramacho is located just miles away from the white sand beaches of Rio.

With our Brazilian partners Marcus and Marianna Liotta we are providing the children of the dump with proper footwear to protect them from the hazards of living in such an environment. While there we listened to the needs of the people, educated them on their local dangers and set in place a distribution system for the 300 pairs of shoes that have been donated to us.

Most importantly we strengthened our relationship with the leaders of the spiritual revival of the dump (just recently designated an Iris Ministries base). Our work continues as part of a long-term effort to break the cycle of poverty through education and provision.

Left to My Own Devices: While my fiancé and her mother sipped champagne and shopped for wedding dresses — I explored Sydney Harbor on my final day in Australia. Touristy and cliché, but for good reason — its amazing. We then finished out the day with our engagement photo shoot with photographer and friend Bec Hannaford.

And thus ends my Australian adventure… for now.

Cultural Differences: Australia has something for everyone…

The Bush(part 2 of 2): My Australian road trip indoctrination checklist:

  • The Big Banana and the Big Prawn: Compensating for something?
  • Koala spotting: No dice, but I did see the animal crossing nets across the Pacific Highway (reduces road killings).
  • Heart burn: I took two years off my life every time we made a pit stop for meat pies and ginger beer. 
  • Cruising in style: Unfortunately our classic 1973 Range Rover didn’t make the trip — apparently it requires an engine to move.
Little by little, one travels far.
J.R.R. Tolkien