I waved down the local public bus just outside my apartment and made the short, 10-minute ride over to the Botafogo neighborhood to experience another one of Rio de Janeiro’s many faces – life in the favelas.
Santa Marta was one of the first Rio de Janeiro favelas to be pacified back in 2008, and continues to be one of the safest in the city.
“Pacification” as it’s called, is the plan by Rio’s government to eliminate the city’s favelas of weapons, drug dealers and gang-controlled operations by establishing special police officers known as UPP (Pacifying Police Unit in English) within each favela to uphold the law and maintain order.
My roommate joined me on the adventure and he knew the area pretty well. He directed me to the tram we needed to take to reach the top of Santa Marta. Without a ride up, it would have been one serious Brazilian butt lift workout climbing all those winding stairs. Maybe that’s the answer ladies : )
The view from the top of Santa Marta was absolutely stunning. You could see everything from Sugarloaf Mountain and Botafogo to Christ the Redeemer, the Lagoon, and Ipanema beach.
If I were a soccer scout, these are the places I would come; small soccer fields deep inside the city. After witnessing the Brazil vs. Germany match, maybe there’s somebody here that could take Hulk or Fred’s spot.
We weaved through the sidewalks and past open doors, taking in all of the sights, sounds and smells of the community.
Around every corner was a new surprise.
Kids ran by kicking makeshift soccer balls as grown men gathered to drink beer wherever there was room. Women hung laundry on rooftops and teenagers played music on their stoops.
Despite the garbage everywhere and most basic of living conditions, the place had a wonderful energy and seemed like everything moved in unison.
We confirmed with both parties that that’s what we were doing and they helped point us in the right direction.
We were in no hurry to go see him, but it seemed like the kids wanted to ensure that we had a purpose for being there. I respected that.
I was happy just wandering through the passageways and soaking up all the surroundings, but with a few more turns and past some barking dogs, we arrived at Michael’s place.
In 1996, MJ came to Rio de Janeiro (and Salvador) to shoot the “They Don’t Really Care About Us” video and he came Santa Marta for many of the video’s shots.
For that, he was forever honored with a life-size bronze statue of himself high above the city.
I plan on visiting more favelas in the coming weeks, but in the meantime, check out this video which gives an awesome first-person look inside a favela in Rio de Janeiro.