Below are excerpts from a paper submitted by Scottie LaRocco, a first year IMBA student.
“It is hard for me to generate the right words to truly qualify how special the Intersession experience in Rio de Janeiro was for me. Though it may seem that almost a full month is a long time to spend overseas in a foreign country, I knew going into this experience that, to truly experience Rio de Janeiro as I believed I should, I would make many personal sacrifices of both time and comfort, so that I would be able to see the real side of the city. In doing so, I feel a special bond with Rio de Janeiro, and it will, along with the many people I met while there, hold a special place in my heart for as long as my heart continues to beat.”
The Siren’s Song of the Vidigal Favela
“Undoubtedly, the image from Rio de Janeiro that is forever scorched into my retinas is that of the Dois Irmaos peaks that jaggedly spring up from the west of Ipanema Beach. I had seen these mountains for years on postcards and in films, but was completely unprepared for the scope and natural beauty of them. When I was able to get my first, in person, view of the peaks, I noticed what appeared to be a shanty town running up the side. “How could this be?” I thought to myself. This looked like some of the most prime real estate in all of Rio de Janeiro, yet it had a favela (slum) occupying it. Desperate for more information on this perceived anomaly, I began researching the area and learned that it was indeed a favela called Vidigal.
My curiosity for this place only built after watching a Brazilian film called “City of Men,” which told the story of two youths stuck in Vidigal and forced to deal with the inherent gang and drug violence that prevailed in the favela. The film was highlighted by spectacular views of the city from the top of Vidigal. Despite the overall gruesome and frightening violence shown in the film, I was confident that this favela, like many of those surrounding the tourist-heavy locations of Ipanema and Copacabana, had since been pacified, and would most likely be safe to venture in to. On my last day in Rio de Janeiro, I recognized it as my last opportunity to make the possibly dangerous trip into the Vidigal favela.
I was able to convince one of my classmates, Tina D’amore, to at least partially take the journey with me. The first thing that struck me about Vidigal, being that I was more than slightly nervous, was that there actually was not a heavy police presence at all. Rather, we occasionally saw a police car drive by as we winded our way up the main road, heading for the very top in search of a picturesque view of the City. The blue ocean, sandy beaches, white buildings, and emerald peaks that Rio de Janeiro is known for looked as amazing as ever as we caught several great glimpses through the buildings. Additionally, the look, smell, and overall feel of being in a favela is so unique, that I had to fight off the urge to whip out my camera and take pictures (locals tell tourists that despite pacification, it can be seen as very disrespectful to be taking pictures of the favela and its inhabitants). Along the main street in Vidigal, I never felt threatened. Locals seemed to be going about their everyday business and paid us little attention at all.
Tina and I stopped about half way down the main road for a drink at a local bar/restaurant. The owner, a kind old lady, not only was willing to take our pictures, as well as picture of us with her, but also brought out rice and beans (traditional Brazilian fare) that we hadn’t asked for. Upon our departure, she wished us well and gave us both big hugs as we headed back down the road.
I am certainly thrilled that I was able to at last explore the Vidigal favela, and experience both its beauty and charm as we meandered through its winding roads. Had I not taken this opportunity to do so, it would have undoubtedly been my biggest, and possibly only, regret of what was, in totality, and amazing trip.”