Here, Rio de Janeiro's economic upswing is at its most tangible. The view at its best. Hotel prices are still reasonable, and the party atmosphere is at its hottest. Join the favelas.
If a few years ago you asked the taxi drivers at the entrance to the Vidigal favela if they could drive you up to Arvrão on top of the favela, they would think you were crazy. Arvrão is a large tree where drug cartels used to hang their enemies. Now, almost three years later, the cartels have been disarmed, and the square by the Big Tree has become one of the most popular vantage points in Rio. Tourists are queuing to ride a mototaxi up to the top. I approach one of the taxi boys and ask if he can drive me up.
- It costs 30 kroner, he says. I explain that I am not a tourist, but have lived in Rio for the last 12 years. It does not matter. Those who live in Vidigal pay a tier. Everyone else pays 30 kroner. I hop on the motorcycle and he hands me a helmet. The trip goes up the paved road that turns through the favela with 14,000 inhabitants. In the beginning we see sushi bars, brokerage offices and internet cafes along the streets. Commerce is flourishing. Old dilapidated houses have given way to modern apartments. The economic development in Brazil is most visible in the favelas. As we approach the top, the road becomes narrower and the asphalt is replaced with cobblestones. It feels like you have gotten out into the countryside. The houses are colorful and not as close together. It is quiet, the trees are in bloom and those who live here are walking slowly along the sidewalks. Further up is the new hotel where the upper class tends to hold its infamous parties. The mototaxi drops me off outside, and I walk the last stretch up to Arvrão. The large tree rises in the square, which offers the best views of the beaches of Leblon and Ipanema. A cool breeze blows in, and I understand why tourists go right here. Two Brazilian models from the white, southern part of Rio admire the view. Despite living in Rio for many years, this is the first time they are in a favela.
- I did not think it would be so quiet and calm, says one model and waves away the hair that blows over the face. – I do not understand why I have been so scared before. The blonde models go into a brick building, and I get curious about what’s hiding in there. From the outside, it looks like there is a poor family living here. Inside I find a modern bar that is more reminiscent of the hip Ipanema. The bar Da Laje (From the Roof) is created by one of Rio’s most famous actors and has a magical view. Along the railing, the sofa groups are spread out, and here and there champagne coolers have been set out. The models settle down and are immediately greeted by a bunch of funkeiros, young local hip hop guys. – Welcome to the favel lounge, they say. The most democratic thing about Rio is that the poorest have the best view. The families cannot afford to have their children in private schools, do not have private health insurance or the opportunity to shop at the city’s exclusive shopping centers, but they own the view that the rich want. By going out on the balcony and watching the waves crash against the beaches down there, the families in Vidigal forget about everyday worries. Recently, tourists have also discovered the charm of staying in a favela.