JOE Backpacking Diary #22 - My experience entering one of Rio's famous Favelas 6 years ago

JOE Backpacking Diary #22 - My experience entering one of Rio's famous Favelas

The end of the Olympics, Conor McGregor's fight, finding one of the best views in the world, an amazing favela tour and the beauty of Copacabana.

My name is Joe Harrington; I'm travelling through Central and South America for eight months, here's what happened on week 21.


Rio De Janeiro, Brazil (continued)

Last Saturday was a huge day in Rio because the Brazilian football team were going for gold.

A lot of people dismiss the importance of football at the Olympic, but good luck having that argument with a local. It was their biggest event of the games.

I didn't have a ticket for the match, they were like gold dust, but myself and an Antrim guy Kevin said we'd go to the Maracana to see if we could pick up some at the stadium.


The atmosphere out there was electric with 70,000 people making their way to the game. You could cut the tension with a knife because it was win-or-bust for this team.

The opposition were Germany, the country that humiliated them in the World Cup two years ago, so that added even more pressure to the occasion.

We didn't manage to get tickets in the end which was disappointing. We were offered a few at eight times their value but we didn't want to go that badly.

Myself and Kevin hopped on a train back to Flamengo and watched it in a bar packed to the door with locals.


The eruption of noise when Neymar scored the winning penalty was amazing, the people lost it and emotions were high with tears flowing left, right and centre.

That set up the evening nicely, the next job was to figure out a location to watch Conor McGregor v Nate Diaz at UFC 202.


After a bit of back-and-forth in the #IrishInRio WhatsApp group, we all decided to meet at the Irish bar under the arches in Lapa.

It was perfect. An easy-to-find location, a good bar with a lot of screens and Irish people everywhere.

What. A. War.

The tension of the Brazilian football fans was transfered to all of us watching that fight. It was unbelievable.

Here's the reaction when McGregor's hand was raised in victory.



MMA is huge in Brazil and we spoke to a lot of locals about McGregor after the fight. They don't like him because of the Jose Aldo shenanigans, but they respect him as a fighter.

Aldo is a God in Rio. His gym is in Flamengo is directly across the street from where I was staying there and the people I spoke to who know him say he's a complete gent. I hope I'll get to meet him before I leave Rio.

A crazy thing happened after the McGregor fight. We went back on the street and it was raining so everyone huddled close together under the arches.

We were all having a drink, when suddenly the back of my throat completely dried up, I started sneezing uncontrollably and my eyes started watering.

I looked around and the same thing was happening to the entire Irish crew; Ali, Niamh, Niall, Tom, John, Eoin and Jamie.

We ran a few metres from the area and managed to get back to normal after a minute, but we were all wondering "WTF?"

A local guy told us that it's a powder thieves throw in the air before they rob people. The victim breathes it in and get so distracted that they can be easily pick-pocketed.

Thankfully we all still had our wallets and phones, sneaky bastards though.

Sunday was the final day of Rio 2016, I couldn't believe it was over, the three weeks zipped by at a ferocious pace.

The weather was pretty crap so that muted the atmosphere around the city. Although, to be honest, I think a lot of people were happy the circus was pulling out of town.

I watched the closing ceremony in a restaurant in Flamengo and it was a nice way to wind it all down. I have to say seeing Gary O'Donovan carry the flag was brilliant too, a real breakout star of the games.

I woke up on Monday morning and decided to work on my Portuguese. I need to improve it because I'm awful.

The language has really frustrated me in the last few weeks because I had a decent grasp of Spanish before I got here, and while there are similarities, it's completely different.

I've resorted to watching Portuguese cartoons, YouTube language tutorials and downloading Portuguese apps.

So far, so bad.

When I came to the internet cafe tonight to write this blog I tried to communicate in Portuguese. The guy working here rolled his eyes and said, "Can you please just speak English?" in perfect English. Ok.

I'm back in travel mode now and the first touristy thing I checked out here was the Sugarloaf Mountain.

I was really lucky that the entrance to the cable cars that take you up the mountain was only a 30 minute walk from my Air BnB.

I strolled along Botafogo beach and down the pier to Urca where you get the cable cars.


Cable Car to the Sugarloaf

The trip up consists of two cable cars, it took me 15 minutes overall and it cost €20.

Here's the view of Copacabana from the top.

Ivan, the man I'm renting the Air BnB from, said the view from the top of the Sugarloaf is the best in Rio. It's hard to disagree.

It's up there with the most beautiful places I've been on my trip; San Blas Islands, Punta Gallinas, Huaraz, Salento, Antigua and Bocas Del Toro.


The food in Rio has been a bit of a disappointment to be honest. The staple traditional dishes are basically meat with rice, beans and chips. There isn't a vegetable in sight which can get a bit frustrating at times.

There are loads of buffet-style restaurants where the cost depends on the weight, a few of them have been decent.

They also love savoury snacks so you'll find a lot of amazing bakeries and shops selling pastries filled with ham, cheese, chicken or something sweet.

The best thing I've had here is a thing called Suco Caju, it's cashew apple juice. I've drank litres of it, and I plan on drinking gallons.

I'm still figuring out the city and I've had a few recommendations for good places so I'm going to eat and eat and eat until I find something worth reporting back on. I know, I'm a real hero.

I had a really interesting day on Thursday when I visited the local favela behind Botafogo called Santa Marta.

A favela, as you probably know, is the name for the slums in Rio that climb the hills around the city.

My guide was Guilherme from Rio4Fun who I was introduced to by a guy called James who I randomly met on my flight from Lima to Rio.

James runs a company called Tours Latin America and he sorted the whole thing out for me.

Guilherme is a super-cool guy and is well-known in the community which put me right at ease.

First thing, get the tram to the top of the favela.


You wouldn't believe how tight space is up there, it's made up of houses and dozens of weaving pathways with a number of play areas and small squares scattered throughout.

Guilherme told me 30,000 people live in the favela which is now pacified, that means the drug gangs no longer control it, but there's still a small element active.

I spotted the letters 'CV' spray-painted on the walls, it stands for Comando Vermelho who are one of the most notorious criminal gangs in Rio.


CV, the abbreviation of Comando Vermelho, which are one of Rio's biggest criminal gangs

A fun fact about Santa Marta is that it's where Michael Jackon filmed the video for his song They Don't Care About Us.

Jacko and director Spike Lee filmed part of the video in Rio and part of it in Salvador.

The area they filmed in Santa Marta is now called Michael Jackson Square, there's a bronze bust of the King of Pop there to remember it.


If you want to watch the video, click here.

Like all of my experiences in Latin America countries, the kids in these areas have an unbelievable sense of positivity and fun.

The most popular game in Santa Marta is football, but a lot of the kids also love flying kites.

It's fairly competitive kite-flying though because they attach a piece of glass to the bottom and try and cut the thread of each others kites.

Guilherme walked and talked my through the favela for three hours showing me the best restaurants, the best views and he also introduced me to some of the famous locals like Gilson.

Gilson (below) is a guide in Santa Marta but he's also involved in an organisation called Favela Scene that helps kids in the community. A great guy.


As we approached the bottom of the hill Guilherme took me to the most colourful part of Santa Marta.

The paint company Coral started an initative to rejuvenate the buildings in the area and they did a great job. It really adds to the already vibrant feel of the place.


The experience was fascinating and you'll find out more about the place when we release our mini-documentary on in a few weeks.

I always feel a bit weird about nosing around people's lives as a tourist, but it felt more comfortable with Guilherme because we ate lunch, bought drinks, engaged with the locals and showed respect.

I'd highly recommend a visit there if you're in Rio.

Yesterday was a beach day, I haven't had one since I've been here which is borderline criminal considering where I am.

Copacabana is one of the most beautiful beaches in the world so I walked it from one end to the other to take it all in.


Copacabana Beach in Rio

It has white sand, nice water, cheap drinks, music, football, volleyball and it's filled with the most beautiful people you'll see anywhere in the world.

I've noticed that Brazilian people aren't shy, they have confidence and they show it, be it on the beach, in the club, on the street. They exude it.

My new apartment is one block from Copacabana so I hope to get down there a few times over the next few weeks, not a bad plan.

If you've any tips on Rio, please get in contact with me on Twitter or Instagram. My username on both is: @ImJoeHarrington.


I'll be in Rio for the Paralympics in September to if you know any families or friends of the athletes or anyone that will be in Rio at that time, tell them to get in touch.

Read about my trip through Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Rio by clicking here.