Saturday, February 19, 2011


For the second time I have the privilege to get words from my good friend Don, my good friend in Illinois...Well, it is one more Brazil's Lover and one more person that holds Rio in the heart and his reviews about his wonderful experiences in Rio deserves much more than your attention.

We explored Rio together but I had the precious help of Vanessa, my great friend which I consider my sister. She is a Brazilianist and we are very fortunated to welcome Vanessa every year.

DON'S WORDS ABOUT HIS DAY WITH MY GUIDE VANESSA - "Besides my wonderful experiences with Rafa for two days of Rio exploring, I also had the great fortune to be shown Rio's Centro by Rafa's good friend, Vanessa Portela. Not only did she and I visit the sights, including the fun shopping area Saara, a small district of narrow streets with shops selling everything from beach wear to Carnaval costumes, but also attended a samba school rehearsal, a real highlight. In Saara, the costume shops were amazing with a wide variety of colorful outfits available for men and women. Among other places, we saw St. Benedict's Monastery, the Cathedral (where we were treated to an impromptu organ recital), Teatro Municipal, the Old Imperial Palace and the former Supreme Court of Brazil building, now a cultural center with an ornately restored courtroom and art exhibition space. As a lawyer, I particularly enjoyed seeing where lawyers presented their cases to the highest court in the land before the capital was moved to Brasilia in 1960. We broke for a late afternoon lunch in a district which reminded me of the French Quarter in New Orleans at a local spot called Pilao de Pedre. Had a great black bean dish, sushi and rice in a typical Brazilian cafe/restaurant. We finished our tour at a terrific music store. I wanted to buy some CDs of Brazilian music for family and some friends and she told me where an excellent store was located. It had a great selection and she assisted me in choosing some great CDs.

Because I had expressed an interest in seeing a rehearsal of one of the samba schools as they prepared for Carnaval, Rafa and Vanessa suggested that I attend the rehearsal for the Sao Clemente samba school, which happened to have a rehearsal scheduled for that very evening. Also, its quadra (rehearsal court) was very conveniently located, just off a Rio Metro stop. Because I was a first time visitor with no Portuguese at my command, I asked Vanessa to accompany me. We had a great time. Vanessa, who is Canadian, speaks Portuguese well and is a great lover of all things Rio, but especially it music. She is an accomplished music lover and is hoping, if possible, to participate as a tambourine player with one of the samba schools in the Sambodrome next month during Carnaval. We arrived at the rehearsal court at about 8:30PM and promptly put our ear plugs in place (Vanessa provided them) and it was then almost three hours of great music and people watching for me. Vanessa brought her tambourine and was welcomed to participate in the rehearsal. It was a very local scene with people of all ages, shapes and sizes enjoying the evening. The Sao Clemente school is particularly excited because 2011 is the first year in many years in which it will be parading in the main group of twelve at the Sambodrome because they won tfirst prize in the Access Group parade last year. The samba schools compete to be among the select twelve each year. They want to have the best "team" possible so each samba school has in essence a competition each year for people to participate as dancers or musicians. Making the team is much like making a sports team where people are vying for the few available coveted spots on the team. My visit to the samba school rehearsal was a real highlight and I highly recommend it to every visitor to Rio during the Carnaval season.

Because I had almost one more day in Rio before my flight left in the evening, I asked Rafa and Vanessa if it might be possible to visit a favela. Vanessa arranged a tour for me of the Rocinha favela led by Rocinha native, Zezinho, who speaks American accented English acquired during the fifteen years he lived in California. I have visited poor communities in many parts of the world, including India and South Africa, and was interested in what life is like in the many favelas and poor communities which make up a significant part of the population of Brazil's major cities, including Rio. The favelas are controlled by the drug gangs and movies have been made about life in them with "City of God" and its violent portrayal a particular example. Yet, people live there and they are communities in many ways like any other with efforts to make life as good as it can be and to provide educational and other opportunities. Rocinha may not be a typical favela because it is relatively close to central Rio, is in a very scenic setting and has been the focus of NGO and volunteer activity for many years. Most recently, the Brazilian government has been investing in creating new housing in Rocihna and the new apartment blocks are colorful and quite attractive looking. In any case, my three plus hours in Rocinha with Vanessa and Zezinho gave me a good sense of the community life there. Services, such as banks, internet, satellite and cable TV and municipal bus service are available. The little homes in many cases appeared well furnished, but many Rocinha residents have no address because they live on narrow, winding alleyways that have developed as the small concrete block apartments have gone up over the years on every available piece of land. To receive mail, these residents make an arrangement with those people living on the two or three narrow main roads or streets, which have addresses, to use their addresses to receive mail. In front of many of the little stores or shops on the street are boxes with hundreds of envelopes neatly divided for people to pick up their mail. Essentially, these shopkeepers act as an informal post office. Efforts are being made to improve education, but still, like children in inner city neighborhoods around the world the youngsters in Rocinha in many, if not most, cases are far behind in math and language training. Again, efforts are being made to address those issues. During the entire time with Zezinho, I felt completely safe because I was with someone from the community who is known to everyone and is working to provide opportunities for people to see and appreciate his community and to help local artists and shop owners. I would definitely recommend a visit to Rocinha with Vanessa and Zezinho.

Finally, before heading to the airport, Vanessa took me to the Botanical Garden of Rio. Here we saw a huge collection of plants of all possible varieties. The garden is a quiet, relaxing place which seems to be miles from the bustle of Rio's traffic, but is in fact in one of Rio's neighborhoods. It was a good spot to end my exciting, fun and educational four days in Rio.

I highly recommend Vanessa as a tour guide. She is very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about Rio, speaks perfect English obviously, and was very flexible in creating a tour which was crafted to meet my particular interests. She is also simply enjoyable to be with."

Many thanks to Vanessa who strived hard to provide happiness to all guests; many thanks to Zezinho who gives a wonderful human touch in one of the biggest poor communities of Rio which the word POOR does not fit in the context...ROCINHA IS RICH IN CULTURE AND PEOPLE'S BEAUTY. Zezinho has the power to make it possible and make Rocinha one of the most fascinating places in Rio to visit.
Thank you both for such a fantastic job!!!!!!
Rafael Torres Lopes
Tour Guide and Travel Planner

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i made a tour with zezinho 3 years ago, awesome experience in the favela....your blog is great rafa..keep up the good work..i heard about you and zezinho through trip advisor, a great resource.

jason rameiri
new york city