I am terrified of heights. I stop breathing. I might start crying. I definitely freeze. Like a proper ramrod, if you were to blow on me in this state, I would just fall off the side of any mountain. But Kamal kept calling this a “hike” and so I was in. With the caveat that the moment I started feeling panic, we would all turn around.
I didn’t. We made it to the top in 45 minutes, and in sweat-soaked everything. I started ringing out my shirt about 25 minutes in. It was already a sweltering day in Rio, with the sun high and proud.
34 minutes to get down the mountain and I was exhilarated.
In order to arrive at the base of the hike, you have to make your way through Favela Do Vidigal on what people here refer to as a “scooter”. What it is is a proper motorcycle. Paolo was my guy.
I was flipping out inside of my head. Not because of the Favela, which didn’t at all at all at all worry me. Luckily, Paolo went super slow and slowed even more on the corners. It was actually fun; I hadn’t been on a motorcycle since high-school.
I don’t know what to tell you about the hike other than it was wonderful. We saw all manner of creatures and insects. Creatures are constantly smashing into, and scurrying through the foliage around you. The trick is to not look too closely lest you see what you don’t want to see. Spiders. Flying things the size of my face.
I mostly kept my mouth closed so nothing would fly in. My red lipstick was perfectly intact when all was said and done.
The view was spectacular, as those of you following on Insta can see both in photos and video.
More interesting to me, however? The Favela. We scooted up, but I really wanted to walk through it so our downward hike (100% what it was because the Favela is on the side of the mountain) was on foot.
At no moment did I feel scared, or threatened, or out of place. The only longer-than-any-other look I got was because people were looking at Cookie Monster, my t-shirt. I can honestly tell you that I would feel comfortable walking through this place after dark – nothing was out of the ordinary and it was bustling with life. Because it is, unlike the richer areas, an actual community.
I am not romanticising or glorifying poverty. I will not diminish from the violence within the favelas. But I also won’t look down my nose on these communities, or demonize them to the point of fearing them.
I have to tell you that walking through Vidigal reminded me of two things – the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, and the more impoverished areas of Occupied Palestine.
The only reason I am not residing in either of these places isn’t because I deserve or am better, but rather because I was born into a different family.
The same holds true for these communities.
Rio de Janeiro | Day 326 | October 22, 2019