Favela World

8 07 2010

As I jump onto the back of Andrew’s motorcycle, the Rio traffic morphs from a mechanism of stress and tried patience, into an exhilarating game of life and death.  I am immediately intrigued and terrified by Andrew’s courage as he weaves in and out of the anti-lanes that compose Rio’s hectic transit.  We arrive at our destination, Rocinha, a favela of roughly 200,000 residents, the largest single favela (slum) in Brazil and possibly anywhere.

A section of the Rocinha Favela with the towering wall of Dois Irmaos Maior above

Rogerio greets us at the Samba School building in the peripheral of the community.  As we enter the favela, I think to myself, this place is no different than the rest of Brazil, then a boy who could not be much older than 16 walks by with a smile from ear to ear and a machine gun around his neck.  The favela world is controlled by drug lords.  The Brazilian police have begun a major program to take control of some of the smaller favelas, but it will be a long time before they have enough power to be able to combat the gang that controls Rocinha.  Meanwhile, Rocinha seems to function, void of police yes, but small businesses are present, electricity, plumbing & other infrastructure is the norm.  There is even a Bob’s fast food chain and a bank within the community.  There is a code of law here.

Rogerio takes us to a motorcycle taxi stand.  We each jump on the back of some random guy’s motorcycle, no helmuts provided, and begin racing up a wildly busy street.  Our drivers begin racing eachother, realizing we are all going to the same place.  My guy wins by cutting between a bus, a van, and a wall of rubble with a couple inches to spare.  I was impressed.

We arrive near the top of the community.  Rogerio shows us his first recommendation of where we could build our climbing school.  It is on a steep, muddy slope and filled with trash.  This location could be excellent, but would need a strong investment for not only the wall but a major shelter to house it, and a major clean up effort.

We decide to walk through the entire favela to get a better feel of it and check out some other locations.  We walk by a location with a small soccer field on the edge of the forest.  This area could be excellent for a wall, as it would affiliate climbing with soccer, a good strategy in Brazil.  We walk further down the hill towards the entrance of the favela and come across a private parking lot.  We discussed the possibility of permanently renting some spots in the back and building the climbing wall in this location.  Several other locations for our wall and school were discussed.

I cannot help but turn my attention towards the massive granite walls rising directly above the poorest part of the community.  How many little kids are staring up at those walls at this same moment, fantasizing about climbing them.  Rocinha’s own Everest.  In Brazil, climbing is seen as an upper class sport.  Rocinha is the perfect location to break these stigmas.

Gradually increasing steepness and difficulty, the walls begin small and gently sloped near the new government funded sports center across the highway from Rocinha.  These easier walls would be the perfect location for a beginner’s crag.  Locals could learn the principals of climbing on these easier walls, and practice and train at our indoor climbing wall and school.  As they increased their skills, they could try themselves at the steep and intimidating routes on the left side.  Old routes from the 60’s and 70’s exist on this wall, but see little to no action in recent times.  The below picture shows some of the potential of the easier cragging options of the area.

The varying difficulty and steepness of the walls above Rocinha. The thought is that these walls will provide diversity in climbing, from easy to super difficult all within the community.

At the end of our visit, I realized its real success was in the connection between Andrew and Rogerio that was so apparent.  I felt more excited than ever leaving Rocinha, even though we had not solidified a place to build our wall as of yet.  Andrew has become my partner in this project.  He is an American climber and well respected in his work teaching photography and video to students in favelas.  Rogerio runs the Rocinha Crossfit program, which provides fitness training without the use of expensive equipment.  He also works for the Dois Irmaos Institute which works with education in Rocinha.  Most importantly, he is a respected member of the community.  It is in these strong connections and partnerships that I believe the Rio Climbing Collaborative will find its strength and success.

If our partnerships are strong, our hearts in the right place, our courage alive, I have no doubt that we will find the ways to make this project a reality.  And there is no doubt that it would be embraced by the community and do wonders for many a young Rocinha youth.

Asa on the bridge going into Rocinha

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