......is a very long one. 36 hours long for us actually thanks to cancelled and delayed flights. But we eventually arrived safely - to be met by my brother Matt, his wife Ana, and their children Julia and Luke. I cant tell you how fantastic it was to see him again. He looks so well. And to finally meet Luke, who is the spitting image of him at that age !
We set off for Matts home and immediately hit the first of Rio's shocks - the driving. All Brasillian men think they are Ayrton Senna - so it was fortunate I had my very own Lewis Hamilton to cope with it. Honestly, the driving is scary over there - terrifying most of the time. No rules, traffic lights are ignored. We saw 8 serious accidents during our fortnight there, although one was caused by the driver being shot so I guess that doesnt really count ! Martin was amazing, how he managed to drive under those conditions Ill never know. I was like being in a game of 'Grand Theft Auto'.
Rio is divided into 2 main areas - Zone Sul, where the beaches and all the posh hotels are - and Zone Norte, where most of the favellas (shanty towns) are. Matt lives in Zone Norte. Where 'gringos' are rarely seen and considered very exotic indeed so we sure raised a few eyebrows. He lives in a lovely little area called Grajau, typically south american, with its own square and small park. Its completely safe there due in no part to the presence of an armed policeman 24 hours a day. But go 2 blocks down the road and its a different story. So needless to say we didnt.
Violence is something you live with every day in Rio, even in Zone Sul. There are 40 deaths a day from shootings in the city, some from robberies and some from the drug wars in the favellas. Every house/apartment has bars on its windows, bars on its balconies, high fences around the outside. It does feel as if you are under seige at times. You have to carry 'robbery money' when out - and if challenged just hand it over. Because if you dont, or put up a fight you WILL be shot. The money comes in handy if the police stop you also - they are mostly corrupt and issue 'on the spot fines' which go straight into their back pocket. And they are not averse to shooting people who annoy them either. We heard gunfire on several occassions, in fact on Xmas day when we were sitting in a friends garden (surrounded by 10 foot high wall) our conversation was peppered by automatic fire from a nearby favella.
The above is a picture of a favella, Citade de Deus (City of God) - obviously taken from a distance - you cant go in them, or even close to them. Strangers tend to be shot on sight.
They are basically self build houses, with no electricity (unless hooked up illegally) and no mains services at all. This is real poverty, where people dont eat unless they get the money to each day. The majority of people who live there work, in very poorly paid jobs and its virtually impossible to work your way out of a favella. It is also ofcourse the home of the drug gangs. who run the favellas, and are very scary very bad people indeed. Millions of people in Rio live in these dreadful conditions with no social care at all. The state schools are shut most of the time as the money for the teachers is 'milked off' by corrupt officials (most of the children in favellas have to work anyway) and public health care is very basic, if available at all.
Brasil is incredibly rich in resources, oil and minerals, and yet this wealth is shared by such a tiny segment of the population.
We really dont appreciate how very lucky we are living in the UK.