Social Encore: Adventures in Brazil, Part 1
BY JERMEL-LYNN QUILLOPO / Special to the Star-Advertiser
Visiting Brazil has been a dream of mine for so long. As much as I tried to prepare myself for this monumental visit, there is nothing that can quite describe the feeling of being in a country I’ve been longing to check off of my bucket list.
I don’t speak any Portuguese, but had a handy book a friend lent me with phrases that helped get me out of a few sticky situations. Since Portuguese sounds similar to Spanish, some people understood the little Spanish I remembered from college. Locals also told me that in preparation for this year’s World Cup, many businesses trained their employees in a foreign language in order to handle the massive crowds that were expected from around the world.
I started my Brazil adventure in the city of Rio De Janerio. From the moment that I watched the movie “City of God,” I knew I had to one day make my way to see the iconic statue of Christ the Redeemer. The portrayal of Jesus Christ is made of reinforced concrete clad and sits at the summit of Mount Corcovado.
It wasn’t until I was standing at the foundation of the 98-foot tall statue’s pedestal that I truly felt like I was in Brazil. It was one of the moments where I sat back and thought about all the conversations I had with friends and family about making my way to see it. It felt good to check this off of my bucket list and I just had to pinch myself when I was up there to make sure it wasn’t a dream.
There are many more things to see in Brazil and one of the more frequented tourist attractions is Sugarloaf Mountain, or in Portuegese, Pão de Açúcar. Two small cable cars bring you to the mountain peak, giving you great landscape and panoramic views of Rio De Janerio. From Ipanema Beach to Dedo De Deus (God’s Finger), I was eager to go from lookout to lookout.
I’m not a very religious person, but there is one church in particular that I wanted to see. The church of the third order of São Francisco de Penitência is a representation of the 17th and 18th centuries, located atop a small hillside with a view of urban Rio De Janerio. After being locked for almost 12 years, the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES) sponsored its restoration.
The church’s impeccable art is literally a gold mine of famous Portuguese’s artists, including carver/sculptor Manuel de Brito, master-sculptor Francisco Xavier de Brito and painter Caetano da Costa Coelho.
I heard so many stories of how dangerous Brazil’s favelas are. Also known as shantytowns or slums, Brazil has over 600 different favelas, and Rocinha is Brazil’s largest with over 300,000 residents who live in homes that sit upon steep and narrow hills.
Rocinha resident Luiza Chavez was kind enough to show me around and share a little history about the neighborhood she grew up in.
The Rocinha favela formed in the early 1900s when workers flocked to the city from the north looking for work. The cost of living in the city and near the beach was too expensive, however, so many built homes illegally in the hills. Those who live in favelas today don’t pay Brazil’s hefty land taxes, Chaves said, which means rent for a room costs between $182-$200 a month.
Even though living in a favela may not seem glamorous, Chaves said some residents make a decent income and would rather build a comfortable home in the favela because their dollars go a long way. She said some residents have swimming pools and barbeque decks, with prices ranging around $200,000 versus a similar home near Copacabana and the surrounding beachside that goes for $500,000 or more.
Walk around Rio and art can be seen everywhere, from building walls to neighborhood stoops. Rio is full of vibrant colors, and one particular set of uphill concrete stairs is famous for its lively use of color. The Escadaria Selaron, or Selarón Stairs, is the work of Chilean artist Jorge Selarón that started out as a side project outside of his home in Lapa, one of the most well known party districts of Rio. The stairs eventually turned into a physical tribute to the Brazilian people and culture he loved so much.
For over 20 years the artist kept adding to this massive art piece, covering over 250 steps and creating one of Rio’s well-known landmarks. Sadly, he died on the very steps of the masterpiece that he dedicated his life to creating. Standing on those very steps and looking at some of the tiles he was given by people from around the world resonated with me. The landmark stands as a reminder of how art can connect people from all different walks of life.
Rio’s Ipanema beachfront gently greeted me every morning with therapeutic sounds, and even though the country is slowing transitioning into it’s winter season, the sun was surely gracious enough to shine and keep me warm. Rio was a cool city to start my visit, but since Brazil is such a huge country I was curious to see what else I could get into.
Stay tuned over the next few weeks as I bring you more of what Brazil had to offer during my trip!
Jermel-Lynn Quillopo is a multi-faceted, energetic individual with experience in both print and broadcast journalism. “Social Encore” aims to tell diverse stories about Hawaii’s food, events and people; share your tips with Jermel via email or follow her on Twitter.