Tag Archives: Rio

The Dona Marta Favela Trip

Each day our students will blog about some of their experiences on the Brazil Travel Course.  Our entry for Wednesday, 1/25 comes from Ondrej Skorpil.

Dona Marta Favela
It was impossible to skip a trip to a favela after seeing the City of Men film. Doug Tuggle, Tamara Stone, Kim Bowman, Petr Vostry and I signed up for the trip on Wednesday, i.e. our departure date. Although our tour guide Pablo warned us that the Jeep might not arrive on time, it actually did. We received a warm welcome by Linda, a true Carioca and – as it turned out pretty soon – the Jeep’s GPS navigation.

Along with us went an elderly Finnish couple and a young German couple. Their English, much to my surprise, was rather limited, so the entire conversation took place between us Chapman folks and our Carioca guide, Linda. Even before reaching the Dona Marta (also known as Santa Marta) favela, we learned a lot about the Brazilian nature from this elderly, charming, talkative and open woman. For example, while Brazilians love soccer, they are virtually unfamiliar with ice hockey. Much like other Latin Americans, Brazilians keep postponing the delivery of particular projects till the ultimate deadline, or perhaps a tiny little bit past the deadline. So while FIFA bosses are beginning to be slightly nervous about Rio’s unpreparedness for the 2014 world cup, the Cariocas are quite positive that things will somehow get accomplished in the end. Asked to explain the true meaning of the word Carioca, Linda happily answered that a Carioca is any person – man or woman – who is living a Rio life. Such a person might be American, Irish or Czech by origin, but if he or she moves to Rio de Janeiro and starts living by the Rio rules, he or she automatically becomes a Carioca. One practical piece of advice from Linda: should you wish to become a true Carioca, never stop at the red light after 9 p.m.!

After about a thirty-minute drive we finally reached the Dona Marta favela. Dona Marta had been “pacified” by the government of Brazil years ago, and was thus perfectly safe for us to walk through. The “pacification” process, we learned, is a fairly tough one. The government basically starts by sending in the army with tanks and soldiers equipped with automatic weapons to clean the favela from drug lords and mafia bosses. Subsequently it installs a police peace corps station within the favela to maintain the law and order on a permanent basis. Earlier attempts to solve the favela problem included the government tearing down three entire favelas and moving their inhabitants to the so-called City of God. This approach, however, brought about serious problems because the favelados did not have enough job opportunities in or near the city and both inbound and outbound transportation was extremely poor.

In Dona Marta we saw smiling, happy favelados living in poor conditions as measured by western standards. All children we have seen were perfectly clean and dressed in modern cloths. (One can have serious doubts if their Nike and Adidas t-shirts were really manufactured by the respective companies, but then – the “Rolex” watches I was offered on a downtown New York City street several weeks ago were apparent fakes too, and no one seemed to care about it too much.)

After a while, we reached the terrace where Michael Jackson shot his famous They Don’t Care About Us video clip in 1996. A gentleman who was showing us the clip in a nearby store was visibly proud each time his favela appeared in the video. No wonder Michael’s statue occupies an honorable space on the terrace and apparently is a popular meeting point for favelados as well as visitors.

People of Dona Marta do not own the land, but they did get an official title to their once illegally built houses. This presents a key advantage for them because houses can nowadays be freely sold and bought. This is practically demonstrated by favelados selling their rooftops to people who build an extra storey atop the current structure.

We were interested to know if a favela inhabitant is likely to move out to a better house when he or she gets a well-paying job that moves him or her to the middle class. Linda explained that this happens very rarely because favelados typically create very strong ties with their neighbors or other family members living in the same favela. Unless the whole family or clan could move out to a better place, an individual would not break his or her relationships and would in most cases opt to stay in the favela with his or her significant others.

The trip to Dona Marta was a wonderful and unique experience of Rio right before heading back to California. As far as I am concerned, a favela trip is a must-see for everyone who wishes to discover Rio de Janeiro off the beaten track.

Post Scriptum

In the evening we were literally appalled by the extremely low quality of the Rio de Janeiro Galeão-Antonio Carlos Jobim International Airport. An outdated facility in an apparent need of a major refurbishment is not something one would expect in a city of 6.3 million people that should be getting ready to host the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics. No English speaking staff at the kiosks and very rude sales clerks only underlined our overall negative impression. Hours later we found out about two high-rises in downtown Rio collapsing causing at least four people to die while two dozen were still missing. Rio is, without a doubt, a breath-taking city. However, it still has to take a long journey to transform itself into a truly vibrant metropolis that is safe and enjoyable for everyone and capable of hosting first-class international events.

– Ondrej


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A Brazilian Sunday

Each day our students will blog about some of their experiences on the Brazil Travel Course.  Our first entry for Sunday, 1/22 comes from Rob Ruiz.

Sunday in Rio

Sunday = leisure. Sunday, in Rio de Janeiro, in the Summer, on a 90 degree day … now that’s a whole different kind of leisure.

For the first time on our trip I was able to sleep in a bit – until about 10 am – much needed after enjoying the incredible Rio Scenarium bar until about 4 am the night before!  Since a handful of my other classmates started their days bright and early paragliding / hang gliding, I had the opportunity to spend a portion of the day on my own to try and immerse myself in to Rio and it’s beach culture. With that in mind, I figured I had to make sure to do a few “local” things.

1. Walk – Everyone here walks.
2. Start the day off right with a fresh coconut juice – This happens to be a really effective way to cure “dehydration.”
3. Check out some local beach sports – Volleyball, Foot Volleyball, Sand Futbol, etc.

So, with that in mind, I headed towards the part of the beach that our tour guide, Pablo, had mentioned was where the best foot volleyball is played. On Sundays, the city closes the main street near the beach for pedestrians, cyclists and others to use. So there I was, leisurely strolling along the beach, in the middle lane of the street, with a coconut in hand watching some crazy foot volleyball at 11 am. Awesome.

Along the Beach

My feet then led me further down the beach and ultimately a bit inland to the “Hippie Market” where I was able to find some souvenirs for folks back home and engage in some healthy bartering with the vendors.  Between my Spanish and some key Brazilian hand gestures that I’ve picked up the last week, I was able to score a couple of deals.

Eventually, I ran into a classmate of mine and we headed back to our hotel, walking some more and taking our time to stop and try some more local food and drinks. It was great, and I really enjoyed seeing the people of Rio enjoy a summer day as only they can.

– Rob

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Tamara’s Take

Each day our students will blog about some of their experiences on the Brazil Travel Course.  Our second entry for Friday, 1/20 comes from Tamara Stone.


Today was an early start for us as it was our transfer day from Sao Paulo to Rio de Janeiro.  On our way we had a corporate visit at BASF – The Chemical Company in Guaratingueta. Our presenter was Willi Nass, who is the Vice President at this site.  BASF was founded in 1865 and is headquartered in Germany; their market segments include chemicals, plastics, functional solutions, performance products, agricultural and oil & gas.  One of their products is the blue jean pigment that is used by many jean companies.  Their customers include Natura, who we visited yesterday and they also work with UNICA another previous visit.  In their presentation, BASF talked a lot about sustainability, such as collection of used fertilizer packages so that they could dispose of them properly.  BASF owns 382 hectares of land that the plant sits upon, but BASF has turned 188 of those hectares into a reforestation and preservation project.

Mr. Nass also talked about the new strategy for 2012 and beyond:  “We create chemistry”.  The macroeconomics that they see as driving their strategy are the growing & aging population, urbanization, climate protection and globalization & emerging markets.  All in all the presentation was very informative.  Afterwards we took a tour in our bus of the facility and we saw the holding pools, chemical plants and other areas.  The chemist who gave us the tour told us that they meet with the community once a month to talk about and assure them of the safety of the plant, which reminded me of the movie Erin Brockovich.

Group Photo BASF
From there we continued our journey to Rio.  About an hour later we stopped at a truck stop to have a buffet lunch that included many different Brazilian items.  After another three hours or so we were driving by Christ the Redeemer and pulling up to our hotel on the beach in Leblon.  After a quick clean up we headed out in groups to explore the area and find food on the surrounding streets.  My group ended up at Casa Clipper a local hang out with cheap local food.  All in all a good first night in Rio.

– Tamara

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Adeus San Paolo, Olá Rio

Each day our students will blog about some of their experiences on the Brazil Travel Course.  Our entry for Friday, 1/20 comes from Kim Bowman.

On our last morning in San Paulo, we woke before sunrise to board a bus for our drive to Rio de Janeiro and a corporate visit at BASF.  After a 3-hour drive, we arrived at the BASF facility in Guaratingueta, which was approximately half way between Sao Paulo and Rio.  BASF, a chemical company headquartered in Germany, produces chemicals used in 8,000 different products ranging from bio-diesel, paints, textiles, paper, plastics, and agricultural products.  Willi Ness, Vice President of BASF, spoke to us about the company and its operations in South America.  The presentation emphasized the company’s focus on innovation driven by sustainability. The future strategy for BASF identified “megatrends” in the macro-environment, and how chemistry could be used as an enabler for materials and solutions.

View from the drive
After the presentation, we hopped back in the bus for a tour of the expansive facility.  It is the largest of its kind in South America.  Once our visit was over, we were back on our journey to Rio, driving through beautiful green land with rolling hills in the background. When we finally reached Rio after another 4 to 5 hours of driving, the scenery suddenly changed.

We can see the beach
Rio was different than Sao Paulo and the rest of Brazil. Seeing the beach for the first time was very exciting, and when we stopped at our hotel right in front of Leblon Beach, we all knew Rio was going to be a memorable part of our trip.


– Kim

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