Favela Funk Party — Getting Down in the Ghetto

Jackie Steves is guest-hosting her Dad’s blog with 17 posts in 17 days. Follow the adventures of Andy and Jackie Steves as they ‘ the first Steves to venture into South America ‘ report on their experience.

We will miss this colorful, spirited city.

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Our last full day south of the equator was bright and clear. Cramming all of Rio’s important sights into the space of two days paid off by affording us a leisurely day. We metroed to the Hippie Fair in Ipanema. All the things I wanted to take home with me were too big to carry: a hammock, big bright painted murals of the favelas with jazzed-up colors, and intricate wooden chairs.

We bused it down the coast a bit to Posto 9, perhaps the most famous stretch of beach in the world. This was right by the bar where “The Girl from Ipanema” had been seen and written. The sand around it was carpeted in towels and beach chairs. I wondered out loud why people would come here if they had the option of less crowded beaches. Andy astutely pointed out, “It’s all about seeing and being seen.” Yes indeed, women showed off their tanned assets in itsy-bitsy thong bikinis. Men showed off their football-toned bodies in little Speedos many American men wouldn’t be caught dead in.

We walked along the water’s edge checking it out. We had our sights set on Leblon Beach, just south of Ipanema, quieter as well as very nice, in an upscale neighborhood.

The clouds cut our beach time a bit short, and we walked the several miles all the way back to our hostel enjoying a mild temperature and the promenade running all the way along the beach bustling with active locals.

We had grown to love small hole-in-the-wall restaurants here that serve simple fare of meat, rice, French fries, the occasional pizza, and big bottles of local beer.

We had heard quite a few hostel friends rave about the fun they’d had at the “Favela Funk Party.” We were very speculative at first. Going to a party in the slums? Gruesomely violent images from the film City of God surfaced in my imagination. Our friends would reassure us about safety and how the facilitating company totally takes care of you. If it’s safe enough for them to run, and tons of tourists partake without trouble, then it must be safe. So we paid our 30 dollars for a ride on what we decided would surely make for a memorable cultural experience.

They corralled us all into a big van. I agreed with Andy that it felt like a hen (English bachelorette) party with the majority of passengers excited, talkative British girls. The only exceptions were two very nice Brazilian cousins from south of São Paulo. The guy running the service clearly got a kick out of shuttling gringos to favelas because he gave us a sarcastically ominous pep talk and issued a spat of semi-serious rules. About 20 minutes into the ride, as we entered what looked like the favelas, all the loud high-pitched British voices were suddenly dampened.

They unloaded us right in front of the club, and I felt like we were a young naïve school of fishes in a scary sea of young people we didn’t know what to think of or how to act around. We entered the big warehouse of a club and a headed immediately for the VIP area upstairs that we gringos had special access to. When Andy wanted a drink we had to first go buy a drink ticket from the vendor person who sat behind protective glass. It was by no means a full bar, just a few basic options.

We took on the dance floor with a bit of trepidation. Soon it felt just like any other club, except that our white faces stuck out a bit and the local guys were shirtless. For several songs lines of these shirtless guys danced a choreographed line dance. Hip-hop/line dancing is definitely something I haven’t seen before. They were good! And fast!

We ran into our favorite Ilha Grande girlfriends again! Again, small backpackers world! By 2 or 3 am the fabulously flamboyant MC invited about a dozen people on stage for a dance-off. They really know how to shake it. By 5 am I was so danced-out I slept the whole van ride home.

The next day, during our last few hours, we strove to soak up as many final Rio sun rays as possible. Today, Copacabana (our own neighborhood) beach. This time we knew how to get our hands on the beach chairs, how to order my new favorite açai smoothie at a corner juice stand, how to stand our ground in the aggressive undertow of the surf, and how to pay a cheap price for a beautiful lunch at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant where all the neighborhood’s grandpas like to hang out having beers all times of day. It finally felt like we knew how to work this city, and now we had to leave. But I plan to stow away these insights because I definitely want to return to my new favorite city, the lovely Rio de Janeiro.