Category Archives: Brazil

Rio’s Police Have the Good Shit

We made it! Safe,  exhausted and excited, we are no longer floating thousands of miles in the sky, waiting for the captain to land. We are now living within the creature they call, the Cidade Maravilhosa (Marvelous city). It’s hard to say what makes the city so marvelous. It is an incredible combination of the people, the geography, the climate, the architecture, the festivals, the list can go on forever. At the top of this list would be something I will never forget; the first impression that our host, Patrick Granja, made upon us when we first arrived on his doorstep. Patrick is a remarkable person who’s deeply involved with fighting corruption and documenting the brutal tactics that the police force have been using on the poorest people here in Rio. His passion, it would seem is to give a voice to those who are beaten down into silence, to put a name with the unidentified bodies that are left in the streets after police “pacify” a favela.  He found the time in his busy schedule to give us a ride to Copacabana, and I am so glad he did. It turned to be a ride I will always remember.

We started out in his hatchback from Maracana Stadium and drove through the district of Lapa.  Outside of Maracana Stadium, Patrick told us of his memories going to the old stadium, before it was remodeled for the World Cup. How the seats were packed with the local people, and the tickets were affordable enough, even for the poorest of families. Where they sat didn’t matter, it was the love of the game that brought everyone together. I found it strange then, that most of the graffiti in Rio didn’t depict a love of the upcoming World Cup, rather, they expressed a clear discontent about the event. When I brought it up to Patrick, he wasn’t surprised, instead he was in agreement. The resentment to the World Cup had nothing to do with soccer, or any lack of love for the sport. This is a country that worships its players, they put people like Pele next to god in their hearts.

It was the elite police forces that had been assembled from all over Brazil, and were going around Rio to stomp out criminal activity that was making the locals give up on their love for soccer. In a massive effort to make the city safer for the huge influx of tourists who will be making their to Rio in less than a week, the Government has started to “pacify” the most dangerous parts of the city by sending in their most highly trained squads of riot police to root out the criminals they believe will harm the image of the city. This makes things tough for the people who live in those neighborhoods and aren’t participating in any criminal activity.

The people have started protesting intensely, and the police have responded with brute force, firing live rounds into protests, beating anyone who doesn’t stand down, and violently punishing anyone who publishes material that incriminates them.  Patrick and his crew are literally on the front line, laying down their lives to try and get attention to the subject. In spite of the danger he lives in, he still had a sense of humor. There is a joke, according to Patrick, regarding the tools that this new police force uses. Before the riot police began turning protests into warzones, the local police force was using expired tear gas to disperse the crowds. Tear gas becomes very dangerous once it passes it’s expiration date, and the effects of it can cause far worse symptoms than it usually would, in some cases, it can kill.  According to Patrick, when the new Federal police force came in with their tear gas, he noticed that they weren’t affected by it. He joked with his friends that only the local police had “the good shit” or the expired and lethal tear gas that they had grown accustomed to. He did say that one perk of the newer gas was that while protesting, he and his friends noticed feeling a little high, a welcome relief in the midst of flash bangs and bullets raining over them. It must have been the effects of the new tear gas that inspired him, but while we were sitting in traffic, surrounded by cars, motorcycles and people all weaving in and around one another,

Patrick decided to share his stock of Paraguayan Ganja. I sat next to him in the passenger seat, a bit nervous about smoking it because of a police car that was right in front of us. This, he told us, was no problem. The police don’t care about marijuana in Rio, because they don’t make any money off it anymore.  New legislation requires police who catch you with it to bring you into the station, confiscate your Lambsbread and have you sign a form that states that you will no longer use the substance. Prior to this law, the Police would take your sweet, sweet, cheba, throw it away, then threaten you with jail time, or worse, if you didn’t grease the wheels for them with some cash.  Now, they have nothing to blackmail people with, and no means of making money, so why bother with arresting anyone? Corruption in this city sometimes works out in our favor.

Patrick was in the middle of telling us stories of injuries he suffered over years of filming protests when he noticed that the traffic on the way to Copacabana was intensifying, a sign he took to mean that the tunnel that would take us there had been shut down due to a protest put on by the local teachers. He dropped us off nearby and hurried over to film what he could of the protest. Suddenly it was real. We were in the city, surrounded by the sounds of Rio dancing around us, like an orchestra composed of Rio’s urban musicians, from cars honking indiscriminately to, engines struggling to propel their cargo another mile, coughing and hacking their way through winding streets, all with the unique musical sound of Brazilian Portuguese flowing in the background.  This is an enchanted land, as old as it is beautiful, as lovely as the people who live and work on it’s wonderful landscape.

We finally sat on the beach of Copacabana, our heads filled with stories of corruption and brutality, our eyes lost on the perfect white sands and warm waters of Rio de Janheiro;  a paradise surrounded with colossal mountains that break the clouds. My eyes were transfixed upon Cristo Redentor, as he stands atop the highest peak overlooking the city. The ruler of a utopia, and the witness to a purgatory all at once, his arms outstretched as the winds drive painful memories into the past, and bring with them hope that this land can forever remain what it was meant to be: Paradise.

Kicking it in Zona Norte

THE HOUSE

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After only 24 hours of living in our new pad in Rio’s Zona Norte it was already abundantly clear that we had picked the perfect place to spend the next six weeks.  The house where we are staying is located in a gated hillside community less than a 10 minute walk from Maracanã Stadium far removed from the tourist hotspots of Copacabana and Lapa.

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Our room is on the second floor of a two story flat overlooking a middle class neighborhood and a favela nestled in the hillside across IMG_0883from us.  Patrick Granja, our host, lives with his girlfriend on the first floor.  The second floor is essentially a mini hostel, with Danny, another Brazilian filmmaker, in one room, two Swedish English teachers in across the hall and us three in the biggest room.  The final resident is an inquisitive little cat named Maasai.

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The living room is decked out with surf boards and guitars, and a breakfast of bread, ham, cheese, fresh pineapple and very strong coffee awaits us every morning if we get up in time.

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 OUR HOST, PATRICK GRANJA

The primary reason we decided to stay with Patrick was because he was a local filmmaker.  We thought he would be a great connection to have in South America and living with him, as opposed to in a hostel, would offer us a unique opportunity to see the city from the perspective of a local human rights advocate.

He grew up across the street from Maracanã stadium in a “rundown penthouse”.  His mom still lives there, but right now she is renting it out to CNN so that it can be used as their command center overlooking the stadium during the World Cup.  She also received five tickets to the World Cup final, which she intends to sell for thousands of dollars each and use the money to remodel the penthouse.

Patrick watched his favorite team, Fluminense, play over a thousand times growing up, but hasn’t attended a game since it was renovated for the World Cup.  The pitch was rotated so he can no longer remember where he was when the most important goals were scored.  He is not excited about the World Cup at all because of the problems that came with it, like the pacification of the favelas, the ensuing violence, and the rising cost of living in Rio.

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Patrick’s interest and involvement in Rio’s inequality epidemic didn’t start with the World Cup. He has been editing and contributing to the weekly Maoist journal A Nova Democracia for the last 12 years. He is also a enthusiastic videographer, filming all the major protest over the last decade with the best cameras, as well as the most prominent archiver of locally produced films and footage.

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His dedication to being in the midst of the action and getting the best shots has come at a cost to his health and safety.  He lost a chunk of his leg when a flash bang grenade exploded at his feet, has inhaled lots of expired tear gas and got shot at recently while in the front lines of a protest in a nearby favela, because the cops unexpectedly opened fire with real 9mm bullets.

This passion and proclivity to filming protest has been noticed by news agencies around the world.  He has sold his footage to Al Jazeera and most recently to Vice for their upcoming documentary on the World Cup in Rio.  I’m stoked to be living with him.  Hopefully we can all learn from him and start selling the footage we get in South America to keep funding our travels.

Check back soon to read all about our adventures with Patrick in Rio.

Peace

Road To Rio

After months of waiting the time had finally come to embark on the long journey to Rio.  Of course we had to eat one final meal at Sanraku, a Neumann family tradition, but this time we were joined by Moreno, Dre, Kyle and Conor. We celebrated by drinking some delicious Saki infused with gold leaves for good luck.

7:30 PM (PST) – Depart for Ft. Lauderdale with a short stop in LA. Virgin America was awesome, from the new Terminal in SFO, to inflight live TV and GoPro channel!

5:30 AM (EST) – Upon arriving in muggy Ft. Lauderdale, we decided to rent a car for the day for only $20, because we had 12 hours to kill in Miami.  It totally beat lugging our backpacks around during the rainy season.

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After cruising down Miami Beach in style in our Fiat 500 we kicked it and swam at Nikki Beach for a couple of hours.  It was already getting hot, even though it was only 8 AM.

Gumball 3000

As the day progressed an endless stream of beautiful cars began lining up along Miami  beach for the Gumball 3000, an annual British 3000 mile race on public roads.  This year the race goes from Miami to New York City, then the cars are flown to London and driven again to the finish line in Ibiza.

12:27 PM (EST) – While exploring Little Havana, we just happened to run into Santino, Moreno’s former coworker. So the only person either of us knows in Miami, was randomly in line for the same ATM, what are the odds? Next thing we know, we were at his house smoking bowl and listening to old school rap.

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Two things stood out to me in Miami.  All the drivers are crazy and its the only place I’ve been in America, where everyone expects you to speak Spanish.  English is a second language in Miami.

5:30 PM (EST) – Depart from Miami, stop for a short time in Santo Domingo and chatted with a former Marlins pitching prospect.  Tiredness was setting in. Next stop Rio.

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5:00 AM (BRT) – We finally arrived in Rio and waited in the airport till the sun rose figuring out how to get to the place we found on AirBnb, although still not completely sure if the place really existed.  Luckily our taxi driver was awesome, not just because he was honking at girls the whole ride, but because he found the exact apartment in a three story building on a random side street in Zona Norte.  Without him we would have been so lost.

Quick Travel Tip: Upon arriving in a new city or country for the first time tell people, like taxi drivers, that you’ve been before.  We learned this the hard way upon arriving in Delhi a few years ago totally discombobulated and our taxi driver from the airport ‘couldn’t find’ our hostel ‘because it had closed’ and took us to an expensive hotel owned by his relative instead.  It’s easy to take advantage of people who have no idea what they are doing, so just pretend you do. 

In the next post we’ll tell you all about our host here in Rio and our adventures to Copacabana and Ipanema.

Peace