Yesterday we hopped into the back of a Jeep and drove up one of the hills on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. We stopped part way to see the city from above; it's harbour, beaches, streets and Cristo Rendetor staring down from above. From the look out we drove even further up the hill, up winding streets made narrow by cars parking on either side. We hopped out at our destination, the entrance to the Santa Marta favela, one of many shanty towns where houses are built on top of each other clinging to the mountain side.
Residents don't pay rent or taxes but their living conditions are poor - there is no running water and open sewage trickles down the same path residents (and tourists) use to navigate the maze of homes. In the past many (or perhaps currently) many favelas were run by drug lords and along with illegal activities came shootouts and murders. We could see bulletholes in a side of a school where the shooter had missed his target.
Despite this the community lives. Men line up to get a chance to play football, children play in a bit of fresh water and churches draw those looking for redemption.
We visited a safe favela but not all favelas are so welcoming to tourists - if you go, you must go with a guide.