Favelas – Beauty and the Beast

Favelas| She Paused 4 Thought

Everyday life is full of contrasts and contradictions. But some places are so complex and intertwined with opposites it is makes for an unforgettable experience. Such is life in a favela as I recently discovered in Rio de Janeiro.

A favela was explained as a poverty-stricken city within a city, where its inhabitants live and work while trying to make the best of things under substandard conditions. Twenty percent of Rio’s population lives here.


I toured two favelas, first up being Rocinha, the largest, most densely populated and urbanized favela in Rio. It has had a beast of struggles with violence and organized crime despite being located between two of Brazil’s wealthiest neighborhoods, São Conrado and Gávea.

Favelas| She Paused 4 Thought

Rocinha looks like a colorful mosaic intermingling with the hillside.

As we made our way up the east slope of Rochina we visited with local artists who captured the heart and spirit of the favelas with colorful housing, samba dancing, and images of Christ the Redeemer.

Favelas| She Paused 4 Thought

I bought several paintings from the street artists above because they were colorful and artistic, supported the community, and a great way to remember this experience.

Below are the two views that inspire these painters.

Favelas| She Paused 4 Thought

To the left of the street where they work is this sweeping million-dollar view of Rio. To the right is a slice of reality in the favelas.

It is only 15 minutes away from the world famous Copacabana beach, which is at the bottom of the hill from Rochina, yet the two worlds couldn’t be farther apart.

Favelas| She Paused 4 Thought

Views like this in Los Angeles come with with a high price tag. This view in Rio comes at the expense of living too far from daily necessities like water, power and transportation.

The lack of infrastructure gives rise to improvised and jerry-rigged plumbing and electrical wiring. It looks like organized chaos at best.

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Vila Canoas

Our next stop was Vila Canoas – a small favela that has around 3,000 people and has never been ruled by a drug gang.

As we meandered along the streets I struggled with projecting my associations of the hardship of poverty with unhappiness.

Favelas| She Paused 4 Thought

I found life in this favelas rich in beautiful color, vivacity and community.

Favelas| She Paused 4 Thought

Not to mention a sense of artistic humor.

Mosaics in Favelas| She Paused 4 Thought

Unexpected beauty is created from broken things. Being in the favelas is chaotic, from the riotous colors to the ambient city roar, to the tantalizing aroma of BBQ.

Favelas| She Paused 4 Thought

I left with a feeling of admiration for the people who make their lives in the favela, who accept the hardship, surely get angry at times, but mostly pursue their lives with a certain feeling of hope despite their fragmented position in life.

Even though the beast still roars poverty in the favelas, beauty’s soft voice sings a song of hopefulness.
…and then, she paused for thought.

If you want to see all my photos of favelas in Rio CLICK HERE.
If you want to listen to an interesting TED talk about paintings in the favelas CLICK HERE.

About Cathy Arkle

Cathy Arkle is a food blogger, culinary explorer, graphic artist, and cooking class junkie. Her inspirations come from her travels across the globe (50 countries) in the last 20+ years partaking in various ethnic cuisines while working as a graphic artist for major networks (NBC, ABC, CBS, FOX & ESPN). She has collected a few Emmys in the field of graphic design for sports & entertainment. Cathy is also a graduate of the Pro Chef courses at The New School of Cooking in Culver City, CA

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29 Responses to Favelas – Beauty and the Beast

  1. CHERI NEWELL April 12, 2015 at 5:11 pm #

    Loved the photos… thanks for sharing!!!

    • Cathy Arkle April 13, 2015 at 11:59 am #

      Thanks Cheri for stopping by. So glad you loved the photos.

  2. Susan Herrmann April 13, 2015 at 2:34 am #

    Cathy, What a great and beautifully graphic presentation. You are the ideal visitor, because you visit with your heart.

    • Cathy Arkle April 13, 2015 at 11:57 am #

      Susan it would be impossible to leave my heart behind when I travel or cook. 🙂 I am so happy you enjoyed it.

  3. Nanette April 13, 2015 at 9:02 am #

    Great photos, great experience. I love the colorful buildings, but the mosaics are my favorite! They go great together.

    • Cathy Arkle April 13, 2015 at 11:43 am #

      Thanks Nan! It was an amazing experience and so beautiful.

  4. Christina April 13, 2015 at 1:28 pm #

    This was a really enlightening post, Cathy. What is most shocking to me are the electrical wires…it’s hard to believe that this actually permitted anywhere in the world and I wonder how many accidents and deaths occur, simply from the lack of proper wiring.

    It is such a juxtaposition between the beauty of the area and even the colors of the building and the gorgeous view below, to the slum areas and poor wiring everywhere.

    I love that you bought some artwork from the locals, but I’m not surprised. 🙂

    • Cathy Arkle April 13, 2015 at 3:43 pm #

      Thanks Christina, it was an enlightening experience. I have visited slums in India, Africa & Vietnam and this location was the most resourceful of them all. It is really interesting to read about all the programs to help. It is not an easy subject to tackle as one might imagine.

  5. Bob Gale April 17, 2015 at 7:27 pm #

    Cathy. The pictures were beautiful and captured the beauty ofhthe favelas! The photos were like looking at a canvas where the artist vowed to use every color on his pallet! Your narrative was likewise very descriptive and captured the essence of the dichotomy of this incredible City! Bravo!!

  6. Dana @ FoodieGoesHealthy April 17, 2015 at 10:51 pm #

    Wow, Cathy. Thanks for sharing an incredible experience and for educating me on the region. I really like the art you photographed. I hope hope you got some special pieces to remind you of your trip.

  7. Judy Weiss April 18, 2015 at 10:21 am #

    May you continue to travel and do great things.

    • Cathy Arkle April 18, 2015 at 10:35 am #

      Thanks Judy for stopping by. I will be traveling until the day I die. So many wonderful places yet to go.:)

  8. Ruth Hager April 18, 2015 at 11:08 am #

    Hi Cathy,
    I am so glad that you posted this blog. Great photos and descriptions. I am now a fan of your blog and will continue to read it.
    Ruth Hager

    • Cathy Arkle April 18, 2015 at 11:14 am #

      Welcome Ruth, I am so glad to have you aboard!

  9. Ruth Hager April 18, 2015 at 11:26 am #

    I like your questioning the relationship of poverty and happiness. Being rich is certainly no guarantee for being happy and being poor is certainly no guarantee for being unhappy.

    • Cathy Arkle April 18, 2015 at 12:27 pm #

      Ruth I think it is universal challenge from whatever financial status you happen to be in. Thanks for your comment.

  10. sippitysup April 22, 2015 at 1:57 pm #

    It’s so easy to look right past these areas when we travel, but I’m glad you kept your eyes and your heart open to a beautiful experience. GREG

    • Cathy Arkle April 23, 2015 at 11:34 am #

      Thanks Greg. I was inspired by your latest trip to South America!

  11. Judy at My Well Seasoned Life April 30, 2015 at 5:37 am #

    You’ve captured what travel provides, a chance to see and look through another’s eyes. Wonderful insight with stunning sites. Great post.

  12. Lentil Breakdown April 30, 2015 at 1:46 pm #

    Wow, this was so great! I didn’t visit any favelas when I was in Rio, but I could see them from the city. What a wonderful chance to get up close and personal, and I love the way you wrote about the dichotomy.

    • Cathy Arkle April 30, 2015 at 4:57 pm #

      Thank you. It was so interesting. If you get back to Rio, it is a tour worth taking.

  13. lynne @ cookandbemerry May 1, 2015 at 7:36 pm #

    This has got go be the most colorful place I have ever seen. Thank you for this really interesting visual excursion.

    • Cathy Arkle May 4, 2015 at 12:45 pm #

      Thanks Lynne, it was spectacular in so many ways.

  14. CHERI NEWELL May 25, 2015 at 7:24 pm #

    Leave it to you to find an “Angel” in the midst of chaos!!! I love it!!!


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