It all started in the quest for elusive samba show in Rio de Janeiro. After waiting for almost an hour, the tram started to roll along the top of Lapa arches heading to Santa Teresa where samba schools could be found. Upon disembarking all ears were focused on possible sources of drum beats. The noise from slightly packed bars could have cancelled out the samba sound, so we walked further up the hill. But no deafening drum beats could be heard.
Santa Teresa was a colonial town. Walking up and down the hill and back to Lapa was not a complete disappointment. After dining in not-even-fancy but expensive restaurant, everyone headed back home. But before we could step in past the gate, one shouted, “Let’s go for Favela party.”
Favela is a neighbourhood of marginalized Brazilians which dwellings in bright colors but not so orderly appearance creep up along the mountain slope. With high crime rate and drug lords controlling the area, favela gains an unsavoury reputation. Despite the rapid economic growth of Brazil, favela remains a sight of widespread penury.
“Sounds exciting,” the rest replied. It was almost past midnight.
The first stop was a warehouse-like club. Its interior was huge and divided into two areas. The smaller area played mostly American hip-hop music and occasional Latin American dance tunes. The bigger one had four spots with its own disc jockey alternately playing different sub-genre of samba. It all still sounded as hardcore samba.
Women shook their ass in accelerating speed as they went down and down the floor. Men performed synchronized footsteps with their shoulders and arms swinging in rhythmic routine.
While some of us managed to shake our booties, we could not match the speed and energy of Brazilians. Who were we? Two Swedish ladies, two American guys, an Austrian gentleman, a British gal, un homme Francais, two German guys, a Dutch lady, an Aussie named Mr. G and myself, a Canadian. All were on a long sojourn from work or school.
The crowd grew bigger and ebullient despite the smothering heat. The time was almost four in the morning when suddenly people rushed to get outside while screaming “Puta! Puta!” As some people rubbed and covered their eyes, we soon to realize that tear gas were sprayed upon us. Everyone in our group managed to get outside.
Going home at five? That would be too early. It had become our quotidian routine to stay up past sunrise.
We marched through the interior of favela and sooner found ourselves in a street party with the locals. The street was short and narrow in a residential area. About five huge speakers constantly pumped beats of samba.
Finding strength in number, we initially stayed together until some found better spots for drinking and dancing. After watching the lady in red and making eye contacts, she responded positively when I called her “Cynthia”. She donned curly, abundant hairs. She moved like Foxy Cleopatra in the “The Spy Who Shagged Me.”
I got introduced to her friend. Sooner I got sandwiched between them. With my very limited Portuguese, all I could say was “Todo bem”. So it was time to scream for help. The Austrian guy came to my rescue, and sooner, he found himself swarmed with hot local girls. Things seemed to get all right.
An older man gestured me to take home one of the chicks. He could be the manager, but to entertain his offer might bring some trouble for us. My Austrian friend got the same offer as well, but he politely turned it down. In as desperate attempt to change his mind, the chick initiated a French kiss, but it was just a dodgy place to pick up for chicks.
At about six, we finally decided to leave the favela. But we had one guy missing in action. “Operation: Saving Private G” was formed. Three of us searched for him. We passed through some teenagers wielding machine guns in their shoulders. One of them was prancing with a can of beer in his hand. Finding them equally elated of the party, they didn’t seem to pose any danger.
Sooner we found Private G dancing in the middle of the crowd holding tightly a can of beer like a baby. Tapping his shoulder didn’t work. Grabbing his wrist finally did the trick to move him out of the crowd.
Four Rambo-like kids were still on the same spot, except one, who was blocking the dry alley. The sidewalk was a meter away from me, but rainwater accumulated in between. The distance was a third longer only of my normal pace, so I jumped over the water. I landed at the edge of the sidewalk but slipped back to the water creating a splash. But worse, a splurge of reeking smell went to the young varlets of drugs.
All I heard next was caterwauling of imps that even my apology was inaudible to me. With utter failure to comprehend any Portuguese, the angry voices sounded all as imprecation. With machine guns pointed at me, I simply panicked. I might be gabbling with mea culpa. But a surfeit of it might have aggravated them more.
The Austrian guy pushed me to walk away. And the American guy who speaks Portuguese talked to them. I was deeply grateful to their imperturbable composure. They averted a pernicious night.
Private G who still had a can of beer recounted how blissful he was dancing with the crowd in favela while I remained woebegone that my life could have ended there. To keep his spirit high, he wasn’t told about the “Operation: Saving Private G” until later on that day when he became sober.
Weird thoughts still wandered in my cerebrum. Unable to retch, recounting a traumatic experience proved to be an effective arcanum. And over the next few days, our heroism just got bigger as if we had crushed a resistance of drug army.
It was a night to remember but I would have some scruples of going back to favela. I took the experience as admonitory. I became less desultory in my succeeding adventures. Indeed, I took a renascent interest again in guided tours.