One of Rio de Janeiro's most known favelas (shanty towns). Set up on a mostly pleasant spot -- a green hillside by the Niemeyer Avenue, a seaside driveway linking the high-class districts Leblon and São Conrado -- Vidigal has a very privileged bird's eye view of São Conrado Leblon and Ipanema, their beaches and the Atlantic Ocean. Its most impressive assets are how the poor and the rich live side by side and get along really well and its natural beauty. If there is a place that synthesizes how much of a mixed bag Brazil is... be it concerning ethnic groups (even though that's really, really vague in Brazil), ideologies, whatever... that's Vidigal.

Back in 1941, after the construction of Niemeyer Avenue, there were lots of people living in self-built houses and shacks, occupied (should I say invaded?) on allegedly idle terrain by the Tambá Road, which sprouted from Niemeyer Ave and goes uphill.

In 1958, the whole community had a eviction threat from an industrial company from the publishing and paper production area. A council of inhabitants had assembled, and the eviction never took place. In 1960, the Stella Maris High School (one of the most famous schools for upper-class kids, situated by the entrance of Tambá Road) got along with the military to try to eradicate the poor people from the so-called "noble areas" and... oh yeah, that freeing up some land for real estate speculation too... that effort didn't work either, and the neighborhood council became the Vidigal Association of Inhabitants in 1967.

After that, people from other favelas had moved over, making the area's demographic specs much denser. There's a lot of shacks and houses varying on quality, color and shape. If you'd like to have an idea of what it looks like, here's a good example: as my father would put it, if all of the shacks were painted white, the place would look just like a Mediterranean spot. And I agree with him wholeheartedly on that.

With time, the Government had to intervene. In 1973, their plans for popular housing -- in that case, four apartment blocks with approximately 48 apartments each -- would need the eviction of some people who built their houses on that terrain. The solution was giving these people enough money and shares to get an apartment of their own once the buildings were ready. The cheap housing at a pleasant spot between the upper income districts would attract a considerably large number of people. These apartment blocks even got to be named "the artists' blocks", because some famous TV artists, musicians and assorted celebrities bought apartments there. You see, my father lives on an apartment previously owned by Lima Duarte, one of Brazil's most famous actors.

So the neighborhood just grew and grew... Tambá Road gets renamed to Presidente João Goulart (Brazil's president from 1961 to 1964) Avenue... Public schools, that private school, children day care, a health clinic, markets, bars, barber shops, grocery stores, car repair shops... for a somewhat small district -- mainly when compared to other favelas such as Rocinha, Cidade de Deus, Rio das Pedras, and Complexo do Alemão -- it has a fairly big share of facilities.

But as any favela would have it, there are the drug traffic problems too. Even though the crime situation isn't as serious as other favelas -- it's not that you'll get slanted glances from people or get mugged if you go there, you won't... the last thing that criminals would like to get there is attention -- there are some small police raids... when you're on that neighborhood and you listen to fireworks cracking (used by younger folks who are on the outlook all day long), chances are a police car had started its way up. On that aspect, the criminals and their associates have the advantage of being up on the hill... and can see nearly every car that gets in. One of the most revolting episodes of police raids gone awry was when some young men were caught on the middle of a shootout between cops and criminals. They've got rushed to the hospital... and registered as drug pushers, even though they had IDs and such... which were conveniently lost in the process. An actor from the neighborhood got the attention of the press and society for that regrettable mishap... read on to check whatever happened to that actor.

There are some social projects try to keep kids away from crime and school evasion:

  • music classes and low-budget monthly fees for local students at the Stella Maris (yeah, the same school who tried to expel the "poor people");
  • free sports classes at a local gym (shameless plug: that's my older brother's gym!) with free boxing classes, where classes are free as long as the students bring their school report cards and prove they're showing up there. "Developing the body and the mind" is his ideology, and he's gathering the most promising ones to form an Olympics team;
  • there's an actors' studio formed by actor Guti Fraga named Nós do Morro ("We From the Hill") targeted to locals who want to begin in the scenic arts. It's already known by TV and movie studios, and some of the young actors appeared at music videos, movies such as Brazil's City of God (Cidade de Deus) (who's getting rave reviews around the world), soap operas and so on...

  • Some other reasons why Vidigal is sooo popular:

  • a Government-funded sports complex is located at the Largo do Santinho, as close to the top of the hill as it can be.
  • the neighboring Sheraton Hotel is by a secluded beach on the Avenue, and it's reachable by a big stone staircase. Both hotel guests and Vidigal inhabitants go to that beach and co-exist in peace. Heh heh. It also gives job opportunities for locals;
  • Pope John Paul II has visited Brazil in 1980, and had a visit to Vidigal scheduled. He had blessed a newly built chapel -- the Saint Francis of Assisi Chapel -- and had given his gold ring (willingly, heh heh) to the people. His charisma catched the locals' hearts, and he was nicknamed João de Deus (John of God) back then.
  • the Zeppelin Bar is a nice spot for young couples of all ages to go. It usually features live music, a great view and good drinks and food. Highly recommended!
  • oh yeah... as any favela would have it, there are funk parties and even some samba too.
  • jiguryo from Everything2 lives there. =p