Four year´s ago we went on a tour of one of Rio´s favelas, the idea being to introduce tourists into these areas that are so completely off-limits and show what life is like there. (and this was before the City of God film). I don´t remember much other than having various gangs pointed out and shown the kite flying that allegedly told the drugs gangs where the police were. (The favelas still dominate all the hilly areas of Rio, with just one or two exceptions, if you live in the flat areas of town you´re rich).
After the tour the guide invited his small group to meet up late that evening in a club in Lapa. It´s a part of town just off the central business district and one that you´re generally advised to avoid in the dark: we later read in the Rough Guide that it said we really shouldn´t have gone in there at all. But there´s a lot of paranoia in the guides about Rio, one reason that I don´t have any photos of the last visit there, and certainly one of Kim´s work colleagues was mugged there a few days before we were there.
Lapa lived up to expectations. Crowds hung on street corners around burning braziers (for food not warmth), prostitutes flashed at us and transvestites cavorted in the gloomy streets. (We found the club, and eventually the guide and spent the evening samba-ing.)
But four years on Lapa is the place to go in the late evenings and is in the midst of gentrification. It´s one of the few places in Rio that still has a sense of the past; many of the buildings date to the beginning of the last century, and some of the city´s few landmarks are here; the modernist cathedral and an iconic viaduct (a sort of concrete Pont du Gard) over which Rio last tram travels. This time the old dance halls have been painted up, there´s a new set of bars and clubs, even live music on the streets.
We found a backstreet Samba club which was full of a drunken post-office crowd who proved that Brazilians can (a) have a really good time, and (b) can´t necessarily dance any better than I can.