Slumming it in a Brazilian favela
THEY wear the hottest fashion labels, own Apple computers and have pay television.
But the people who live in Brazilian favelas don't even have the basics covered in Maslow's hierarchy of needs (high school flashback?).
They have open sewerage drains, no consistent access to water unless they steal it from the government pipes going straight past their makeshift homes, and they are often ruled by drug lords and the violence of their reign.
The City of God movie depicting that violence in these slums have made tours of these areas popular.
So tourists in Rio during Carnaval were quick to book in for a favela tour, not to be confused with a Fevola tour - involving a casino trip to wrack up gambling debts, getting drunk at the Brownlows, public exposure, weeing in public, stealing clothes from a laundramat, spraying people with a fire hydrant and assaulting police.
In Rio de Janeiro, the favelas are mixed among neighborhoods of other classes.
The favelas have some of the best views of Rio.
But built up the hills, the only places left for the poor, these people literally live on top of each other.
As they needed more room, they just built up.
Sometimes that meant a business on the bottom floor, grandparents on top, parents above that, children above them followed by aunts, uncles and cousins or whoever else on top.
Or the stack could be kitchen, lounge, bathroom and bedrooms on top of each other.
Our host in the Rocihna favela, Louisa, told us domestic violence was rife and everyone could hear each other's business.
"It's like a soap opera," she said.
We entered the favela through a 24-hour market, even walking past a man carrying a kitchen sink so it truly must have everything.
The smell of the open sewers smacks you in the face as you enter the lower levels.
We were told not to take photos in these areas because "the people have great shame", and we might accidentally capture drug activity which could lead to an unsavoury encounter with those in power.
And you need one of those annoying London metro announcements every two seconds saying "mind the dog poo".
But Louisa told us the people have great respect for each other, never stealing from each other and always helping out when another is struggling.
The masses of tangled wires are the first indication of the organised chaos inside the favela. Hundreds of lines, power and phone, twist like wild vines up through the alleyways between the crammed shanties.
"When my phone line stopped working, I just had to get a new one put in. There's no way they can tell which line was mine," Louisa said.
Mail in the favela makes its way to recipients via directions such as "area four, first street, near the bar" or "area two, second street near the favela".
In fact, favela is the name of a plant and the slums got their name because they are the place where the favela plant grows.
There are mailboxes with plastic bags at such random places all over the community.
Louisa said her friends often asked her why she lived in a favela and she always told them it was because she did not have to pay taxes.
She said not having an address did prove a hinderance at times but they always found a way around it.
"If we need a credit card or something like that we just get the electricity company to put a meter in. Once we get our first bill (to use for credit applications) we get the connection to the meter cut. Then we pay 10 reals (Brazilian currency) to get a man in the favela to reconnect us, bypassing the meter."
There are 300,000 people living at this favela but many die young - drugs, they shoot each other or the police shoot them, we are told.
Every election the pollies come in and promise to fix the problems in the favela but they never do.
Last election they built an enormous 24-hour hospital but the favela inhabitants are still waiting for doctors and nurses.
In the meantime the massive building sits there empty and the three private doctors who live in the community work almost 24 hours a day to compensate for the lack of services.
They never need a gym because getting up the hill each day is exercise enough.
But lugging refrigerators or other heavy goods up steep alleyways is a true challenge.
You need lots of friends.
If you're feeling lazy, there's about 300 mototaxis flying up and down the hill every day to make the daily grind less burdensome.
Louisa said the government had tried to move favela inhabitants out to the suburbs, three or four hours away, but they preferred to be close to the city, work and fun.
In contrast to the Rocinha community, I also saw a reformed favela where the balance of power shifted from the drug lords to a group of young boys who played with bricks.
What is now known as the Morrinho Project began when a film maker entered the favela expecting to do a documentary on the drugs and violence.
But he found young boys who made miniature favela cities from bricks and made their fun by acting out scenarios with lego-like figurines.
He left a camera with them for a week and later made movies that would see a group of young men fly all over Europe doing exhibitions, recreating their masterpeces.
Heading to the south of Brazil now... Until next time.