In the past 6 hours, I have travelled from Rio de Janeiro to Salvador da Bahia, from one former capital of Brazil to another. The ride from my hostel to the airport served as a reminder of the other faces of Rio de Janeiro, faces that are not the postcard image for most people for what Brazil is – beaches, beautiful men and women (a friend once summarised it as men running topless on the beach with constant sunset) and breath-taking backdrops.
We passed by the Rio Port and the beaches on that side were not the wide golden sands of Copacabana and Ipanema. In the light of a fast falling night, there were people catching various forms of transportation to wherever they were going, people doing business. The houses were built in the form of the informal settlements in the centre of the city sans the views. This was industrial hub and the only view available to residents would be the cranes and containers from the ships that one sees in the distance from this or that beach slowly making their way across the bay.
I realised how easy it is for certain sections of the city to remain invisible to a visitor passing through, and as I had come to learn, for city residents as well who might not have the opportunities or desire to go out of their usual norm to seek a complicated view of their city.
This port section of Rio that was not meant to be frequented by tourists, was not treated in the same way as the Centro was. Its purpose was to bring in money of a different kind.
One of the things I noticed a lot in Rio were the waste collection trucks, waste bins, waste cautionaries, waste recycling points… In no city that I have been to, did I see such dedication to keeping the city clean no matter what time of night or day these cleaning activities happened. The portside of Rio though? No waste trucks were passing by every so often, walls were dirty- from smoke and smog, litter left lying around.
And I thought of the layers of invisibility that this place was buried under- not close enough to the city to force itself into the eyes and consciousness of dwellers and passers-through- and what that meant for those who call the place home.