Hello Again!

Recent cuts in public spending have led to a wave in robberies, be extra careful in Centro, Lapa, Botafogo, Flamengo, Catete and Gloria. Less police on the streets will lead to less security. The general tip to stay away from deserted and places with a “dodgy” feel still applies, however it is also necessary to try to not carry around i-phones and other valuables if possible; and be prepared to give it up if you do have them with you.

On the political scene the government just got their bill for fiscal adjustments through, even perhaps finance minister Levy is sincere, I find it hard to believe that the most controversial points will ever go through; this time it will not only be raising the price of the bus fare according to inflation, this time it would be cuts in to the world of civil servants, and that is very sensitive ground in this country.


Vasco da Gama won the State Cup finals against Botafogo. The Brazilian league starts this weekend. Fluminense will play Joinville in Maracanã on Saturday the 9th, 20h. On Sunday the 10th Vasco receive Goiás in their stadium São Januário, kick-off 18:30h.

Public transport:

The next one or two years traffic in the center of Rio will be complicated during rush hours, big constructions in the port area are the main reasons. Works on Avenida Brazil will make transport to Ilha Grande and Parati complicated during rush hours.


The best nightlife guide in English is The Rio Times Nightlife Guide, just click the link.

Fruits of the week:

Avocados, kiwis, papayas, persimmons, apples, tangerines and pears are good choices.

Have a nice week!



Escadinha, photo by Robson de Freitas.

Here continues the article series about legendary outlaws of Brazil, the Robin Hoods and Dick Turpins of this country. In this text the turn has come to the Rio shanty town bandit known as Escadinha.

The Most Famous Favela Bandit

José Carlos dos Reis Encina, better known as Escadinha (Por: Little Stair), is probably the outlaw from the favela (Por: shanty town) morros surrounded by the most true and untrue stories. His time as leader of the drug traffic in the favela Juramento was followed by incredible escapes and a dramatic assassination. Here is his story.

King of the Hill

Young Zé Carlos would grow up in the Rio suburb Vaz Lobo. Born in 1956 he was the son of O Chileno, the leader of a community called Manoel Encina. His nickname he earned when the restless boy made the life so difficult for a haidresser he cut his hair so bad it came in steps, hereafter his friends called him Escadinha, the Little Stair. Already 16 years old he started to get involved in the drug traffic in the Juramento favela. Two years later he was arrested for the first time, the sentence of illegal weapon possession he escaped by paying bail. As his crime record grew over the years, his frequent visits to prison would make him meet other major players in the drug trade such as o Bagulhão (Big Needle), o Professor (The Teacher) and o Gordo (the Fat One), together they would form the first real organized criminal faction in Rio: O Comando Vermelho (En: The Red Command often abbreviated as CV). Contact with leftist political prisoners supposedly also created a small political agenda (hence the Red). By the 1980’s he became known as the most dangerous criminal in Rio, at the same time social involvement and refusal to allow children to enter his ranks he also became very popular and almost legendary in several communities.

Great Escapes

Ilha Grande today is a tropical paradise island and a major tourist attraction; Here you can experience almost untouched rainforests, clear water and white sands. During the major part of the 20th century it housed a high security prison called Dois Rios, when political prisoners started to be kept here during the 1960’s contact was made between drug traffickers and leftist political activists. After two years as prisoner on the island, in 1983 he risked a successful escape in a rowing boat. He was only caught in 1985 in the the favela Jacarezinho, his good reputation supposedly made it easy for him to find refuge. After being shot during another escape attempt the event took place that would make him a celebrity criminal, the helicopter escape. On December the 31st in 1985 after an incredible helicopter rescue, he was brought to freedom by member of his faction. In the helicopter were among others O Gordo. He ended up back in Juramento where he assumed his old lifestyle.

Capture and New Career

Only four years later he was caught, after sentence he was now kept in the Frei Caneca prison. After a failed rescue attempt, that included hi-jacking a power station, it seems like he conformed to prison and managed a semi-open regime after accepting voluntary working for the prison administration (a quite common practice in Brazil). He quite quickly became the vice president of a taxi cooperation in Zona Norte. After refusing the offer of leadership in Juramento hos old faction members became his enemies.


On September the 23rd in 2004 Escadinha was going to work from his current prison in Bangu, when his car was perfurated by bullets from an assault rifle he was killed. Two unidentified men on a motorbike blocked the car and fired 4 shots. The crime has never been solved, some theories suggest that the responsible were the CV, others that it was internal fighting in his taxi cooporation or a criminal vendetta not related to CV at all. So ended the life of perhaps the most famous favela criminal of them all, when Escadinha died he was 49 years old.

Escadinha and the Legend

No doubt is that José Carlos dos Reis Encina was a dangerous criminal and a public enemy, but the memory of Escadinha has been preserved in many people’s memory as something else. He is perhaps a symbol of resistance to the law and what it represents. His supposed care for the communities where he lived and operated makes him appear almost like a good bandit, a Robin Hood of some sort. In many Cariocas’ (person living in Rio call themselves Cariocas) memories he represents a distant past where bandits and a political leftist movement joined their causes. When he started out, it was in the midst of the fascist dictatorship that lasted between 1968 and 1985, the police was also a symbol of repression. How much of his altruistic nature is true can be discussed, one thing is for sure and that his life is stuff for legends.

Sources and for further reading:
Diário de um detento no Brasil – Escadinha
Folha de São Paulo – Dupla mata Escadinha no Rio de Janeiro
Extra – A vida e a morte de um dos maiores traficantes do estado

Morro da Urca

View of Morro da Urca from the cable car on the Sugarloaf, photo by Andreas Lönngren.

Here continues my article series about names of neighbourhoods and places in Rio. This time I will bring up Flamengo, Tijuca, Muda, Laranjeiras and Urca.

Flamengo – Several Theories

The theories of where the name of what was once perhaps Rio’s wealthiest neighbourhood are several. The first connection most people make is with the bird and actually it might be an accurate one. Flamingos are not endemic to Rio de Janeiro, they had supposedly been brought from the Mediterranean and procreated so much they were abundant during the 19th century. Other, more accepted theories have relation to the Netherlands since the word Flamengo was used to describe a Dutch person for a long time in Brazil. A influential Dutch man called Joost Vrisberger is supposed to have lived in today’s neighbourhood and eventually that gave the name to the neighbourhood. Other sources claim that Dutch prisoners brought from Pernambuco (that for a period during the 17th century was controlled by the Netherlands) ended up living in the area.

Tijuca – Bad Water

In the Indian Tupi language ty îuk means bad water and that’s where Tijuca is derived from. Before the neighbourhood was developed there were several small bogs and lakes in the area with still standing water.

Muda – The Place to Change

This neighbourhood located in Zona Norte got its name from either one or two reasons involving horses and change (Por: muda). The first is that horses had to change shoes leaving or entering the muddy Tijuca area. The second is that the pairs of horses pulling the trams up the hill to Alto da Boa Vista were changed in Muda.

Urca – Named After a Type of Ship

There are not many theories surrounding this name, I have only come across one. The name comes from what a type of transport ship was called. It was of Dutch origin and used to transport raw sugar cones. The hill was supposedly given that name both from the similarity between the Urca hill and a sugar cone and the fact that the ships were loaded and unloaded there. The name is very old.

Sources and for further reading:
Portuguese Wikipedia
Nossas rado Brasil – Morro da Urca
Rio de Janeiro Aqui – Bairro do Flamengo
– Gerson, B. “História das ruas do Rio de Janeiro” (1954)
– Rose, L. and Aguiar, N. “Tijuca de rua em rua” (2004)

Lampião and his band.

Lampião and his band.

All countries have them; outlaws and criminals that have reached almost legendary status. Names like Spartacus, Robin Hood and Jesse James have sparked the imagination of both writers and ordinary people since thousands of years. In this article series I intend to write about some of these that have had their base in Brazil. I will start out with the most iconic of them all.

O Lampião – The King of Cangaços

Virgulino Ferreira da Silva was born in 1897 in a town called Serra Telhada in the state of Pernambuco. He received a decent education, the interest for politics and literature he aquired he would maintain throughout his life. After his father had been killed by the army he, supposedly in wrath, joined a band of cangaceiros. The Cangaço were a semi-revolutionary formation roaming the Northeast interior robbing and looting for food, extremely poor conditions and abusive land-owners were the main reasons to the existance of this movement. By 1921 he had assumed leadership of the band, a position he would keep until his death. His group of skilled guerilla-style warriors, that at times included more than 100 men, would make a presence in 8 northeastern states. He was given the nickname O Lampião which is Portuguese for kerosene lamp.

To Steal From the Rich and Give To the Poor – At Least For a While

Under his leadership him and his band started to gain fame as they also distributed what they had adquired to poor people in the regions they operated, o Lampião became known as a modern Robin Hood. They soon abandoned their chivalrous ways and started working for the government of Getúlio Vargas, after a move to the states of Bahia and Sergipe they survived as arms dealers. His status as outlaw varied over the years and with who was in power at the time, at one point he and his band were actually given uniforms and federal authority, from this moment he was referred to as Capitão (Captain) by his supporters. The last few years the band was actively hunted by the police, an activity received a lot of press even internationally. When Lampião and his band was caught and killed in 1938 they decapitated heads went on tour around parts of the Northeast, probably as a display from the people in power to show what happens if you defy them.

The Fashion That Conquered the World

One of the most notable aspects of the band was the way they dressed, decorated their weapons and used perfume. The trademark glasses Lampião wore was supposedly to hide the fact that he was blind on one eye, perhaps glasses also was seen as a symbol for learning and intelligence. O Lampião was a very vain man, and extremely conscious of the image he produced of himself; though it was only when he joined with a woman it took a really strong expression, together with his wife Maria Bonita he created a fashion that is alive until today. Even if most of the time were on the road they always brought with them a Singer sewing machine. The base for their clothes was the typical wear to the Sertão were they were from, they added amulets and medallions, wore rings and silk scarfs from Paris. The hair was long and they used vast amounts of French perfume. According to legend they police chasing them tracked them easily since the reflections of their many trinkets were seen from miles away and the scent of their perfume was so strong it was no match for the dogs in the hunting party to follow. The fame of the band actually made the fashion become popular in Hollywood where it founds its way into both pirate and cowboy movies. If you compare the image in this article with what Captain Jack Sparrow in The Pirates of the Caribbean series is wearing, it is hard not see the resemblance. I will further develop the fashion part in another article.

After His Death He Became a Symbol

The English historian Eric Hobsbawm once called Lampião a social bandit who worked as a symbol of revenge for the many mistreated and abused people that was living in the Northeast of Brazil. Recent researchers have often painted a picture of a man more bent on cruelty and personal gain than on political justice. It is very hard to know how much is true about him; the forces against him painted a picture of the leader of a band that raped and pillaged with no discretion, for others he was a rebel fighting for the poor. Until today he remains an important symbol, during festivals it is common to dress in the flamboyant ways of his band. He is the most famous of all outlaws of Brazil.

Sources and for further reading:
Lampião e Maria Bonita: Amor e morte no cangaço
Lampião: Herói ou bandido?
Infonet – Lampião
Portal São Francisco: Lampião
– Pernambucano de Mello, F. “Guerreiros do Sol: Violência e Banditismo no Nordeste Brasileiro” (2004)
– Chandler, B.J. “Lampião – O Rei dos Cangaceiros” (1981)

Leblon the year 1900

Leblon in 1900, before the area had been developed.

This is the second article in the series about names of neighbourhoods and places in Rio de Janeiro, from a historical and cultural perspective the origins of these are often of great value.

In the last article I explained the propable origins of the neighbourhoods Ipanema and Copacabana as well as Parque de Catacumbas and Largo de Machado. In this one I will continue with Arpoador, Leblon, Botafogo and Largo da Segunda Feira.

Arpoador – The Harpoonist

Just like in many other locations along the Brazilian coast the waters outside of Rio de Janeiro used to be frequented by large herds of migrating whales. With the establishment of Europeans in Brazil came a gradually escalating hunt for whales, which culminated in the 19th century when American whale processing ships made the local whale population almost extinct. From the rock on Arpoador you were supposedly able to catch whales during parts of the year. Today you can only at times see a few killer whales passing by.

Leblon – Named From a Frenchman

This neighbourhood, home of some of the richest people in Brazil, is supposedly named from a Frenchman. Charles Leblond (or Le Bron) that became rich and subsequently influential mostly from his whaling operations. The name he used in Brazil was Leblon. In the 19th century he built a whale oil processing plant on land had been using for cattle raising, this was what is now Leblon. His name was passed on to an Abolutionist quilombo (slave and maroon settlement) and later to the neighbourhood. Another place in Rio de Janeiro that has got a connection to the history of whaling.

Botafogo – Got Its Name From a Warship

The name means something like set-on-fire in portuguese, a name quite fitting since it was the nickname of the most powerful naval weapon of its time, a Portuguese super-galeon called São João Baptista. João Pereira de Sousa was an artillery officer on board this ship and he was nicknamed Botafogo. When he bought land and settled in Rio de Janeiro he had included it in his last name. His lands was in what is today’s neighbourhood.

Largo da Segunda Feira – With Roots In a Homocide

Many think that name comes from the farmer’s market that takes place every Monday since a long time, a more probably explanation is a bit more macabre. One Monday morning in the late 18th century a man was encountered murdered in what was then a sugarcane plantation, he was buried close to where he was found. Murder was something quite uncommon at the time so it became big news, the place was named from this incident.

Sources and for further reading:
Rio Curioso: Bairro do Leblon
RHBJ Historia: Rio de Janeiro Escepcial
Antigo Leblon: Histórico
Wikipedia: Galeão Botafogo
– Gerson, B. “História das ruas do Rio de Janeiro” (1954)
– Rose, L. and Aguiar, N. “Tijuca de rua em rua” (2004)

Copacabana - The church before they tore it down

The original Nossa Senhora de Copacabana, the church that gave the name to the neighbourhood.

Just like in almost every other city or town names of neighbourhoods and places in Rio often carry lots of history as well. Often they refer to important people, events in history and other interesting facts. In this article I will describe a few of these.

One of the peculiarities with Rio de Janeiro that is extra interesting are all the different names of places, the background for them are of various nature and are often and culturally interesting. I will start out by describing the one that is surrounded by most incorrect information, namely Ipanema.

Ipanema – Named After a Baron

A man from the called José Antônio Moreira Filho was the main entrepeneur for the development of the area. He was a major land owner that started to build roads and houses there more than one hundred years ago. He had inherited the title Baron of Ipanema from his father who owned large land areas in the state of São Paulo, through these lands flew a river the Indians had named ‘y panema which means something like “bad water for fishing”, these lands were named from the river. The neighbourhood got the name from him. His main engineer was Luís Raphael Vieira Souto who has given the name to the beach avenue in the same neighbourhood. The street Barão da Torre has no relationship to this man, it is named from Garcia d’Avila (there is also a street with this name) who was from a family of Bahian origin of great importance in Brazilian history and the fact that he built the first fortified building on Brazilian soil.

Copacabana – Named After a Bolivian Apparation of Mary

This story is quite famous. According to legend, an apparation of Lady Mary came to a fisherman close to a place called Copacabana on Lake Titicaca in Bolivia. Spanish sailors believed she brought safety at sea journeys so images of here were often brought on their voyages. It was when a group of Spanish sailors got stuck in Rio for a longer period they decided to build a church in honour of this apparation of Mary which the called Nossa Senhora de Copacabana. The areas closest to the church with time changed from its old Indian name Sacopenapã to Copacabana, a name it keeps until today.

Largo de Machado – The Axe Square

Many cities have places with names derived from a past as execution grounds, this is not the case with Largo de Machado. It is named after André Nogueira Machado who owned the land in the beginning of the 18th century, he was a very successful pottery manufacturer. It is common to hear that the square got its name from a large axe that used to hang in front of a butcher’s shop located on the square, the gimmick with the axe was most likely taken from the already existing name of the square. If you haven’t been there yet, it is one of the places in Rio I recommend for the historically curious to visit.

Parque de Catacumbas – Indian Burial Ground

This park is located on the eastern side of the lagoon Lagoa Rodrigo Freitas. Until 1970 the slopes housed a favela known as Catacumbas with over 10000 inhabitants. The name was most likely derived from the notion that the area was an old Indian burial ground, a fact that never has been confirmed. Parts of the old shantytown was used to erect exclusive apartment complexes while another part was turned into the park we can visit today.

If you have some good places to recommend and at least 20 words to share, please comment this article! If you have information about other places in Rio you can send it to me since I will continue to release articles on this topic.

Sources and for further reading:
WordPress Article: Catacumba: A Favela que Virou Parque
RHBJ Historia: Rio de Janeiro Escepcial
Casarão Ameno Resedá: O Machado que Deu Nome ao Largo
Marcillio: Ipanema
– Brasil, G. “História das ruas do Rio de Janeiro” (1954)

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