Going to the World Cup? You may have to 'slum it'
RIO DE JANEIRO
GUNBATTLES still boom through the streets. Drug dealers still ply their trade in the labyrinth of alleyways. Residents of the Rocinha neighbourhood still fume over the brutal tactics of the police, who were recently charged with torturing and killing an impoverished bricklayer.
But with hotel rooms in perilously short supply and even modest hostels in Rio de Janeiro charging as much as US$450 (S$570) for a bed during the World Cup in Brazil next year, the residents of Rocinha and other favelas, or slums, are making the most of the city's acute shortage of lodging for the event: They are renting out their homes to fans from around the globe.
Ms Maria Clara dos Santos, 49, is preparing to take as many as 10 World Cup visitors into her three-bedroom home in Rocinha, which commands a stunning view of Ipanema's sun-kissed beaches in the distance.
True, Ms dos Santos notes, untreated sewage reeks on her street and steel bars on her windows are needed to deter break-ins, so she is offering guests a comparative bargain - about US$50 a night to stay with her during the tournament.
"We can provide a level of human warmth and authenticity that places down below cannot," she said, reflecting the growing popularity of favelas for their vibrant musical scenes, cheaper prices and absence of pretension, compared with ritzier parts of town.
Said Mr Christopher Gaffney, a scholar at Brazil's Federal Fluminense University who studies large sporting projects: "There's a real lack of robust governance structures here to deal with an event this size, so things start breaking and people start dying.
"The absurd prices ahead of the World Cup are part of this phenomenon. People perceive the event as bringing only short-term benefits, so they're seizing on the immediate opportunities around the event."
The Brazilian authorities expect the nation to receive as many as 600,000 foreign tourists around the month of the World Cup, which starts in June and will be held in 12 cities.
Here in Rio, which will host the tournament's final game, hotel operators are clearly salivating at the coming influx. One reason: The city has only about 55,400 hotel beds for 300,000 expected visitors.
For those who cannot afford to stay in Rio's more glamorous districts, favela lodgings are emerging as an alluring option.
"I wanted to learn more about the heart of Brazil rather than the facade," said Mr Isom Hightower, 30, an aviation consultant from San Francisco now paying around US$11 a night for a bunk bed in a Rocinha guesthouse.