St. Patrick’s – Porteño -style
Ireland may be half a world away from Buenos Aires, but every March 17th you’ll start to doubt it. Why March 17? Because it’s St. Patrick’s Day! In Argentina, it’s a chance for porteños descended from the country’s 50,000 Irish immigrants to celebrate their heritage, and for everyone else to dress in green, enjoy some traditional music, and drink fantastic beer.
St. Patrick’s Day celebrates Ireland’s most famous patron saint, who — according to thе legend — freed the island from an infestation of snakes. You won’t find any reptiles in Buenos Aires; instead, a festive parade will slither its way across the neighborhood of Retiro from 7-8pm, beginning at Suipacha and Arroyo Str and ending in Plaza San Martin.
From there, the fun moves on to Guinness-soaked Reconquista Str, home to many of the city’s traditional Irish pubs. It’s a rollicking way to pay homage to two of everyone’s favorite figures — San Patricio and Santa Cerveza!
Saint Patrick’s Day is a public holiday in some places like the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Newfoundland and Labrador as well as Montserrat. In other countries where there’s relatively big Irish Diaspora people also celebrate the holiday – Great Britain, Canada, the United States, Argentina, Australia, and New Zealand, among others. Some people even claim that St. Patrick’s Day is probably the most widely celebrated saint’s day in the world.
Stewart is a Triptrotting Adviser for South America. He lives in Vidigal, Rio de Janeiro and has traveled all over the world in the past few years.
For the past four months I have been living in an unpacified favela, known as Vidigal, located on a hill overlooking the richer parts of Rio de Janeiro. On Sunday, the government will invade this favela, as well as a neighboring one and attempt to establish control over the estimated 450,000 people living in these two areas. Around 2000 troops, with the support of armored vehicles and helicopters, will descend upon Vidigal on Sunday and I will be here. I intend to provide live updates of what is going on through Facebook, Twitter, and my blog so that people outside can get a different side of what occurs than that which is provided by the Brazilian and international media.
For those of you that aren’t aware, favelas are informal lower-income neighborhoods that were set up by poor migrants looking for opportunities in the larger cities of Brazil. An unpacified favela is a community that is under direct political control by drug traffickers, not the central government. Almost everyday that I have lived here I see armed men without uniforms. Since Brazil received the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, the government has slowly and surely established its control over these areas in order to convince the world that it is ready to host these events. From the roar of helicopter blades over my head, I know that Vidigal is next on their list.
As most travelers know viscerally, first hand experience allows for better understanding of a situation than that which can be gained from reading an article or watching the news. Living here for the past four months has made this truth all the more valid to me. Due to the fact that drug gangs control the favelas, the perceptions of people outside the favela are incredibly skewed. Most upper and middle class Brazilians, and many foreigners, associate the favela with danger and violence. While there is some truth in this view, the reality is ever more complex. For the traffickers, the favela is one of the most dangerous places on earth, with casualty rates far exceeding that of many conflicts in other countries. For everyday people unassociated with the traffickers, the favela can be safer than many other places in this crime torn city.
As the cocaine and crack boom in the 1980’s changed the nature of lower income communities in America, the same happened here in Brazil. The difference, however, is that in America the government writ extended to all parts of the city. In Rio, the central government has thoughtlessly ignored the informal communities of the favelas, denying them basic services such as police and sanitation. When it became apparent how much money was to be made in the drug trade here in Brazil, criminals could see no better option for their business than to set up shop in an area that was not under control of any government forces. They invaded these lower income neighborhoods and set up a political system that, to my knowledge, exists nowhere else in the world.
Rio is generally seen as a dangerous city to the outside world, with some justification. My friends living in other parts of the city have been robbed on several occasions and live their lives accordingly; they don’t take out their cell phones in public and never display wealth. My experience in the favela has been completely different. I drive an expensive foreign motorcycle and have no fear of taking out my Iphone or expensive camera. This is because the dono, or leader, of the main drug gangs, enforces his law rigidly, with the help of his managers and street level enforcers. The punishments for theft or rape are harsh and swiftly administered. Unlike the police, who live on $500 a month in the 12th most expensive city in the world, these enforcers and managers are not corrupt. They too know the punishment for inappropriate behavior.
Obviously, living under the whim of a dictatorial warlord, supplied by money from the drug trade, is not ideal. There is no right to property or a fair trial and the Brazilian constitution does not apply. That being said, the alternatives for those living in the favelas are no more ideal. Police in Rio de Janeiro are corrupt. They are viewed by much of the population as criminals themselves; running illegal gambling operations, demanding bribes, and often supporting the drug traffickers in exchange for money. The people living here have few good options.
In writing this, I am trying to witness and describe the disappearance of a unique community that is full of contradictions. I have been lucky enough to experience this unique place and want to share what I know before it disappears forever. I am not trying to excuse the drug dealers or portray them in a positive light. They have chosen the life they lead. I only want to bring attention to the majority of the community who are in no way tied to the drug trade. I have lived, travelled and studies in over 45 countries and nowhere else have I encountered such a warm and charismatic people as the ones I have met here in Vidigal.
I know that Triptrotters are the kind of worldly and intelligent people who can see past the stereotypes and misrepresentations provided by the media. Please help me in sharing this with your friends and family so that the people within this community can be seen and heard before they are rolled over by the bulldozer of history.
Do you ever feel like sometimes you travel around the world and end up somewhere that feels like home? Greece had that effect on me, and it wasn’t because they had the same language, lifestyle, food, or any other indicator of familiarity. Instead, it was ‘just a feeling’ (as cliché as that can possibly be)… a sense of belonging and of identification with the way the Greeks live and think.
It probably helped that a dear Greek friend of mine and Triptrotter, Sofia, hosted me in Athens. Thanks to her I got the true ‘Triptrotting’ experience, being able to live life as the Greeks do. I stayed with her and her family in their house in the suburbs, which was a great base both to explore the city and to get to know a Greek family. They even invited me to a family lunch and swim at their grandparent’s house in the country, complete with Greek salad and octopus!
Through Sofia I experienced Greek hospitality, friendliness, and open-mindedness. Her and her friends took me gallivanting about the city, educated me about the recent riots, showed me the best place to get a piercing, explored art exhibits and funky courtyard bars, even visited some of the hostels to meet up with other travelers (by the way, I’d totally recommend Student Universe to find hostels in Athens).
Together we convinced sailors to let us on a cruise, talked our way into the captain’s control room, and even into wearing his hat! We took road trips down the coast, traipsed around tiny Greek towns, discovered secluded beaches. We visited her friend’s island summer retreat, went on boat rides with them, saw horses swimming in the water and a man who was Jesus reincarnate in bathing trunks. We ate and ate and ate, from traditional souvlaki to picnics by temples to fresh market produce and restaurants in public squares. We enjoyed an awesome Urban Adventures tour of the Markets and Ruins in Ancient Athens. They took me to graffiti-lined alleyways, activists squatting in a park-turned-vegetable garden, on walks around the Parthenon. They even taught me that water-bottle prices were regulated by the government, so that hot, thirsty Greeks always had access to hydration. (Clever, n’est-ce pas? But I wonder what the IMF has to say about it!)
All in all, I had an absolutely wonderful three days in Greece. In many ways, Athens felt like a secret Montreal/Brooklyn/Melbourne, just with fresher food, friendlier people, and fantastic weather (sunshine!). I could not recommend it more highly, and hope that no one is dissuaded by sensationalist media reports of riots and random violence…I know that I’ll be back!
Check out more of my Ultimate Adventures through Europe on Triptrotting TV!