The Maze Inn was really fantastic, but saying that it’s a unique place to stay as a visitor to Rio is an understatement. Below are some of the reasons why. At first, I was going to call these things “challenges” or something like that, but as I thought about them, I realized that in many ways they enhanced our experience. In other words, for the traveler looking for some degree of cultural immersion, the things below might actually be among the best reasons to stay in a favela. In our case, at least, I think they allowed us to live, to some small degree and for a very short time, sort of like the actual residents of the city. Still, I know that not everyone is looking for the same things in their travels, so here are some of the “immersive” aspects of staying in a favela.
1. Distance. The Maze, and the Tavares Bastos favela, is actually pretty far from everthing. For tourists, it’s also quite a ways away from most of the sites in the city. On the plus side, it’s about halfway between the historic sites in downtown and the beaches to the south. Unfortunately however, it’s at least an hour to walk downtown, and it took us two hours or so to walk to Pao de Acucar. Most people will want to take the bus to either of these places, and at night walking is a bad idea. Walking to the beach from the Maze would take even longer and be even more difficult. While we were in Rio, the thing that actually really hurt our budget was constantly having to take public transportation. It’s not expensive and we knew we’d have to use it at times, but we didn’t realize how often we’d be on buses, the metro, or the kombi. I can only imagine how much residents of the area have to spend on transportation over the long term. Obviously they aren’t constantly going to tourist sites, but even taking the van/kombi up and down the hill to their houses must really add up. (We were the only tourists I ever saw on the kombi.) For me, it was absolutely worth it, especially because The Maze is pretty inexpensive when it comes to hotels, but I know some people just want cheap lodging by the beach (and there are several hostels that fit that bill.)
2. The rooster. Near The Maze there was a rooster and it made rooster noises very early in the morning. More geneally, there is a lot of noise in Tavares Bastos, and I suspect in other favelas as well. There’s always someone doing construction or playing loud music. In many ways I loved this aspect of the neighborhood because it felt like something was always going on and the community had a lot of cohesion and interpersonal awareness. The down side to that, though, is that it’s hard to get a good night’s sleep without being woken up.
3. The water. At jazz night, people used up all the water at The Maze and in our room we didn’t have continuous, regular water again for three days (we had water some of the time during those days and I only went one day without a shower). I won’t get into how Brazilian water systems work, but suffice it to say that they work worst in favelas. As Bob mentioned (and I’m inclined to agree based on my previous time in country), the water wouldn’t run out in the house of a politician or wealthy person. In a favela, however, it happens. I don’t think the particular problem with our water (which only seemed to effect our floor of the inn for awhile) had happened before or will happen again, but the point is that we couldn’t just take running water for granted. Like I said, I don’t think that this particular thing will happen to future guests at The Maze, but the point seems to be that in favelas things don’t always work perfectly.
There were other things that I was going ot mention, but since it’s been a few days now I’ve forgotten them. I really enjoyed staying in The Maze, but I can think of a few people who might feel like they’re drowning in that degree of local immersion. In the end, it’s not a hotel, it really is an inn.