Favela da Rocinha, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Under a bland, lackluster sky, matchbox houses of the largest favela in Rio pile atop one another. Breathing space remains scarce here, and vying to find higher ground on this steep hillside seems to be inversely proportional to the declining value of the Brazilian Real. The truth is that most travel guidebooks would want you to avoid this place like the plague while traveling alone. Being my usual self, I went in anyway, and boy, am I glad I did! No stranger to shantytowns myself, this complex and huge network was nothing I'd ever seen before. Once I found my way in through the maze, I looked up to climb on to a high perch that could give me an unfettered view without obstructions from the nearby buildings. After some blind alleys and about-turns, I found a set of stairs that seemed to go up to... well, nowhere. An arduous climb followed, and after about five or six floors, I found myself standing face to face with an old woman, and I was brave enough to ask her for directions to the roof -- of course, without knowing a single word of Portuguese. She enlightened me, patiently and politely, and without understanding a single word of what she just told me, I was soon back to searching for that rooftop. Determined as ever, this time I went through what seemed to be living rooms placed inside more living rooms, and then got out through what had to be an attic. There, in front of me, was the fascinating world of Rocinha. And the sight was truly majestic! To me, this was one of the more memorable moments of my Brazil visit.

Under a bland, lackluster sky, matchbox houses of the largest favela in Rio pile atop one another.