The Aussie Who Befriended Brazilian Gangsters And Became A Minor Celebrity
Going into one of Brazil's most dangerous favelas was just "an adventure" for a daring Aussie, who is now trying to raise money to benefit the poor slum area.
Hugo Cary, from Scarborough in Western Australia, is dealing with an unexpected slice of fame in Brazil after walking into one of the country's most notorious areas, and living to tell the tale.
After meeting gangsters, holding their guns, and teaching magic tricks to local kids, he is snowed under with hundreds of messages and featuring in newspapers across the country.
"I honestly had no idea or intentions of it going public. It was just my own little adventure," he told 10 daily.
Cary recently spent some time travelling around central and South America. After surfing in Nicaragua, he headed to Rio De Janeiro in early August. One night, after partying in the buzzing nightlife neighbourhood of Lapa, Cary ended up in a burger joint -- and hatched a plan to get off the beaten tourist track.
"I just decided I was going to go to a favela," he said.
"I’d heard really good things. They are obviously dangerous places but also full of life, energy and cool people."
Favelas are low-income areas in Brazil. Often described as slums or shantytowns, sometimes without widespread regulation or essential services, the neglected neighbourhoods can be scarred by crime and drugs -- but, as Cary found, also filled with good spirits, adventure and happiness.
Cary was inspired by travellers he met in hostels, one who lived in a favela and one who was teaching English in another, to visit these areas teeming with vibrant energy.
Asking a friend at the burger bar to write a letter in Portuguese for him to show to people he met -- which read "I come in peace as a guest and bring nothing but love" -- Cary asked a cab driver to take him to "the most dangerous favela".
He ended up in the Complexo do Alemão, one of the largest favelas in Rio's north zone, with a history of drug lords and gun violence. A firearm shootout was reported to have occurred every 30 hours in Alemao in 2017.
The driver refused to even take him all the way, but said he would take Cary close enough for him to walk the remainder of the trip.
"I wanted to go somewhere authentic. Somewhere new, and somewhere a little dangerous," Cary said.
At this point in our conversation, in response to news articles written about his adventures, the Aussie assured us he wasn't drunk at the time.
"I was pretty much sober. The last drink was about three hours before, and I'd smashed a burger. It wasn’t a drunk act," Cary promised us.
But soon after walking into the favela, he said he was "picked up by two scouts with machine guns". His letter, in Portuguese, had been accidentally left in the cab.
"So there was a little 'uh oh' moment," Cary laughed.
"I quickly explained my intentions using Google Translate, broken English and a big smile. I wasn’t scared at any point and was pretty relaxed when speaking with them, which I think made them feel comfortable."
"The biggest issue was convincing them I wasn’t an undercover police officer... Apparently the last person to go there was shot through their car door."
Suddenly, a potentially deadly situation morphed into an amazing travel experience. Cary said he "got along well" with the men, and soon felt like they were "bros just hanging out that day". Cary was handed one of their guns, they showed him how to use it (but no shots were fired), and he spent the day wandering around the favela.
"This is a proper community, rich with life and energy," he said.
"I met some awesome kids at a shop who were very curious of me. Having no common language, I showed them a magic trick where a coin disappears into my arm. They went ballistic. They ran and got their friends and I ended up performing it about 20 times."
After the story of the solo Aussie wandering into a notorious favela on a whim began spreading around Brazil, Cary was flooded with messages and attention. He said his Facebook inbox was filled with "hundreds" of people wanting to talk to him, and multiple Brazilian media outlets wrote up his unconventional travel story.
The keen surfer is now in Indonesia, still on holiday, but wants to turn his unexpected minor fame into something good.
"My friends found it all hilarious. My family was worried at first, but now that they’ve seen the way it’s being received, I think they’re actually a little proud. It's been really touching to have thank you messages from people who live in the favela," Cary told 10 daily.
He is running an online campaign through Go Fund Me to raise money for the children of the favela to access education, arts, dance and sports programs.
"Poverty and the crossfire between gang warfare and police, mean too many little brothers and sisters are lost," Cary wrote on the 'Support for the children of favela Alemao' page.
"The money raised will go towards existing organisations, who are currently doing amazing things, providing opportunities to kids and teenagers that we take for granted."
And while he now has another jaw-dropping travel tale to tell his friends, Cary warns that other Australians shouldn't try the same risky move he did.
"I want to make a point that this was probably a once off and other tourists should not go there unless they’re invited... I don’t want my story to motivate someone else to do the same and something bad happens," he said.