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June 29 2012

The big picture: Ramos Beach, by Julio Bittencourt

Brazil isn't all about Copacabana cool. Rio's lower classes hang out on a dirty, man-made lakeside

These are not the buff bodies beautiful in itsy-bitsy bikinis found on Rio de Janeiro's more chichi beaches, whose names alone – Copacabana, Ipanema – evoke freedom, youth and long, sun-kissed limbs. This is the more prosaic Piscinão de Ramos, an artificial lake in a park overlooking the city's bay that's a popular hang out for the city's lower, mostly black, classes.

The scrubby beach – surrounded by 15 favelas, or shanty towns – is crowded, noisy and dirty, and the water is polluted, despite being supposedly purified by a pump. But the favelas' residents flock here nonetheless, to relax, to sunbathe and to get drunk on cachaça, Brazilian rum. Many come with buckets of homemade body hair bleach, slapping it on their limbs before stretching out for the day.

Umbrellas pack the sand, young men pump iron on rusty bars and groups of girls gossip and strut. On the busiest summer days, the shallow lake – more suited to wading and paddling than swimming – is jammed with bodies of all shapes and sizes. Dogs splash in the shallows. It's edgy, but although violence is a fact of life in the favelas, this vast public park, with the lake at its centre, has been mostly free of gangs and guns.

The lake was opened by the state government in 2001 to much controversy: it was seen as a blatant bid to win votes from the favela residents. But they don't care. They have very little, and Ramos gives them a chance to forget about work and life for a short while.

• The Barbican's Back2Black festival, a three-day cultural event that launched in Rio de Janeiro in 2009, is in London this weekend, featuring Gilberto Gil, among others.


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January 20 2010

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Technology for Transparency Network

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Announcing the Technology for Transparency Network

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