There are a multitude of things to see and do while vacationing in Brazil, but this wasn't on our list: A Rio de Janeiro tour company is offering an intimate a view of life in the city's notorious slums, including photo opportunities with drug gang leaders.
The Brazilian city's tourism chief said this week that the company, Private Tours, could be stripped of its license after a report in the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper that it had set up meetings between traffickers and tourists.
The paper sent a reporter disguised as a foreign tourist on the four-hour, $55 tour of Rocinha, the city's largest slum, that included visits to the "bocas de fumo" where traffickers sell drugs to Rio residents.
It said the traffickers told the tourists stories about their time in prison, described the life of a Rio drug dealer and would then pose for pictures with their guns — as long as their faces were not photographed.
Rio tourism chief Rubem Medina said the firm could lose its license if the story was accurate.
"It's not necessary to do this kind of tour in Rio; there are a lot of wonderful attractions," he told Reuters.
Pedro Novak of Private Tours acknowledged he ran that kind of tour but said, "I'm not the only one."
Several companies have for years offered tours of the city's more than 600 slums, offering tourists a controversial alternative to the city's beaches.
The slums, or favelas, are largely controlled by heavily armed drug gangs with names such as "Red Command" and "Friends of Friends" that fight each other for control of the lucrative cocaine market.
So maybe it's a good idea to leave your wallet and jewelry in your hotel room.
Colossal cancer stick
Looks like it will be close, but no giant cigar, for Cuba's stogie-rolling king Jose Castelar. The 64-year-old former world-record holder has teamed up with five assistants using nearly 93 pounds of top-quality tobacco to assemble a 98-foot cigar.
Castelar set Guinness Records for the world's longest cigars in 2001, 2003 and April 2005, when he completed a stogie measuring just shy of 67 feet. On Tuesday, he said he is shooting for a fourth title.
But Castelar, who learned the art of cigar-making from an uncle at age 5, is likely to fall short this time: Guinness says Puerto Rican cigar-maker Patricio Pena crafted a whopping 135-foot stogie last year.
Competition from cigar rollers in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico is stiff but friendly, driving Castelar to keep rolling.
"I'm working to take it to the maximum," he said. "We'll be back in two years with a longer one."
Still, his team is now crafting a cigar so long and so thick — more than 2 inches across — it can never actually be smoked.
Rolled for display at government-run cigar shops, it will be stored under glass, like others Castelar has made in previous years. It will take five, eight-hour days of work before this stogie is ready for unveiling at an international tourism fair, Castelar said.
Castelar actually prefers to smoke cigarettes, but his first assistant, Antonio Gonzalez, worked with a thick Cuban stogie between his teeth.
The cigar is so long that, as Castelar calls out orders, Gonzalez must repeat them to four other men stationed at different points along it, relaying commands down the chain as if the men were aboard a submarine.
"Move forward!" Gonzalez barked, when it was time to roll one way, and then, "Let's go back!"
But if rolling the giant cigar sounds hard, imagine smoking it.
"The tobacco is smokable," Castelar joked, "but we're missing someone with the lungs for it."
And maybe a blow torch to light it, too.
'Wine' with a clean finish
Two women were hospitalized after a New Zealand cafe mistakenly served dishwashing liquid instead of a spiced wine, a newspaper reported this week.
Chico's Restaurant Ltd. in the mountain resort of Queenstown pleaded guilty to a charge of selling food containing extraneous matter — the chemical sodium hydroxide — that caused injury, the Southland Times newspaper said.
Prosecutor Sarah McKenzie told Queenstown District Court that the two women were taken to a hospital after drinking the liquid last July, the newspaper reported.
Customer Sarah Ferguson had ordered a glass of "Mountain Thunder" mulled wine from Queenstown's Old Man Rock Cafe, owned by Chico's.
She spat out the liquid when she experienced a burning sensation on her lips and mouth.
Cafe worker Bethany Sim offered to test the drink and suffered a similar reaction.
An investigation showed the two liquids had been mixed up after 5.2 gallons of dishwashing liquid was delivered in a container formerly used to hold "Mountain Thunder."
This may have been an innocent mistake, because any wine that comes in a 5.2-gallon container probably can't taste much better than dish soap anyway.