The Good, the bad and the Ugly

Trip Start Jan 15, 2006
1
24
52
Trip End Sep 05, 2006


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Friday, March 17, 2006

Our first 48 hours in Rio were magical and I was preparing to write an ode declaring Rio to be one the half dozen (or so) 'must-see' cities of the world. (NY, Paris, San Francisco and Sydney being my other nominations.) Then disaster struck. We were held up at gunpoint. The thieves only got about $100 of cash, a credit card (quickly cancelled), our hotel room key and (most problematically) our entire cache of 128 CDs. Kia tried to convince me that the musical loss was a sign that it was time to update my collection. Don't worry, this won't be happening.

Yesterday morning we decided to visit the Corcovado, the Christ statue that overlooks the city. We had learned that most of the tourist businesses (as well as the native population) views foreigners as walking ATM machines designed to provide copious amounts of cash to the local economy. We inquired at the hotel about hiring a car to take us to the top. The price was going to be at least $90, the ride was fairly direct and the weather was fine. We had been riding around Rio in cabs for two days and thought we knew the lay of the land. "What the heck, we have a car. Let's just drive the Jeep to the top." Unfortunately, we were now a rolling ATM.

We navigated through the city to the base of the hill. There we were met by a group of teenagers in matching t-shirts who had laminated ID cards that proclaimed they were 'official guides'. The cards looked suspiciously homemade. Since I had my crack navigator in the passenger seat, we decided to forego the cost of the guide and headed up the hill. As we headed up we ran into two more groups of kids who waited at intersections and pleaded to be hired. When we kept going they would point in the other direction and tell us we were going the wrong way. Kia confidently pointed in the correct direction. I admired their entrepreneurial skills, but that didn't mean I was going to buy their product.

We had a wonderful time at the top. The views are absolutely awe inspiring. (The day was hazy and our photos don't do it justice.) Our California Jeep was given a prime parking spot by the manager. We were quite happy as we headed back down the hill.

When we got to the first group of kids in t-shirts, the greetings were no longer friendly. Two of them pulled guns, told us to stop and open the doors. They were quite hyper and actually seemed pretty scared. They demanded our money and started pawing through our pockets and the front seat of the Jeep. One of them started grabbing my watch. It was quickly clear that they were not after the car and neither they nor us wanted to escalate the situation. Fortunately, at this moment a more expensive car pulled up alongside us. The bad guy on my side pointed the gun at that driver and seemed to be more interested in the new prey. I put the Jeep in gear and drove away without looking back.

Although the damage was pretty light, we were each feeling scared, violated and a little bit angry. I was angry at the kids, but figured that the life that they had chosen was likely to be nasty, brutish and short. They would get what they deserve. More importantly, I was angry at the country for lacking the willpower to stamp this stuff out. Most natives just shrug their shoulders and say there isn't much to be done.

Crime of all sorts seems to be tolerated in Rio. (Yes, Rudy Guiliani, they even have squeegee men.) The day before we took a tour of two of the favelas. (We were actually pleasantly surprised at the living conditions. No starving children, the buildings were all solid, there were plenty of open stores. Twenty years ago, The Bronx looked worse.) Our guide told us that, for us, this was actually one of the safest places in Rio. The druglords who run the place, do not tolerate any unauthorized crime in their neighborhoods. There is no theft from fellow residents or visitors in the favelas. Many wealthy drug users come to the favelas to make purchases and the bosses don't want anything to happen to their customers. To me this isn't done out of concern for the well being of the residents, it is merely a desire to maintain a monopoly on criminal behavior.

Prostitution also appears to be rampant. We saw quite a few very improbable couples. Many gorgeous, young Brazilian women were being escorted by dorky middle aged foreigners who they had obviously just met. It was also equal opportunity, we saw a couple of women who looked like they might have hired their dates.

On the beach we saw how some of the commercial arrangements were negotiated. Several scantily attired beauties were flirting with the foreign men that approached. A brief discussion ensued and then the men would walk back to their buddies. The prices must have been high as we did not see any apparently successful negotiations.

One particularly attractive young lady (she appeared to have slightly more than the manufacturer's original equipment), decided to get a leg up on her competition by juggling a soccer ball while topless. As she was quite skilled, she attracted the stares of most of the male population of the beach. Many of those stares (including your author's), however, were redirected when Kia rose from her beach chair and sashayed down to the water in her new red thong bikini. (Sorry, but I have no beach photos. After getting robbed we decided to leave the camera in the hotel room. Trust me, it was all good.)

Rio is a very beautiful city. The jungle-clad mountains rise from the ocean and city streets. The beaches are stunning, fairly clean, fun and have world-class people watching. The streets are lively and the party seems to never stop. On the other hand, the crime seems to keep people on edge and the tourist prices are often outrageous. (One evening we dined at a very highly recommended seafood restaurant. The prices would have been high for NY haute cuisine but the food was strictly Red Lobster.) I am inclined to come back someday and give the city another chance. Perhaps when they start getting a handle on crime.
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Comments

steffania
steffania on

The Best and the Worst
Nothing like a good rush of fear to give you a new zest for life...I can only imagine that is what inspired Kia to wear the red thong bikini! Brad, I KNOW you have fotos and you will be duly bribed once you get back:) Glad you two are OK and hope that is the worst of it.

tanya66
tanya66 on

We'll bring new CDs to Peru...
and we're glad that is the worst you've experienced. Sounds very scary. I wonder if you take one of the teenage 'guides' if they still rob you or does that mean they just extort a smaller amount of your cash?

Anyway, sounds like a harsh lesson in the realities of Brazil. Keep your guard up but hope you can still enjoy all the great experiences you've been having.

Tanya

lordowar
lordowar on

Glad you are all right
Brad and Kia, Can you believe somebody already swiped 'warlord' as their travelpod handle? The nerve. This story reminds me of the time we get ripped off outside the Warfield Theater in SF; this sounds an order of magnitude more 'exciting', shall we say, but the feelings of violation and anger sound familiar.

Great of you to share your trip so eloquently!

anacarina
anacarina on

Hi!
Hi guys, I'm a brazilian girl and reading all your blog about Brazil. It s amazing how perfect you got about the good and bad things.... I feel sorry everyday to see my beautifull country getting worse w/ the violence.
I would like to ask you if I can use some parts of your blog on my blog?
It s amazing to have a foreing person suggesting the same things we are trying to do, so It ll be a stronger voice!

Thank you!

anacarina
anacarina on

forgot...
I forgot! My name is Ana, and my email address is
cari@hotlink.com.br

tks!

hi on

wohayyy

Daniel on

sinceramente acho esta historia um pouco exagerada, em relação a violencia aqui no brasil// mas cada um tem que formar sua opinião// e não acreditar em tudo o que ouve//

timothy heck on

i went to rio about ten years ago it was the most dangerous place i have ever been. No desire to return period

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