Jul 3 11

Risks in Rio

by Emily Benjamin

Rio was big on my list. I was so excited to see the harbour, Sugar Loaf, Christ the Redeemer, and see if I could capture some of the colourful city in the nine days we were there. But as soon as we arrived at our B&B in Ipanema, our host spotted my camera bag and suggested I leave it at home. What? Leave my camera here? What would be the point of that?? Not getting it stolen apparently – even in broad daylight, on a weekday, at the Botanic Gardens. I’d read Rio was bad, but I was surprised.

We later realised that Ipanema was tame compared to where we stayed next, in Lapa. We met a couple that had been mugged just two days earlier and had their money, camera and even their Lonely Planet stolen. In daylight, in Lapa. So we now had to be even more cautious. But if you go straight to the tourist spots, by cab, you’re apparently safer. It’s walking around that will get you. On the third day, the weather had cleared and we were off to see Christo Redentor atop Corcovado… along with ever other tourist and caroica in Rio. We didn’t realise our visit coincided with Corpus Christi, and were met with huge delays and lines to get to the top. Eventually we made it JUST in time for sunset, and slowly wedged ourselves between hundreds of others to get views before the light faded. All the while squeezing my camera bag around me, of course.

The view itself was pretty amazing. I do wish we’d been in one of the helicopters buzzing around, because there were certainly way too many people visiting that day. I now consider myself an expert of people management at touristic sights, because I’ve seen a few. Angkor Wat, Alhambra, Stonehenge and Petra are all very well managed – restrictions on numbers or even having enough space to cope for people is a big part of it. Some of the sights in Barcelona, and certainly Corcovado here in Brazil, however, require a bit of re-thinking. But that won’t happen, because the private drivers that charge a little more than average to whisk you up the mountain will lose their business, and I don’t think any Brazilian will take that lying down. Unless they’re already lying down atop Corcovado to take a photo, like the 20+ people we saw doing it that afternoon, being trod on by everyone else.

The other big sight we were looking forward to was Sugar Loaf Mountain. Or as a young French girl might say, Sweet Bread Mountain – her translation from Pane Sucre. Sugar Loaf did not disappoint – a prime position in the bay, it has 360degree views of Rio de Janeiro but without the hoards of tourists at Corcovado. And the view is just as spectacular, if not more so. Sticking with my theory that certain sights are better from below or afar (the list includes Eiffel Tower, waterfalls and lighthouses to date) the view of Christ the Redeemer from Sugar loaf is potentially better than vice versa. Sugar Loaf isn’t as high, but the view is still great. And maybe the most important advantage of Sugar Loaf over Corcovado? Monkeys!

We explored Lapa a bit more in the next few days, but also caught up on some reading and resting. Oh, and eating of meat. I have loved the return to red meat here in Brazil, after the cold cured meats of Spain. Here you can get every meat, on huge skewers, just lightly rubbed in salt and then BBQ’ed. Absolutely delicious, and even better once we found a restaurant that prices meals by the weight. One night we paid R$120 for dinner, the next we had the same meal but for R$25. Bargain!

Overall, Rio wasn’t the party paradise I expected it to be. But feeling unsafe is certainly not an aphrodisiac for a country. Being the photo-nut that I am, I was too scared to head out with my camera, for fear of losing it. It’s insured, and we’re covered for theft and mugging, but it would be a huge inconvenience to have my camera taken, right before Machu Picchu. A day at the police station to lodge the paperwork, days to sort it with insurers back in Australia, and no real certainty over getting a replacement – not much fun. So I went the cautious route, and as such I have the same tourist-y photos as most people. Maybe next time in Rio, I’ll learn enough Portuguese to tell potential muggers where to stick it if they try to get me.

Now we’re out of Brazil and in Chile, getting ready to board a plane to Easter Island! And if it’s as good as they say it is, I’m extra glad my camera wasn’t stolen :)

RioMontage4

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