Mustard on the shoe scam
I always read about these crazy scams that people think up to part tourists from their money but this is the first time one has ever happened to me.
We were walking down one of the major streets in Ipanema, but it was pouring buckets of rain for most of the morning and it was a Sunday so few people were out. A guy starts gesturing madly at my shoe, were my shoe laces untied or was I in danger of stepping in a large pile of dog crap? Nope. So I ignored him and then I looked again and where the heck did that mustard come from???? This wasn't your run of the mill yellow mustard, no this was fancy Grey Poupon mustard, right smack in the middle of my tennis shoe.
So I look at this guy, who is still gesturing at me and I notice he's got a shoe shine box and I think must be a really slow day if you're squirting mustard on tennis shoes, you see these weren't fancy white leather tennis shoes but mesh tennis shoes.
I just kept walking and eventually he went away and I found a nice big puddle on the sidewalk and a couple of hops and *poof*, the mustard was gone (don't think the mustard would enhance the taste of the shoe much anyway). Guess it could have been worse, I could have been hit by the dog crap shoe scam that I read about in Travelers Tales or it could have been yellow mustard or even worse yet, what if I had been wearing sandals?
I've also read they use mustard as a distraction and use it to part you from your wallet, my advice is to not stop, eventually they will go away
Smoking something illegal on the beach
If you want to smoke something illegal on the beach there are a couple little things to remember: 1. If you buy this something there you are supporting the drug lords and the drug violence in Rio. Remember that. 2. Be careful because cops dress undercover. 3. When on the beach smoking, listen for whistles. People will start whistling when they see cops walking down the beach. Put your stuff away. 4. The group of men sitting on the beach in t-shirts and dark jeans are undercover cops, don't smoke in front of them. 5. If there are no locals smoking where you are, don't smoke. There must be something up.
Safety in Rio de Janeiro
It is quite safe to walk around in Rio. I was staying in Copacabana for 2 weeks during the Carnival, went around Rio but had no unfortunate incidents. Contrary to what I have read, searched and gathered from asking tourist forums Rio is quite safe in my opinion. I blended with the people in the street (the Cariocas) so that didn't separate me from the crowd. I have my still camera in my pocket and my video camera was wrapped in a thick plastic bag then I put it inside a grocery bag. I went around with the grocery bag and when I wanted to take a picture or videotape I looked for a crowded spot most of the time near, beside or across from the police at the street corner. Almost every corner in town, on the beach side there is a presence of police. Military police or police in short, men and women. When I need to take a picture I just quickly snapshoot it or videotaped then put it back into my pocket or bag. Places like Corcovado, Sugar Loaf where there are a lot of tourists are good places to expose camera.
Take this advise: do not carry a lot of cash and be on constant watchful eye of your belongings. I would say that in Copacabana, Leblon and Ipanema, tourists are safer than anywhere else, but there is no guarantee that anywhere in Rio is the same.
Try to use your credit card as often as you could. Take note a cash advance from the bank machine or any banks can cost you hefty cash advance charges.
For cash advance I used HSBC as it carries Cirrus, Visa and Master Card, Visa Plus symbols. Local banks like Bradesco, Banco do Brasil do not entertain foreign debit and credit cards.
As much as possible use these machines daytime to avoid any temptations from muggers that lurk from the dark (although I never encountered any of this sort). Take precautions to cover your fingers when keying PIN. Keep your machine receipt and reconcile with bank statements when you arrive home from vacation. Your balance may not be available right away after withdrawal in the machine.
Be careful while in Rio!
Rio is considered a dangerous city . That doesn't mean you should keep it out of your travel plans. Just make sure you have a few precautions while there.
Don't walk in the Copacabana interior area at night. it's a zone where robbery is usual. Be sure that you don't look like a tourist. That means not to have your camera at sight , don't use any jewels or watches. If you need a watch use a plastic one. Carry only a small amount of money and if you think you won't need your credit card leave it at the hotel.
This also apllies to the beach. Don't leave your belongings unattended. Groups of children and teenagers can appear suddenly in the beach and robb you even during daylight, so don't take with you anything valious. And the most important of all, if you ever get robbed don't offer any resistance. That's the worst thing you can do! I don't want to scare you but many people were injured or even killed because they offered resistance when they were being robbed.
Keep out of favellas
My guide said that it is better to stay out of the favellas when you are a tourist.
Decent people live there as well but the crime rate is higher.
So if you really want to go and see the favellas better either go with a tour group (there are local tourist agencies that offer this service) or go with a local person who knows the place (of course, you should know and trust that person :)).
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Just Have Common Sense
You can have someone be mugged in the middle of Park Avenue, New York and someone else can walk through a favela and be fine. The most important components are common sense, street smarts and demeanor.
You don't need to wear lots of jewelry, fancy watches and swinging your $500 camera loosely from your shoulder. The average monthly wage may only be between $100 - $200 so the temptation to grab that camera can be high.
Watch for the young kids walking closely behind you and just don't look like a target, same as anywhere else in the world.
When we were there the only potential situation that could have escalated into something unpleasant was at a police checkpoint near a favela on the way to Barra. (Note: The local police don't make that much money either.)
The Sand Can Get Mighty Toasty!
Especially during the peak tourist season the sand can get mighty toasty under that 90 degree sun. You'll feel just fine for the first 15 yards and then that warm sensation will get a little uncomfortable. By that point in time you think "Well I'm already walking. I might aswell just keep going."
About another 17 seconds go by and you're frantically pulling off your tee shirt so that you can slam it down on the sand and then stand on it, before you leave bits of your toes behind for the birds.
Then you realize what it must feel like to be stuck on a desert island, with no hope of rescue. You have only one way out. Gritting your teeth, playing hop scotch with your tee shirt, while vowing never to be such a *** again.
In Copacabana some enterprising chair rental salesmen have actually run a hose with holes in it from the sidewalk directly to their stalls.
Danger in Rio de Janeiro?
I guess there is a lot of overreaction about crimes in Brazil that really hurts that beautiful country. There is just too much exaggeration.
Blame it on vitriolic press reports and the movies. The controversial film City of God which earned a nomination for the best foreign film in the Oscars three years ago depicted the slums of Rio and the crimes perpetrated by the drug lords. Was it ever that scary!
It sent a wave of alarm to many tourists and quashed a multimillion dollar tourism campaign by the government of Rio to project it as a vital tourist destination.
Who are the victims? The poor people of Rio. In reality the level of crimes is nowhere different from the Bronx in New York, the underbelly of downtown LA and the ubiquitous Medellin cartel etc.. Crime is everywhere in this world and no nation should be pinpointed as the cradle of poverty and crime. Every nation, every city has its own share.
The danger that I find persistent in Rio is perhaps being hit by a car than being a victim of robbery. One evening during the carnival night I was in Ipanema at a street corner in a curve. I had my green pedestrian light when I put my foot on the pavement to cross the street, a cab just went by in front of me followed by a bus. It was just about 2 feet from me. I was confused and really found out that it was green for me and red for the passing cars. Carnival madness? Maybe, but watching your steps prior to crossing streets are your best shots. Most pedestrians do what they feel when they are in a rush and so many motorists do feel the same way oblivious of any traffic violations.
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Just be careful when running around Rio at night. It's easy to get lost as a tourist and there are many places that locals don't run around at night. All and all, I found Rio to be far safer then everyone says. Oh, and if you rent a car, stop lights are optional at night. Look to make sure there is no traffic (it basically becomes a yield sign) and go. A lot of car theft used to be done at stop lights at night.
Rio de Janeiro's downtown has always been associated with danger. During the week a lot of people go there to work on the many building companies. The neighbourhoods around are great places to shop. It is in this area that you can find the best prices. Of course it's a bit like the black market. It is normal to see the PM's (Policia Militar) getting into small fights with the "Camelos" (the street vendors). This generates sometimes some stress amongst the people passing by, but usualy it stops as fast as it began. It is though important for you to have your eyes wide open when you go to this area. On weekends and after 5 pm this is not a good area for a tourist to walk by. Everything is closed and the criminals take over the street. Also homeless people seek for protection under the building entrances and the parks.
On the steps of Candelaria church a massacre took place almost 11 years ago. Off the duty PM's shot against 9 of the 50 orphan street children that used to spend the night under the divine protection of the church. Of the "Meninos da Candelaria" (Candelaria Children) only 1 survided. The other ran and never came back to sleep there again. On the following years 39 of them had violent deaths. The one that survided, Wagner dos Santos, got Witness Protection and inspired the movie "Cidade de Deus". Until today only 3 PM's were arrested and one suspect died on the way to court. The case is still not close.
Anyway, go downtown only during weeks days and with company. Keep your eyes always open! And maybe leave a flower on Candelaria's steps.
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Maniac Bus Drivers
The buses in Rio are plentiful and "on a mission". These vehicles will come flying round the corner just as you're crossing the road going faster than you've ever seen a bus travel. They will not stop.....ever, so be prepared to run.
Personally I think that there is a secret grand prix going on that most people are unaware of. They start in the morning and whomever can complete their route in the fastest time gets all their beers bought for them by the other drivers.
Favelas are the slums of Rio, I've seen statistics that estimate that anywhere from 1/5 to 1/3 of Rio's population live in these slums. Favelas are mostly built up the side of the mountains in Rio and are very easily recognizable, all of the guides say that you do not want to enter one without a local guide. Although I can't fathom why anyone would want to go gawk at the living conditions of impoverished people, especially after watching "City of God", there are companies that run favela tours and most guidebooks list the reputable ones, hopefully whom pass on some of their profits to the residents.
Myths about Rio (Un)safety
To tell you the truth, the only thing I lost in Rio was my heart :-) No doubt that poverty and violence are issues in Rio de Janeiro. However, it is not a matter that should stop you to go. In most cases imprudence rather than Rio's unsafety iself is the reason that makes you a victim of crime there.
Generally follow the same safety guidelines you follow at ANY city in the world:
1) don't go out too late at night, much less alone.
2) check out your bags and belongings while going around Rio. Never leave them unattended.
3) don't carry unnecesary stuff like flashy jewelry, too much cash or fancy/expensive clothing.
4) more importantly, don't boast about your belongings to strangers. It always amazed me how easily foreigners start talking about the money they brought, or the history of their jewelry, or their plans to buy this and that...
4) Always carry a map, in case you get lost.
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Danger - No Swimming
Rio has many beautiful beaches but the most famous are Copacabana, Ipanema and Botafogo. It is better not to swim in the sea near Rio de Janeiro as the water is not too clean and as there are strong currents. Around Rio are places like Cabo Frio, Búzios, Macaé and Rio das Ostras where the water is cleaner. Especially Rio das Ostras is serene and hardly spoilt by tourists. At the Praia das Tartarugas in Rio das Ostras it is possible to swim between the sea turtles (but don’t go to far as here are dangerous currents as well). The species is called green sea turtle and it eats the algae that grow on a rock just before the coast.
Most of the beaches are not staffed by lifeguards.
Never ignore the signs!
Rio's best attractions are all outdoors-you wouldn't want to hang out on the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema in inclement weather, Christ the Redeemer and Sugarloaf need clear weather and good visibility. So when we woke up on Sunday morning and saw rain pouring from the sky, we looked at each other and went back to sleep. Unfortunately, when we finally got up, it was still pouring and we were combing the guidebook looking for something to do. It can't always be sunny in Rio, I wished I had a plan B that day.
We eventually popped open our umbrellas and went over to the Hippie Fair which was sparsely populated then headed over to Ipanema where I got hit with the mustard scam, went and had some lunch and then headed over to Maracana for some futebol.
Take advantage when you have good weather, especially if you have good visibility, and head up to Sugarloaf or Corcovado to see Christ the Redeemer, we waited and ended up missing the trip to Sugarloaf.
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