Stressing about safety – Rio’s bad reputation

“Voçe quer uma aula de surf? Surf lesson?” Young man with a green sports shirt and a straw hat walks up to me. How did he knew what I was thinking? Maybe it is obvious because I am standing in the middle of Ipanema beach and staring at the surfers with a longing expression on my face.

I tell him I don’t want a lesson but I’d like to hire a board for an hour. Is it possible? He doesn’t speak much English and I speak even less Portuguese but I understand that it is possible. When? Now. Now? Yes, right now. How much? 70 real. OK.

Is it so dangerous?

All I was told about Brazil before I travelled here was how dangerous it is. Everyone wants to rob you, especially in Rio. If you don’t speak the language they don’t like you. You should not walk anywhere alone; Empty street are the most dangerous places to be and hiking alone is reckless.

Even though I didn’t have a proper plan for the trip, I just bought the flight tickets, I did try to think how I would stay out of trouble.

I was obviously a tourist as I didn’t speak the language, was pale as snow and kept walking way too fast compared to the locals. So blending in wasn’t going to work.

Shaking off all the stress.

Hiking in Rio

I was planning to walk up to the Christ of Redeemer on my last day in Rio. It is a steep, fun looking trail in the Tijuana National Park: you need to scramble a bit, but the path is well marked. I figured it wouldn’t take me too long. However, one local told me that the Corcovado trail is especially dangerous for lonely hikers because of drunk people and thieves. That is why I chose to go surfing instead.

Before that I did go for a random hike, but this was before I was told that I should’t hike alone.

The path I started to follow was supposed to go from Humaita to the botanical gardens but I lost the path as it wasn’t marked well and not very well trodded. Later I saw from google maps that the particular area is marked as “closed”. Nevertheless, I had to reverse my steps after loosing the path.

Walking after dark?

I was also told that I shouldn’t walk alone anywhere in Rio after dark. It gets dark around 6pm so it is dark by dinner time.

I wasn’t very lucky finding restaurants that advertise vegan food near Copacabana, where I stayed, so I ended up cooking every night. I walked to the grocery store after dark but it was only a few blocks away. There were a lot of people and streetlights so it felt fine.

Restaurante Bardana Cozinha Natural near Copacabana beach serves a great vegan lunch buffet.

Hiding your belongings

Tourists are advised to have a money belt and never carry much money whilst in Rio. A girl I met at one hostel told that a big group of her friends got robbed during the carnival this year. Only the one who had a money belt returned to the hostel with her money that night. Indeed I noticed that most Europeans had some kind of a pouch that they could wear underneath their clothing.

I was a bit paranoid about all that. This is how over-safe I was:

  • I wrote down on paper the numbers where I have to call if my phone or card gets stolen.
  • I photocopied and sent to my email photos of my insurace card, passport and credit card in case they went missing.
  • I kept my passport and credit card in the money belt but phone and cash in a small purse – mostly because I needed the phone all the time.
  • I used Uber instead of busses, even though it made me feel pretentious.

Being a solo traveller added to the issue especially when I wanted to go swimming. Either I had to go back and forth to the hostel and leave all my belongings there or i had to be creative. If I stuff bills inside biscuit box they are well hidden. If I tie the key of my safety locker on my wrist it won’t go missing. If I hide my phone inside my bra in my bag, maybe no one will steal it.

Copacabana is nice, but you do have to look after your belongings.

Less stress, more fun

“Actually, Rio is sweet, I could have stayed longer”, I think when I’m bobbing on the waves, the board supporting my weight and sun screeching my shoulders.

Maybe I was too careful. No one tried to steal anything from me in Rio. All my belongings in my beach bag that I left with the straw-hat-guy were still in place when I came back from surfing.

Maybe, if I had stayed a bit longer, I would have felt less stressed and learned to relax a bit more.

Ipanema beach has easy waves for surfing.

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