Just Arrived Home From Rio de Janeiro

“Maybe we shouldn’t go.”
“Yeah, maybe. Wait, should we?”
“Just bail on our flight? Yeah, maybe.”
A beat of silence.
“Wait, no. Of course we should go.”
“Yeah, let’s go. Of course we’re going to go.”

Rio de Janeiro has been in the news a lot lately. I’ve read stories about how the Olympic rowing lagoon is just a literal shit-hole, how there are gangs of thieves roving the beaches, and that you getting mugged in Rio is just something you should assume will happen if you go. And frankly the more I googled it, the more hits I found about how to “protect yourself in Rio”. Oh, and there’s Zika too, right?

Then the week we were about to leave, Andrew took me aside and said, “I just want you to be prepared for this — when we get to the airport in Rio, there will be a bunch of police protesting with a huge sign that says ‘welcome to hell’. So be prepared for that.”

“‘Welcome to hell’?!” I exclaimed. “What are we doing going there?!”

Thus ensued the above conversation, as for a moment, we actually considered abandoning our plans to visit Rio de Janeiro.


We originally  began planning to visit Rio back in January or February, when Andrew came across a tremendous seat sale. Because we would like to visit everywhere in the world, we kind of base our destination decisions on what kind of seat sales Andrew can find. We first make the booking, and then start researching.

So actually… when we booked our flight to Rio, we forgot about the Olympics. We were just booking a cheap flight. But then we quickly realized… oh, the Olympics. We looked at each other.

“Oh, shit,” we said in unison.

To me, the Olympics signifies a huge crowd of people, and a community that is not its authentic self (not that as tourists we ever experience anything authentically anyway but that’s another conversation for another day I suppose). We would not have chosen this on purpose. The Olympics are just not really on our radar.

But then, we came to realize that the visa fee was being waived for June-September, precisely because of the Olympics. This saved us a lot of extra paperwork (and saved us some more money as well). Can’t complain about that!

Because otherwise, as Canadians, the visa fee to visit Brazil is not the cheapest. It’s not the easiest country for us to visit. But right now, it is.

The more I read up about Rio, the more I was finding to be afraid of. I found myself learning the Portuguese words for, “I’m giving you all I have” — this was based upon the assumption that we certainly would be mugged in Rio, no question about it.

I think that’s because Google has a tendency to feed you exactly what you’re looking for.  If all I’d ever googled was “Rio Wonderful”, I would’ve received much different hits.

So! We assumed that yes, we would be mugged, and yes, it would be dangerous, but we went anyway. I mean, at some point you have to realize that everything you do in life has some element of danger to it. Just being alive is dangerous. And yet here we are.

ANYWAY. Upon hearing that I was about to board a plane destined for Brazil, a very nice lady said to me with great, very sweet, concern, “But what about the Zika virus?”

Well, whether it’s dengue fever, malaria, or Zika, getting bit by a mosquito can be undesirable in many parts of the world. But this is nothing new, and given that it’s winter in Brazil, there’s currently a significant reduction in the mosquito population.

And so, we hopped on that plane heading for Rio de Janeiro. And here is what we found there:

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Taking pictures from our cab upon our arrival. First glimpse of Sugar Loaf Mountain as we were stalled in traffic along Avenida Atlantica.

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Junior took us on a tour of the favela he grew up in. So beautiful and full of art!

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We daringly ventured outside our hotel in Copacabana, and found Amarzen 331 — a great destination for fine coffee and craft beer, just ten steps from our hotel!

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We stayed in Copacabana, which is where the Olympic Megastore is located. We may have been their first customers. They were in the process of training. Hence the smiles. Also, I am experiencing envy of her blue hair and excellent haircut.

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Strolling along Avenida Atlantica at dusk, in Copacabana.

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On our travels we sometimes purchase stuffed animals (or mascots) for our nieces and nephews to play with when they visit our home. We liked the Paralympic mascot the best. His name is Tom (named for Tom Jobim, who wrote the music for “Girl From Ipanema”). Tom promptly joined us on the beach for caipirinhas. As you can see, he is totally pumped.

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Copacabana beach after sunset, as we enjoy caipirinhas at a beachside cafe.

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Dining at the restaurant where Vinicius and Tom created the bossa nova hit “Girl From Ipanema”.

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On Copacabana beach. Falling in love with Rio de Janeiro.

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Me in a bikini on the beach.

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Building the beach volleyball seating for the Olympics. (We returned two weeks later and they had made significant progress.)

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Leaving Rio for (hopefully not) the last time. Once again stalled in traffic along Avenida Atlantica… which allowed me to take basically the identical photo to the first one in this series. Good-bye beautiful city and Sugar Loaf Mountain.

That’s just a photographic overview.

So about the rowing lagoon: we saw it. There were no clumps of shit in there (which is what the news had led me to expect). It looked fine, and there were Olympians practicing rowing. It looked serene.

About the roving gangs of thieves on the beaches: we spent a fair bit of time in the beachside cafes and wandering the shoreline, and saw not one gang of thieves. Only human beings relaxing on the beach. That was all. And it was wonderful.

Did we get mugged? No. Did we meet anyone who had been mugged? No. We were lucky? Overly cautious? Maybe. But also… maybe it’s not as scary as the media makes it out to be.

And what about Zika? Well. I’m no scientist, but I’ve heard that Zika spreads via mosquitos. We live in Manitoba, which is probably the mosquito capital of the world, so we know a mosquito when we see one. And, we did not see a single solitary mosquito while we were in Brazil. It’s winter there right now. You’d be hard-pressed to locate a mosquito there at this time of the year. People are contracting Zika in Florida… but you don’t hear of people freaking out about visiting the United States as a whole, do you? Just kind of an interesting thing to think about.

WELL. There you have it. I was just in Rio… and I had to add my voice to the speculative freakouts. I had to say, “Look, I was JUST THERE. Here is what I saw. Here is what I experienced.”

I hope to return someday!

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