Carnaval crims don't deter from fun

"MY friend got mugged at gunpoint just three blocks back from the main beach in Rio."

"Don't bother taking your camera out, it'll just get stolen."

"Take a taxi even if it's only three blocks."

"The ladies at the market in Buenos Aires stopped me and made me swap my pack to my front or it would be slashed to steal the contents."

The girls in the transit lounge at Buenos Aires airport were sharing horror stories about Rio de Janeiro during Carnaval and swapping advice on how to stay safe.

As I sat eavesdropping, I smugly smiled about how prepared I was for my first trip to the Brazilian city.

On advice from previous festival goers, I had bought a second cheap camera to take out and about during Carnaval.

I had a disposable camera for nights out on the town.

I had a sturdy Kathmandu bag which I carried across my shoulder with lots of secret pockets.

Despite this, I half expected a mugging or fleecing at some point on my trip.

But, seriously, on my second day?

I had taken the bare minimum out that day.

I had been at Flamengo Beach for a spot of sunbaking and a swim.

My bag had a sarong, book and water bottle.

I had sewn pockets into all my clothes so I had one bank card and some cash tucked into my dress.

My only precious item was my new flash camera, a Sony cybershot worth close to $500.

I hadn't taken my camera or phone out the day before, such was my paranoia, when I headed to one of the main beaches and shopping strips at Impanema.

But Flamengo Beach was a stone's throw from Argentina Hotel, where I was staying.

A short walk through a lovely park to a white sandy beach with lush mountainous backdrop, marinas to the left and right.

I could see the famed Sugar Loaf Mountain and the cable cars running to the top for tourists to take a 360-degree view around the picturesque city.

Though, my trip up there proffered little view but clouds (you'll notice in the photo gallery that it's been raining almost every day).

Anyway, back to the mugging.

I had decided to take my good camera to Flamengo Beach because it was water proof and I could take it in for a swim.

That way, I had rationalised, I would not leave anything of value on the beach.

After snoozing and baking for an hour, I decided to walk back around the esplanade next to the water.

It was lovely.  There were fishermen everywhere throwing a line in. I passed a trio sorting through a boatload of mussels they'd just hauled in.

There were joggers taking in the same view on the two-way running path. There were men pumping 'concrete' in a Flinstone-style outdoor gym and young boys kicking around soccer balls in the adjacent park.

Then, suddenly appearing from the clouds that hug the mountains dotted around Rio, I saw the enormous statue of Christ on Corcovado Mountain.

The 38-metre statue, atop the 710-metro mountain had eluded me until then because of the low clouds.

Seconds later it was gone so I continued meandering along the waterfront.

I was mildly suspicious of nearly everyone I passed but I didn't let it consume me.

I had seen two Brazilian boys, about 16 I'd say, ride past, dinking.

When they rode back past a few minutes later and hovered about 20 metres ahead of me, I knew.

They eyed me for a bit and then rode straight at me.

I held my bag tightly to my body.

They reefed at my bag and pulled up my dress to reveal my bathers.

I'm not sure if they were looking for something underneath my dress, trying to distract me or just hold me so they could steal the bag.

I screamed obscenities like a crazy woman.

They hadn't pulled a gun or a knife so I just ran as fast as I could away from them until I reached a bus stop with dozens of people standing around.

My heart was beating so fast.

My attempted muggers had fled across the busy six lane road parallel to the water and I could see them riding on the other side.

It was completely opportunistic and I think my animalistic reaction scared them.

I didn't know what to do. They were headed in the same direction as the metro station I was headed.

I eventually kept walking, waiting for a group to walk with through an underground passage beneath the busy road.

Then, to ease my nerves, I saw a police traffic operation near the metro station and caught a train home.

My fabulous roomies - there's four of us squished into a tiny room - have made a pact not to head out alone again.

Rae: 1. Muggers: 0.

Things I have observed...

  • Taxi drivers believe lines on the road are just guides and blinkers are simply unnecessary.
  • Taxi drivers bleat like sheep over their radios - this is not a metaphor for how they sound, it was literally "bleh, bleh, bleh, bleh" back and forth.
  • There is a show on Brazilian cable tv called Sexy Soccermums. I saw no soccer balls. Just naked women repeatedly jumping into a rockpool.
  • Fit men walking along Impanema esplanade wearing figure hugging Calvin Klein-like underwear as bathers while carrying foam eskies.
  • The same men suddenly reversing in a run backwards each time a hot girl ran by on the dedicated running lanes parallel.
  • Old men in DTs and sneakers also jogging when they really should not.
  • Men love cross-dressing during Carnival.
  • It is compulsary to wear something bright and colourful on one's head during Carnival, even teamed with tracksuit pants.

A Latin Affair is a travel column written by Rae Wilson.



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