Saturday, February 25, 2012

Crime in the Streets of Rio

We've all heard the warnings that Rio is a dangerous city, people will rob you at any opportunity, etc etc etc.  I don't know if it's just an exaggeration or if I've just been really fortunate, but I have never had a problem while living in this city.

Well, my bike was stolen, but my bike was also stolen twice and my husband's once while living in Toronto.  I don't count that one.

I've heard stories though, of course.  A friend of a friend of a friend.  A friend of a friend.  Even more worrisome, an actual friend.  But generally it's perfectly easy to get by with some general common sense and caution.

I always keep my bag close to me.  I always look around me while I'm standing at a stop light or while I have my iPhone out.  I always lock up my bike, even if I'm just going to sit down in the park with it beside me.  I always keep an eye out for weird looking people, people who appear to have a different reason than me for being in any given space.  It's just better to be extra cautious than to regret losing something you could have avoided losing.

Yesterday a friend and I went to do yoga in Parque do Flamengo, a kind of notorious place for having sketchy people.  I've done yoga there before though, I keep to myself, it's really peaceful.  We finished our fantastic podcasts and started on the walk home.  I had my bike with me, my iPhone in an arm band and my mat strapped to my back.

I was doing my usual talking and looking around and I saw about 5 weird-looking guys coming up the side of the path (coming from the rocks by the water on Praia de Botafogo).  Even though there were a lot of people around and it was daylight, they looked suspicious and yes, I already had my guard up.

Then, my worst fear became a reality as one came RIGHT up beside/behind me.  It felt like he was trying to corner me against my bike or something, as he started to grab at my mat (which he probably thought was a bag) and my phone strapped to my arm.  My automatic response was to push him as hard as I could and scream.  My friend started yelling too and I kept pushing him and there was this, like, scuffle where I later found out my shorts got ripped.

Luckily, my mat bag strap was super tight, and my arm band was wrapped in a way that he couldn't just rip it off and run.  UN-fortunately, the only name I could think of to call the guy in Portuguese was seu folgado, haha, probably one of the most unintimidating names possible.  It means something like "you ignoramus!"   Swearing in English was much more cathartic in that moment...

Anyway, the dummies couldn't get what they wanted so they took off (the fools ran right INTO the traffic almost killing themselves along the way.... idiots).

Just to make it clear: I am ok.  I was actually pretty pumped that nothing got taken and also that I stood up for myself BUT I've also been reminded that I was lucky and that I/you should really be careful in how you handle this kind of situation.

This also isn't any kind of burn on Rio or Brazil - I know it could happen anywhere, and I've been fortunate that I've never had this kind of problem before.  A friend said to me, "It's not a matter of 'if', it's a matter of 'when'", and even though that's slightly cryptic and fear-mongering, it IS better to be safe than sorry (no matter what country you live in).

This is the reality of the world we live in.  Just don't tell my mom... 

As for me, I won't let this incident stop me from returning to that park.  I've been there so many times before without issue.  I know this is a one-off.  But maybe next time I'll leave my bike so I'm not such a distracted-looking target.  I don't know... I just hate the idea of vagabundo people infringing on my freedom to live! 

Anyone else have any stories of theft?


  1. Wow, Lindsey. So glad you're not hurt! I know the feeling and it will stick with you for a while. I was robbed in Lapa (I shouldn't have been there) and I had a few sort of 'flashback' moments for longer than I thought I would.

    I don't blame Rio either. I know lots of people who were robbed in the US, even in some normally 'safe' places.

    Glad you had a friend with you, and good for you for not letting it stop you from going back.

    1. Actually, I thought of you because I remembered you mentioning that in a blog... scary stuff and you're right - I'm still thinking about it...

  2. Oh no! Glad to hear you are OK though, of course.

    This kind of stuff is so common nowadays that you really need to be on guard wherever you go. Like you've said, don't let this stuff stop you from living. I've had my fair share of crime happen to me and it helps me learn what not to do, but also teaches you to live your life!

    Stay safe and glad you're ok!


  3. Were you and your friend speaking English together? Do you think that had anything to do with it? :/ Sorry, friend. Folgado is a good response! Maybe it confused him enough to make him run off. Hahaha

    1. Yeah we were speaking English, but I don't think the guy heard us. He kinda came out of nowhere and like I said there were lots of people around! It almost seemed like an after-thought for him to try to take my stuff!
      Maybe I can actually thank my crappy insulting skills then?? lol

  4. I'm glad you're OK. It sounds a little scary but maybe more so empowering? Do watch out for any signs of PTSD.

    Something similar happened to me in Barcelona, but fighting the little jacktard off made me feel like Superwoman! I'm tall compared to most of the world (only 5 ft 8) so I don't typically get messed with, so the Barcelona thing was a surprise. I was also swarmed by street children- some as young as 4 years old- in Istanbul. But I had nothing for them to take, and ended up befriending some of them.

    1. Jen it was totally empowering. What is PTSD?

      I get scared thinking about kids attacking - they're smaller and more agile!

  5. Hey Lindsey,

    I am sorry this happened to you in Rio.
    Please try to remember and not react that way next time, this is really dangerous, because this kids sometimes are high and really don't know what they are doing and react on instinct.
    You don't want to get hurt or killed over a bike or a phone...
    Please be careful and try not to react in the future.
    Gil and I were never robbed in Brazil, but ironically were robbed at gun point in one of the safest neighborhoods in Dallas.
    We were also cornered and chased by some thugs in Providence once, but we got away...barely.
    I have to say, I didn't feel too safe in Toronto, mainly because of those "RED" blinking light at the back of every taxi cab that said "If this light is on, call 911, we are being robbed"!! That freaked me out, I mean, how often do taxi drivers get robbed in Toronto to justify installing a red light on the back of the car to alert people to call the police for them? Scary!! But we were glad to be in a super civilized country where we could go to Toronto's Town Hall and get married!! :)
    Be careful in Rio, try to NOT REACT!!!
    We grow up in Brazil listening to this important survival instruction, NEVER, EVER, EVER react! They usually have nothing to loose!
    I am with you, don't allow these bastards to intimidate you.



    1. Thanks for the warning Ray... my husband gave me the same warning, but in this specific situation the guy didn't ask for my stuff and it seemed like kind of an after-thought so I felt ok pushing him. Regardless, I totally hear what you're saying - it's a risky situation.

      To be fair, I've lived in Toronto my whole life and have never seen that blinking red light actually blinking! I guess it's all about safety precautions - it's a total possibility and there's a bigger chance of catching someone if you can alert for help! I kinda like that...

      And PS. I knew you weren't contradicting yourself and that you meant dont let them intimidate me from staying away from the park haha... I guessed that at least!

  6. Ok, I meant "not intimidate you" as in not allowing you to be afraid of going to the park, not of going "Karate Kid" on them!! :)


  7. How scary!!! So glad you are okay!!!! I worry about that a lot. I worried even more when I was taking buses all the time. So far I've been lucky. I'm impressed you even had the mind to call him folgado! Whenever Im stressed or upset it's super hard for me to think in portuguese!! :) Im glad nothing was taken, but Im even happier that you are alright!!

  8. So scary! But I am glad to hear you are alright. Listen to Ray, though... your mat is worth much less than your life! However, you do have both and that is the best situation, so way to go you!

  9. Yikes, that is scary. A friend of mine here in SP had a similar situation happen while she was walking on Oscar Freire. She had her baby strapped to the front of her too and a guy came up and grabbed her necklace. Her immediate reaction wasn't that she had a baby to protect but to scream and fight him. Luckily for her the guy freaked and she kept her necklace and her baby but she was shocked at her reaction after the fact. I think you can tell yourself to just let go but in the moment self defense plays a major role. Glad you are ok!!

  10. Yikes, I am always worried about stuff like this happening and how I would respond! Glad you are okay....

  11. That's awful. I'd say yer heart was pumping after. I got robbed 2 hours after arriving in Recife for the first time (many years ago). I was walking back from the supermarket with me 2 mates, we were laden down with booze and it started to rain. It was also dark and by a canal. Two lads came ran up to us with long knives and lighten our wallets though they left our liquid, thank heavens. Haven't been robbed since. Always pays to be on your guard.

  12. Totally agree. Sometimes it can be easy to get complacent once the culture shock wears off. This is my third time in Brazil (first time living) and I've never had any issues (touch wood) but it's always at the back of your mind. Good news that you are ok though and it wasn't too serious!

  13. Woah! I've only just seen this Lindsey - I'm really sorry to hear about this but so pleased to hear you didn't come to any harm. I'm not surprised that you're feeling a little shaken up. I think I mentioned this on a blog or two in the past, but my wife and I were robbed last year - it was not far from our home and it was scary (the guy had a gun). But it was the first time I'd had any trouble having spent more than a year in Rio and the first time my wife had ever been robbed (having lived all her life in Rio). We handed everything over straight away and it was over in 15 seconds.

    I think everyone has to judge the situation as they find it, but I would always, ALWAYS go with Ray's advice. I've heard of a couple of serious incidents in the Flamengo area in the last year and both times the victim ran or tried to resist.

    It's good to hear that you'll go back to the park - I'm sure it will feel a little nerve-wracking the first time but you'll get past that. For the first 2 weeks after our robbery we would always peek round the corner to get a look at the place where the guy got us. But after a while we just moved on.

  14. Living in New Orleans for a couple years, I know what Ray is talking about. People who rob you in a city like Rio are often drug users. And they don't live by certain norms and longer or are not in touch with reality. So be super careful. I have been attacked working for the NOPD by people on drugs just trying to talk to them. We also lost a pregnant officer at the hands of mentally ill person who was on drugs, she was just walking near his space and he felt threatened. Which is why we in civilian clothing would come in first or after an incident.

    I would however probably react how you did too. I often try to replay in head a plan, if someone robs me what I would do. In order not to punch them and scream at them. Although I would truly love to react that way, as I see they have it coming. I think about having to give up my phone or ipod and prepare myself on that one too.

    However, it sucks. It's not fair. I'm not super rich or really have money to throw around. Pretty much the whole time in Brazil I haven't been able to wear my engagement ring any longer. It's something that means a lot to me and bothers me that I really don't feel comfortable wearing it.

    It's awesome that everything worked out and it was probably a fluke.

  15. A friend of mine lives on a "noble" street over near aterro and has been attacked a couple of times. Thankfully it was all grab and run kind of situations (Minus the time someone put a knife to her throat. Yikes).

    I stay away from Aterro from dusk on, unless it is summer and I am in a large group. Glad to hear you are ok and that the bastard didn't get away with anything!

  16. I got robbed in Brazil, it's a maddening feeling. My Laptop was stolen inside my home at about 10:30 am. We let the Oi phone guy in to fix the bad connection. ( Mind you it took almost 2 months to get someone there and we had "new service". So the Oi guys comes in followed by another guy who we thought was with the phone company, 5 minutes later I walk over to where my laptop once was and poof it was gone. A 3000.00 US dollar laptop. Of course it gone we called the cops they took a report gave me a little piece of paper for a receipt, After going the the Federal Police Station and seeing how it was being run I knew it was history.

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