Rio: robbery, rain and restaurants

Flying before dawn has it’s perks: our entire flight to Rio de Janeiro is colored with the gorgeous warm hues of the rising sun. It’s only unfortunate we can’t enjoy it much longer as landing takes us back into dark grey skies. It feels like Belgian autumn when we walk out of the airport and head into the Ciudade Maravilhiosa – not what we have been used to in the past month. Luckily we’ll sleep in a hostel instead of a tent this time.

The great thing about a metropolis like Rio is that even in poor weather there’s no reason to get bored. Rio has several museums we would like to visit so we kick off with the Museo da Amanhã, the museum of tomorrow. The museum puts us, humans, and our impact in perspective and questions how we will and should shape tomorrow. The impressive building also fits its name proper: big and modern it sits like a spaceship on the waterfront looking over a wide square – only the adjacent drilling platform is a bit of an ironical eyesore. From the entry hall to the exhibition space, everything has the same new, vibrant and interactive spirit. Text, sound, visuals and interactions blend into a – sometimes too – intense museum experience. When we finish several hours later we do the obligatory photoshoot at the backside of the museum and notice the weather got dry. We use the opportunity to go to the north of Rio, close to the famous Maracanã stadium. The area has a very different feel to it and while walking out of the metro immediately someone tells Hannes to put his camera out of sight. Thanks for the warning… Slightly uncomfortable we quickly head into the Quinta da Boa Vista park before it gets dark. This is where an inferno destroyed the Museo Nacional, one of Brazil’s most important museums, earlier this year. This bit of disaster tourism brings us close to our actual destination that evening: The Feira Nordestina. More than 600 stalls sell and show you the culture and flavors of the Northeast of Brazil. We’ve already spent several weeks in the Nordeste, but didn’t want to miss this favorite friday night spot for locals – people from Rio are named Cariocas. Next to a market,  the Feira also hosts shows of Música Popular Brasileria – not really our cup of tea – and you can have a laugh at Cariocas singing Cachaça-infused Karaoke.

After a day in contemporary Rio, we visit a historic part the next day in Centro and Lapa. Here we find an abundance of colonial buildings, unfortunately most of them in various stages of decay. Also there’s little life on the streets of centro. Apparently shops in this area close on Saturdays so there’s little reason to be here. Thus we go straight to Lapa, the beating heart of samba in Rio, where we want to see the aquaduct and famous colored stairway. When we arrive to the Arcos de Lapa, the aquaduct, both of us notice some strange lads hanging around the square. But there’s a police car ostentatiously parked so we walk to the centre of the square anyway. When a second vehicle drives by and signals he should follow, both police cars speed off with flashing blue lights. We would have preferred he stayed right where he was… Stefanie doesn’t feel at ease anymore and we prepare to leave. Behind us are 3 men nervously pacing around and when we walk away they also start moving. Stefanie notices that they seem to be following us. When we reach the side of the square, ready to cross a busy road, they have suddenly closed in all around us. The guy in front yells he wants Hannes’ camera. And while looking at him with his wide open, all but sober looking, eyes he lifts up his shirt so we can see his knife. We flinch backwards where his 2 companions are waiting to grab Hannes. One reaches for his backpack, the other unzips his side pocket and snatches his wallet. They have what they needed and make a run for it. Utterly shocked about what just happened we try to get away from the place as fast as possible. 2 ladies see us standing dazed and confused on the street corner and ask us what happened. This we didn’t expect at all. We were prepared for pickpockets and petty theft in busy places, yes. But being robbed with a weapon in broad daylight at a tourist hotspot, that we couldn’t have imagined. The ladies call a police car, that just comes across the corner again. They explain the situation and the officers take us in their car to scan the area for the perpetrators. In vain… for more than half an hour we check the neighborhood while they are also looking for English speaking colleagues to better assist us. After finding their colleagues they take us to the tourist police office in Leblon, the other side of town. We fill in the necessary paperwork and try to recognise the assailants in a picture book. Looking through these books we start grasp the scale of the issues in Rio de Janeiro. For every neighborhood there is a thick book full of mug shots, each one with this crazy, blurred look in their eyes. You could hear the frustration when talking to the officers. They keep arresting the same guys and sooner rather than later they are on the streets again without any form of punishment. Seemingly hopeless situations like this are exactly what gets a country to electing populists like Bolsonaro. When we finish, the officers even drop us of at our hostel. This was one hell of a day for us, but at least the Rio police has been an enormous help! We try to get over it all and decide we better go outside again as soon as possible. Well, outside… We take a taxi to a restaurant for a nice dinner. Luckily we were prepared and none of our credit cards or passports were stolen. So we can still eat whatever we want. Going out for dinner is more than enough for now in the dark Rio: delicious pizza and we find comfort in ice cream made with Belgian chocolate!

The next days our trip seemingly comes to a halt. We only go out to eat and only by taxi. On the one hand because we don’t feel like walking around and doing much, but on the other hand we have a lot to arrange with our insurance and family. We are glad to have a great travel insurance to minimise the financial damage. A camera and sweater can be replaced. The pictures and memories in our travel diaries, however, are gone. And that’s what we hate the most right now.

 After a couple of days we figure it’s time to get back at it and go explore some more of Rio. One of the – if not the – most popular and famous attractions, Christ the Redeemer, is first on the list. Low season and miserable weather mean we have our pick of when we can go up the normally busy mountain. We can even exchange our tickets for a later date because visibility up there is not great. Forecasts for the coming days don’t look any better so we go up anyway. On our way up with an electric train – hiking is not allowed anymore, the path through Atlantic rainforest has been closed recently due to the increased number of violent robberies – there are already some nice sights of the city, if you pick the right side to sit. At the top we get what we expected: a massive statue looking out over the marvellous city. From here the view on the city is simply spectacular and with the clouds and fog even somewhat mysterious: so big, but so naturally entrenched between high mountains and the ocean. One of those mountains, the Sugarloaf, is on our planning for watching sunset. Unfortunately the rain ruins our plans. When we arrive at the foot the entire sky is covered in black thunderclouds. It’s also not the cheapest trip – R$ 110 or € 20 p.p. – so we decide to skip it. 

To avoid the rain we also spend some time in the Museum of Art in Rio, or MAR. The interesting art exhibitions focus on Rio but touch various subjects, from samba to carnival and public riots. Alas most of it is only in Portuguese. But hey, we didn’t pay for it anyway. To visit Rio’s museum you better plan ahead. Almost all places have one day of free or greatly reduced entry prices. MAR and Amanhã are a great day trip combination as they are both free on Tuesdays and sit practically next to each other on the Praça Mauá. When the sun finally decides to show itself we speed to Ipanema to finally check out the famous Rio beaches – due to it’s reputation with crime we avoided Copacabana. But one Caipirinha later we have to run for cover again, because in the distance we see rain pouring from the sky.

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What we probably enjoyed most in Rio is the high quality food scene. You can find whatever cuisine you want and if you pay just that little extra – but still little for Belgian standards – you can eat deliciously. This Asian, Mediterranean, Mexican and more was a welcome change from the loads of rice, chicken and pizza in the previous weeks. I guess we might have become a bit spoiled living in a big city…


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