I had a big shock when I arrived in Latin America because the image I had in my mind was completely different. Before thinking about coming here, if I would think about Brazil only images of sunny beaches, carnival parades and football players would come to mind. Now I remember mostly the poverty and only after the amazing nature and landscape, traditions, food, people etc.
This means that many bad things happen and most tourists don’t realize the danger. I think I was lucky and nothing bad happened to me because I can pass for a brazilian, but I’ve heard many stories while I was there. Most of the targets are caucasian looking people with blonde/red hair, white skin and coloured eyes.
One of the guys came up with the idea to write on the wall in the reception all the bad things that happened to the guests in order to raise awareness. So here’s a list of all the things I’ve seen or heard about while I was there.
- some guys on a scooter stealing the bag of a lady who was waiting at a signal light – I believe this happens in every big city, but it was the first robbery I witnessed and nobody intervened, so I got scared.
- fight between gangs (I guess they were from different gangs, I don’t really know what they were fighting about) on the stairs in Lapa – it can be very dangerous because there are always a lot of people on the stairs that start running around and pushing each other. The guys were making weapons out of beer bottles or just throwing bottles
- other fight between gangs (?) under the Arcs of Lapa -. people running, people too high in order to react. One guy got stabbed and I found out a week later that he died. The worst part is that a police patrol was across the street and they didn’t intervene, they just called the ambulance.
- a friend saw a guy with a big gun heading towards Lapa
- prostitutes in Lapa touching men but actually going through their pockets.
- persistent beggars that go through your pockets while you try to ignore them
- a guy in Lapa stealing a gold necklace from a girl – you probably have figured by now that Lapa is not a good place to go with valuable things
- pickpocketing in Cobacaba on New Years’ – again something to be expected. Sometimes there are groups of children or men running in order to create confusion. I had a big group of people at the hostel (around 15) and 3 of them lost their cellphones and some money – it’s actually a pretty good number, could have been a lot worse!
- Guest robbed by a taxi-driver – he only had big bills, the driver didn’t have change, so he went inside to get change. But the driver told him that he must leave his backpack in the cab in the meantime and he drove away with his things. This actually happens a lot.
- Happened to me on the way to the bus terminal – at the destination the taxi driver told us he has bigger fees than the one on the machine and that we have to pay extra for our backpacks. Eventually we asked some police officers for help and everything was OK, but before they arrived he refused to open the truck. Normally they just wait for you to get out of the car and then they drive away with your stuff.
- two of my friends were robbed in a bad neighborhood, the guy threatened them with a brick. I think the guy only took the purse of the blonde girl.
These are just some of the stories that come to mind now, but I’ve heard many more. I know that pickpocketing is a common thing in big cities, but many violent assaults happen in Brazil. When there’s a big event going on (Carnival, New Year, World Cup) the number of assaults increases proportionally with the number of incoming tourists.
All I can say is that everything happens really fast, so you don’t have time to analyze the situation and nobody has time to intervene. The only thing you can do is keep an eye out all the time. It’s exhausting and it takes away the joy of visiting, but it’s the only way to stay safe. You always have to be aware of everything that’ s going on around you.
I’ve noticed that latin americans do this naturally, without realizing that they are doing it, so they don’t spend a lot of effort with it. But it will take some effort for people who live in more civilized countries. Once again, being romanian has been of great help to me because I’m partially accustomed to taking care of myself. Just that things here happen at a bigger scale.
This post may seem rough, but there are risks you’re taking by coming here. I recommend visiting America, the level of crime shouldn’t be an impediment. In the end it’s worth taking the risks.