The Good, the bad and the Ugly
Trip Start Jan 15, 2006
52Trip End Sep 05, 2006
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Yesterday morning we decided to visit the Corcovado, the Christ statue that overlooks the city. We had learned that most of the tourist businesses (as well as the native population) views foreigners as walking ATM machines designed to provide copious amounts of cash to the local economy. We inquired at the hotel about hiring a car to take us to the top
We navigated through the city to the base of the hill. There we were met by a group of teenagers in matching t-shirts who had laminated ID cards that proclaimed they were 'official guides'. The cards looked suspiciously homemade. Since I had my crack navigator in the passenger seat, we decided to forego the cost of the guide and headed up the hill. As we headed up we ran into two more groups of kids who waited at intersections and pleaded to be hired. When we kept going they would point in the other direction and tell us we were going the wrong way. Kia confidently pointed in the correct direction. I admired their entrepreneurial skills, but that didn't mean I was going to buy their product.
We had a wonderful time at the top. The views are absolutely awe inspiring. (The day was hazy and our photos don't do it justice.) Our California Jeep was given a prime parking spot by the manager. We were quite happy as we headed back down the hill.
When we got to the first group of kids in t-shirts, the greetings were no longer friendly. Two of them pulled guns, told us to stop and open the doors. They were quite hyper and actually seemed pretty scared. They demanded our money and started pawing through our pockets and the front seat of the Jeep. One of them started grabbing my watch. It was quickly clear that they were not after the car and neither they nor us wanted to escalate the situation. Fortunately, at this moment a more expensive car pulled up alongside us. The bad guy on my side pointed the gun at that driver and seemed to be more interested in the new prey. I put the Jeep in gear and drove away without looking back.
Although the damage was pretty light, we were each feeling scared, violated and a little bit angry. I was angry at the kids, but figured that the life that they had chosen was likely to be nasty, brutish and short. They would get what they deserve. More importantly, I was angry at the country for lacking the willpower to stamp this stuff out. Most natives just shrug their shoulders and say there isn't much to be done.
Crime of all sorts seems to be tolerated in Rio. (Yes, Rudy Guiliani, they even have squeegee men.) The day before we took a tour of two of the favelas
Prostitution also appears to be rampant. We saw quite a few very improbable couples. Many gorgeous, young Brazilian women were being escorted by dorky middle aged foreigners who they had obviously just met. It was also equal opportunity, we saw a couple of women who looked like they might have hired their dates.
On the beach we saw how some of the commercial arrangements were negotiated. Several scantily attired beauties were flirting with the foreign men that approached. A brief discussion ensued and then the men would walk back to their buddies. The prices must have been high as we did not see any apparently successful negotiations.
One particularly attractive young lady (she appeared to have slightly more than the manufacturer's original equipment), decided to get a leg up on her competition by juggling a soccer ball while topless. As she was quite skilled, she attracted the stares of most of the male population of the beach
Rio is a very beautiful city. The jungle-clad mountains rise from the ocean and city streets. The beaches are stunning, fairly clean, fun and have world-class people watching. The streets are lively and the party seems to never stop. On the other hand, the crime seems to keep people on edge and the tourist prices are often outrageous. (One evening we dined at a very highly recommended seafood restaurant. The prices would have been high for NY haute cuisine but the food was strictly Red Lobster.) I am inclined to come back someday and give the city another chance. Perhaps when they start getting a handle on crime.