That ‘thing’ that happened to me in Rio…

The sun setting on Rio

The sun setting on Rio

It was your average night at Copacabana Beach in beautiful Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for most people that is. The sweet smell of churros along the Copacabana boardwalk, groups of locals and tourists playing soccer and volleyball in the sand, and people enjoying drinks at the many cafes and restaurants found there. Naturally, our group of volunteers had decided to head down for all of the above.

The atmosphere down at Copacabana Beach is something I would consider to be magical. It brings out a side of you that you can’t help but love, or maybe that is just travel in general. I remember feeling all sorts of mixed emotions that night. I was overwhelmed, doing what I love in one of the most beautiful places on the planet. I needed to talk to someone about everything I was feeling that night. Two friends, Jen and Rachel, which I had met in Peru the previous year, decided to take a walk with me down the beach. I was in such a weird place at the time, feeling lost, and feeling like the whole world was mine but I didn’t know what to do with it. I wondered what I was meant to do with my life and why I was there. I feel like I have always known exactly what I want but have never known how to obtain it and it’s frustrating. I knew that both Jen and Rachel would understand where I was coming from because I connected with them on a different level than most of my friends back home as we all shared the same passions.

Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro

The three of us were in such a deep life conversation at the time that we didn’t even realize just how far down the beach we had walked. The same moment I realized that we had strayed rather far from the group was the same moment I looked up and got a really bad gut feeling; we needed to turn around but it was too late.

A young man, not much older than us at the time, came racing over frantically asking us the time in Portuguese. I only knew what he was asking because he was frantically pointing at his wrist and made facial expressions that indicated he was asking a question. All three of us immediately got nervous and kept saying “no, Canadian, no Portuguese, sorry”, and we all turned around to walk away. As Rachel and Jen were slightly ahead of me, the young man grabbed my left arm hard enough to leave a bruise, which surfaced a few days later. I yelled for the girls to help me and as they turned around to see what was going on, three more young men approached us. We all knew this wasn’t good.

Things happened really fast that night but I remember it like it was yesterday. The men were yelling at us in Portuguese, which obviously we couldn’t understand. We didn’t have to understand Portuguese to know what was happening. We were being robbed. I remember my words to them, “take whatever you want, you can have it all, please don’t hurt us”. One of the men started unzipping my sweater and I thought he was going to rape me. I am lucky he didn’t. He was checking to see if I had any jewelry around my neck or wrists, thankfully I don’t wear any of that. After they checked me for jewelry, one of the men unzipped his sweater in order to reveal a machete that they had been waiting to threaten us with. Unfortunately, I don’t think the image of the man with the machete’s eyes will ever leave my memory. He stared at me directly in the eyes with more anger and hate than I have ever seen in my life, while holding the machete in my face.

After the men took everything from us, they forced us to sit down in the sand and they ran away. We all obediently sat down and my friend Jen started crying as we watched the men in the distance. I think I was still in too much of a shock to even realize what had just happened. You never know how you’re going to react in any kind of life threatening situation and I was surprised at how calm I remained. I remember I was almost laughing in a way at my friend Rachel as she had given the men attitude because they were going to steal her bathing suit and she thought that was weird.

We all waited until we could no longer see the men before standing up. The three of us stood up, linked arms and walked shakily towards the boardwalk, realizing how many people had been around and watched what had just happened. After a walk, which felt like a lifetime, we made it back to our group and the second I saw Raoul I just started crying uncontrollably. Raoul is the organizer or all of the Solidarity Experiences Abroad trips and is like a father figure to me as he is a huge inspiration in my life. We explained what had happened and were immediately comforted by our group of friends. I don’t think that any of us were able to sleep that night.

The three of us

The three of us in Brazil

I realize that I just told a travel story that some people may find horrific and the purpose of my blog is to encourage people to travel but I promise there is a reason for it. First of all, I looked at what had happened almost like it was a sign. I thought, and still do think, it was weird that we were in the middle of a deep life conversation about how I didn’t know what my purpose was and that I was feeling lost in life when it happened. All of the sudden I saw my life flash before my eyes and it made me feel so thankful to be alive. The fact that I walked out of that situation with a mere bruise on my arm is extremely lucky. I realized maybe there is a reason I am here, maybe I am meant to do more, and maybe I am on the right path. Secondly, it made me stronger and less naïve. I look back on that and think how naïve we were, three young females, walking along a beach in Rio de Janeiro at night and by ourselves. I am a lot more cautious now when I travel about where I go, who I am with, and what belongings I carry with me. I am also proud of myself for handling that situation as calmly as I did. Lastly, I realized I needed to embrace more in life. For example, I had been commuting to university for my first two years (before this incident) and when I got home I decided to move out of my house and closer to school in order to make new friends and be more independent. I don’t know if I would have made that decision when I got home had I not been put in such a crazy situation that really made me think about my life.

The three of us in Peru on our way home from Brazil

The three of us in Peru on our way home from Brazil

I waited until I landed in Canada to tell my parents what had happened to me and immediately my mom said, “you’re never traveling again”. Obviously I knew she was just being dramatic and she hadn’t had time to let that information sink in. I knew I wasn’t going to let one bad experience ruin something I loved. My point through all of this is that yes, bad things sometimes do happen when you’re traveling. Do bad things not happen at home too? They can happen anywhere. You just need to be careful. When I tell people all of the places I want to travel to, they look at me like I am crazy and almost always immediately say “oh, I don’t know about that… you have to be careful”. I am not a stupid girl, yes that night at Copacabana Beach I made a mistake but I learned from it. Nothing will stop me from traveling to all of the destinations I have planned and I hope you don’t let stories and fears intimidate you in your travels either.

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8 thoughts on “That ‘thing’ that happened to me in Rio…

  1. Sorry to hear this experience Amie, that’s really scary. I don’t know how many similar stories I’ve heard about Rio and it was a place we didn’t like – we never felt safe there and it was one of those places where I felt that if something happened there wouldn’t be anyone around to help.
    Happy you all came out of it fine.
    Frank (bbqboy)

  2. That story still gives me chills but you are right, bad things can happen anywhere; even right under your nose… I have lived it! Love you Amie! Keep em’ coming…

  3. Oh dear this does sound horrific! Unfortunately these things do happen and not just in Rio I hope it doesn’t put you off visiting again it is a truly magical city with lots of lovely things and people to discover.

  4. Hi Amie. Thanks for sharing this. After reading your blog, I’m more inspired to blog about my ‘thing’ that happened in Rio 2 months ago. I would want to write about the nitty-gritty to share with people so they could learn from it as well. But I’ll post a summary here since it seems a lot are following your blog. I’m an expat in the Middle East and I filed for an 8-day leave from work to spend my birthday celebration in Brazil. However, on my birthday itself, my valuables were stolen in the bus, that is, including my passport. To make the long story short, I’m forced to go to my home country to sort everything – new passport, documents, travel insurance, etc. and finally wait for a new work visa so I can come back to my complaining-for-2-months job in the Middle East. And truth be told, I’m still waiting for it as of this very moment.

    It has been an ordeal for me – from the moment I realized my bag was open and my passport wasnt there until my flight back to my home country, but I’m lucky I came back home safe with my faith intact but with stronger spirit and positive outlook. I laughed when I read your mom said you’re never traveling again. Because I remember when I told my mom about it, she said looking at my bag, “Throw that bag away! Its a jinx! Lets buy a bag suited for a hard-headed traveler like you!” Haha! I feel more lucky to come back home where I feel loved and cared for despite everything.

    But yeah, Rio is lovely! One unfortunate event wont define the whole travel experience. There is a reason for everything, and though it may be beyond our own understanding, it will always leave a lesson that will define a new you.

    • I am so sorry to hear that you had to experience that while you were traveling and that it has caused such an ordeal in your life. I can’t even imagine the issues you would experience trying to replace a passport and other travel documents when dealing with a working visa in another country. I hope that you are able to have it sorted soon and get back to expat life! Thank you for sharing this with me!

      Amie

  5. Amie, I never knew about this story! That is horrifying!

    Two similar events happened to me and my friend while we were in Europe, though nothing as life-threatening. We encountered a pervert in Paris who masterbated in front of us while staring us down, and then again a few weeks later in Barcelona we were stalked for several blocks by a homeless man who kept purposefully bumping into us to try to separate and scare us. No matter how hard we tried we just couldn’t loose him, even after we were loudly screaming and swearing at him in the middle of a public street.

    Like your mentioned in your story, we could tell that there were lots of people around who were witnessing our distress and yet not one single person stopped to help us. It simply added insult to injury and infuriated us even more.

    My mom told me about a story where she was robbed at knife-point in Barbados when she was just 18. Same sort of thing though… her and her friend were walking home from a bar alone at night.

    When my friend and I encountered that pervert in Paris, we were walking alone at night along the river (which I now know is known for it’s gangs and robberies at night).

    Almost every horror travel story I’ve ever heard seems to happen when we drop our guards and make poor judgement calls, so as long as we stay alert and aware we should be safe.

    Loved reading this story, thanks for sharing love :) xx

  6. Pingback: When Travel Gets Scary: My Homeless Stalker In Barcelona | The Irie Explorer

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