One of my really good childhood friends, Marie, who currently lives in Europe had invited me to join her and her good friends during their trip to Brazil. As this was not their first time in Rio, I have left all the trip planning to them. As we were arriving from two different continents, we decided to meet each other at a Hostel that was pre-booked. While I was told by many that Brazil is a safe place and that you would have no issues, I had my doubts (mainly due to news stories!).
Upon arrival at Galeao International Airport in Rio, I had only one task and that was to take a taxi to the famous Ipanema, one of the richest and safest areas of Rio. Prior to leaving the terminal, I saw three different colored taxi booths with people lining up to pay for their taxi. After I paid and mentioned the area I was going, I was given a voucher for this taxi. As I exited the terminal, I saw what looked like complete chaos (although looking back I realize there was no chaos at all) at least to a person who had just flown 12 hours. At this point, I remembered stories of travellers to Rio who had their cameras stolen upon exiting the airport, of necklaces being torn from womens’ chests as they were waiting for the car and overall news stories and films such as City of God about the dangers of the Favelas (slums of Rio).
Without hesitation, I approached the tallest and most armed police office I could find and showed him my voucher. He left his post and showed me to the car. Before I entered the car, he looked under the car, in the trunk, walked around the car and looked inside the car and only then was I allowed to sit. I felt very safe at that moment.
Once the taxi left the airport, the taxi driver asked where I was going, at which point I have provided him with the address for Terrasse Hostel in Ipanema. He doubled checked “Hostel?” I said yes, thinking he does not know where it was. But he did know it but just was shocked that I was staying in the hostel. As I speak a bit of Italian and he spoke a bit of English, I was able to communicate with him (on a very basic level). He asked me what I was doing for my job, and would not believe me no matter how I explained the industry, job title, area, etc… of my job. The drive, was made memorable as he made sure to make my journey as comfortable as can be and gave me a quick tour of the city by pointing out the different buildings and statues that Rio has to offer.
After I arrived comfortably in the Hostel and found my friend, I told her my journey and she was laughing at my scared attitude towards Rio. After a few amazing days in Rio, we came back to the airport to continue our Brazilian trip. I pointed out to Marie, the type of cop that I asked to get my taxi and she burst out laughing. The laughter that did not stop for minutes, was later explained by the fact that I got Brazil’s special forces (think Elite Squad) to get my taxi. It all started to make sense why the poor taxi driver was so confused with the fact that I was a regular visitor and was staying in a hostel but had the treatment of a diplomat, a famous actor or just a high level businesswoman. To this day, I can hear my friend’s words, “Only Ania can pull this off”.