Editorial, by Stone Korshak
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The buzz, excitement, and concern are at a fever pitch in Rio as the Olympics are set to start. As a resident I’m ready and have some advice for rookie-visitors for the Games. After living here since 2009 and traveling here since 2002, I consider myself “quasi-Carioca” – although I’ll admit that being a ‘local’ is all relative.
To start with, in terms of arriving and accommodations the first thing to brace for is that Brazilians speak Portuguese, not Spanish, and definitely not a lot of English. So be prepared, for example write your hotel address on a piece of paper to hand the taxi driver, and take the time to learn some basic polite words and phrases (bom dia, tudo bom, desculpe, obrigado). No one likes to be yelled at in a foreign language, so don’t do it here to the locals.
A little tip is that Uber works here and in general is 30-50 percent less expensive then the average yellow taxi, and you can type in the destination address. However Uber cars may hesitate to pick up at some places, so maybe download Easy Taxi to your smart-phone as well. Another challenge with Uber here is to contact the driver you will need a local number, but you can buy a pre-paid Rio sim card easily enough.
The last bit on accommodations (or even meals) is to definitely price check and compare, because people might take advantage. For example, often the tabs at a restaurant are wrong, and it is not a major scandal, just ask them to ‘re-check’. Also, especially for U.S. travelers, the tip is always added on already as ‘service’, normally as a flat ten percent.
Secondly, in terms of security, you probably have read to keep valuables at home, and I can’t stress this enough. Do not walk around with your iPhone or Galaxy S8 in your hand, leave all expensive jewelry at home, and generally don’t forget you are in a country where the minimum wage is around US$300 a month.
Do not expect police and security forces to cater to you, they are not all bad, but they certainly are not all knights-in-shining armor. There are temporarily over 21,000 army soldiers in Rio, totaling a reported force of 85,000 security officers to make a presence on the streets, in general I would give them their space unless you are having an emergency.
Do not go into a favela community unless you go with someone you know and trust, and definitely don’t get talked into going there late at night for some ‘cool party’. The truth is it probably is a cool party, but not for you because you are a ‘gringo‘ tourist. The same as you should not go into Harlem or Compton expecting to be welcomed as royalty. There are plenty of favela tour companies that will show you around in a respectful way, and you can read plenty more about it with a little digging.
Thirdly, in terms of the Zika virus, time may prove me wrong but I would not worry too much about this, I don’t. It is winter so not so many mosquitos are around, and it will be a little chilly so wearing pants (trousers) and socks/shoes will make sense most of the time anyways. Use lots of bug-repellent which you can buy here at the shops (Exposis Extrême Spray is recommended), and if you see a rare mosquito, kill it. If for some reason you find yourself in a room surrounded by mosquitos, it probably makes sense to go somewhere else, but you shouldn’t see many.
Finally, in terms of transportation and getting around during the Games, expect a lot of traffic and delays. My plan is to only try to get to one “Olympic Zone” per day, otherwise it may prove a logistical nightmare. For instance, living in Zona Sul (South Zone), getting to Barra and the Olympic Park is likely to be at least 1.5 hours each way, maybe two hours to get to Deodoro each way. Leave yourself at least an hour beforehand to figure out how to get to where you need to be.
My sense is that there will be a lot of tickets still available at-the-door of most events, and so after getting to the ‘zone’ of choice, try to pick up some seats before or after the tickets you are holding. For example on Monday we have tickets to see an event at 4PM, but we’ll try to get there around 11AM to see if there are other events we can catch beforehand.
Most will want to take in more of what Rio has to offer, even if it is the ‘winter’ season. If there is a nice warm day, try to get to the beach while the sun is strong, that means between 10AM to 4PM this time of year. Certainly check out some live music, samba in Lapa is always a good idea, or try the traditional Brazilian food and drinks, and maybe check out the nightlife.
Então (so), as a local – the key things to remember when visiting Rio for the 2016 Olympic Games are: be polite, be safe, plan ahead, and enjoy the Cidade Maravilhosa!