In the past 7 years, I have flown exactly 792,571 miles, or 1,275,519 km for you metric folks. East Coast, West Coast, Canada, Mexico…no sweat. Eastern Europe, Western Europe…Southeast Asia, the Far East…even the Middle East. No problem.
Last Friday was the first time I’ve ever been nervous upon arrival. Into Rio de Janeiro.
I guess that’s what happens when your only exposure to a place, besides a few nice pictures you saw online, are movies like Cidade de Deus (City of God) or Ônibus 174 (Bus 174). If you’ve seen either, you can understand. Through dramatically different series of events, each depicts a gruesome portrait of fear and violence that extreme poverty, particularly contrasted with great wealth, can nurture. Do a bit more research, and you learn about the Intercontinental Hotel that 10 drug dealers, engaged in a shootout with a rival gang, took hostage last September. Or the bullets that are known to occasionally pop across the main highway linking Galeao Airport to the city, dodging (hopefully) public buses and taxicabs full of tourists (prompting the city to, ever so gracefully, install walls painted with nice murals to keep the ‘noise’ out).
So naturally, when I caught the Real Autobus in the direction of Santos Dumont, I had to use every ounce of discipline I had to keep my camera in the pocket, fearing getting robbed, jumped, mugged, or worse. But then a funny thing happened. As we drove past Complexo de Alemão (favela), then Mal Jardim (favela), past São Cristóvão and down Av. Presidente Vargas through downtown, I started to give into the temptation.
Snap, snap, snap…before we even arrived to Santos Dumont (from where I’d catch a taxi), I had already captured 50-some (albeit bad) images. I’m not sure exactly what it was, but it only took about 15 minutes, on a public bus no less, to find my comfort zone. I wasn’t afraid of Rio anymore.