With my eyes closed, I listen to the calming sound of the sea. My back is on the soft, warm sand. Some salty water drops are slowly making their way from my belly down to the beach. I`m about to take my last jump in the Atlantic Ocean (for now). I gaze at the famous Ipanema beach, the buildings, the taxi`s, the buses that are rushing past. The high green mountains in the background who, like an older brother, embrace the city with their calm and strong appearance. And of course Christ, the 38 m. high wonder of the world. Looking down at the city like a friendly, kind-hearted father. His arms wide and open. Built on top of a mountain, where you can see him watching over you from every angle of the city. Strategically put there in the hope to change the minds of any (potential) criminals and lower the high rate of crime in town.
Ironically I`ve experienced the complete opposite during the two weeks I was in Rio. People had been cheerful and happy. If I would stop for even 2 sec. Trying to orientate, people would come over and offered to help me in the right direction. It was the complete opposite from all the street gangs, robberies and treats I had been warned for.
The sun finally breaks through the thick clouds. The feeling of the warm glow of the sun on my skin tops up my happiness even more. Grant quickly turns around on his towel to make the most out of the sun. It is my last day. The end of the beginning. My first episode of travelling has come to an end. I close my eyes again and think back to all the amazing memories I`m enriched with. How it all began in the Dominican Republic, with friends, luxury and unbelievable parties. The adventures and Rum with Luz on Cuba. Working at a Bed & Breakfast in Costa Rica, living with the Guna people on the San Blas islands, my parents that came to visit me and the thousands of kilometres I had explored. The amount of people I had to say goodbye to, but the even greater amount of people that gained a special place in my heart.
Cerveja! 7 reales for a cerveja!”, a salesman shouts out in the distance. “Hi San” says Grant while he pokes me, “I`m going to end this America adventure with a beer. Would you like one too?”. Still lost in thoughts, I slowly shake my head “No thanks”. Grant waves the salesman over and orders a beer. He lifts up his head from the backpack for a split second. “How much was it again?” he asks the salesman. “7 Reales senior”, the salesman answers. Grant turns around to grab the backpack, but grabs in the sand. In a split second he jumps up and looks around him. “Did you grab the backpack?” he asks with disbelieve in his face. “No, you put it underneath your head remember.” “It`s gone! The back is gone!” Grant yells. “Shit my camera!”, Slowly I realise that all the photo`s of the last weeks were still on there. Quickly I run to people around us to ask if they`ve seen anything, but nobody has noticed anything. “Let's split up” Grant suggests “You go this way, I go the other way, maybe they`re still around.” We both go our own ways. My feet rush through the deep, soft sand.
I`m scanning the whole beach, looking from left to right, but I find no sign of the red, somewhat sun bleached red backpack. A friendly lifeguard tells me to look into the trash bins “They often dump the bags with whatever they can`t use of their stolen goods in there.” Quickly I walk in the direction of Grant, while looking into every bin. I wave him over. “We have to look into the bins!” I yell at him. Like a well-trained CSI team, we scan through all the bins... Then, out of nowhere, Grant yells: “He you! He stops! That`s mine!” A homeless man is looking up from the bin. In his right hand a newly found treasure, the red backpack. Grant runs up to the guy and pulls the bag out of his hands. The poor man is too overwhelmed by the situation to say anything and stares at Grant, then turns his eyes towards me and back to Grant. In the meantime, Grant opens up the bag, but nothing is left inside. It`s completely empty. The wallet, our clothes, food, drinks, cell phone and… my camera.. all are gone. With a great sense of guilt I put my hand on the man his shoulder “Perdon Senior, is there anything else you found in the bin? Or maybe in some of the others that might be ours?” The man shakes his head and apologises. I feel incredibly sorry for him. While we are looking to get our luxury items back, all he is aiming for is to find some food or things to survive another day...If I had had some money or food, I would have given it to him. “Maybe try on the boulevard senorita.” The man tells us “A lot of times they sell the electronics as soon as possible. Phones are ripped apart on the spot.” I put my right hand back on his shoulder, and with my left hand on my heart, I say: “Obrigado amigo. Thank you so very, very much!” And as fast as we can, we walk towards the boulevard.
While walking over the boulevard, Grant suddenly whispers “I f*cking can`t believe it!” and grabs my arm to let me stand still. Very subtle he points towards two guys with four phones in front of them. They`re taking out the batteries and SIM cards and swop them over with the other phones. In front of them lays a phone cover, one that looks exactly like the one of Grant. “Quickly warn those policemen over there. I`ll make sure they won`t get away.” And softly Grant pushed me in the direction of a group of the officers. In half Portuguese, half Spanish I try to explain them the situation and point towards Grant and the two man, who start to get a little restless. The police seem far from impressed by the whole story and are clearly not intending to move out of their warm and comfy afternoon sun anytime soon.
“How are you so certain that phone is yours senorita?”, Asks the smallest of the group, while his big fluffy moustache is bouncing up and down above his covered upper lip. It makes me crack. Filled with anger, I shout out to them that they have to follow me because otherwise, the man might escape. A helpful Carioca couple (as the locals in the Rio are called) comes to the rescue. The woman calms me down, while the man starts talking the policemen (well more shouting). This seemed to have made a bigger impression than the patiently and polite request of a tall, blond Dutchy. “Alright then Senorita, where are these men you are talking about?”
Grant comes running towards us. “He`s escaping! He`s escaping!” he shouts. Pointing towards a man in a blue T-shirt that is walking fast-paced in front of him. Finally, the police come into action and catch the guy. “Where is the other man?” Grant shouts at the guy, “Where is your friend?”
“What friend, I don`t have a friend”, the man says, not willing to give too much information.
The police command him to open up his cooler and bags. The Ola labels of icecream appeared to be a trick. There`s no ice-cream inside, only electronics, amongst which three cellphones. Grant`s phone and my camera our unfortunately not part of the pile of goodies.
“Where is that Samsung phone you and your friend were pulling apart?!” I ask frustrated. The guy denies everything with a straight poker face. Helpful Cariocas try to assist in the situation by helping to translate and keeping the police into business. At the end it is just a complete chaos of people yelling and screaming. I slowly start to feel lost in the whole situation. I`m still dressed in nothing more than a Brazilian bikini (yes a thong) and start to feel a little naked with all the dressed people around me. My clothes were stolen, I had nothing to wear. Somebody offers their sarong to me, which I happily accept, even though it was somewhat see-through. The police offer us a ride to their office so we can report the crime. At least we can get some money back from the insurance this way, but the photo`s from my camera will be gone forever. Also the man got released, due to lack of evidence… On top of that, they gave us the advice to take a taxi back to the hostel (with no money), so walking back seemed the only option.
“Let this not ruin our memories of Rio! Let's do something fun tonight” I tell Grant. He agrees.
That night we pick up Ben, our legendary friend from London. Ben had heard of a big street party which was supposed to be absolutely epic. And epic it was! An awesome band was making all the hips go loose on the dancefloor. The caprinha`s were flying over the counter. Everybody was treating each other like long-life friends and people are buying each other rounds of drinks. The crowd is slowly melting together to one big group of friends.
At the end of the night, are freshly-met friends call us a taxi and make sure we get home safe and sound. "This is the real Rio”, I think to myself. The helpful, kind and warm-hearted people make this an unbelievable city. And the thief of today… well apparently he needed my camera and cloths more than I did.
After a burn-out it was time for a change. I quit my job, sold my stuff and bought a one-way ticket to the Dominican Republic. What was supposed to be a 4 month adventure turned into 2,5 years and counting......
Photo by: Vanessa Marques Barreto