I Was Held at Knifepoint in Rio de Janeiro during the World Cup in Brazil

Last week, I took off on a journey to Brazil for the World Cup and it was going to be my 6th time in Brazil. On the last day of my trip, I had a 12 hour layover in Rio de Janeiro and I wanted to make the best of it. I was supposed to have a 14 hour layover, but my flight to Rio from Belo Horizonte was delayed for two hours in the morning due to bad weather at Galeao International Airport (GIG).

I always have a set plan in mind whenever I travel and timing is especially crucial during a short layover because 12 hours in Rio is not a whole lot when you factor the terrible traffic getting into the city (and it’s gotten worse with the World Cup). A few days ago I was pondering on how I would store my wheeled backpack carry on, so I booked the cheapest hotel that wasn’t a hostel. The hotel was $43 (taxes included) and it was in a central location in Centro Rio de Janeiro. Hotels were super expensive during the World Cup and I wasn’t even going to stay overnight anyway.

At 10:30am, I took a bus from Rio International Airport for 12 Reais ~ ($5.30 USD) which I asked the driver to drop me off at President Vargas metro station. It was only a ten minute walk to the hotel in Centro Rio from the metro subway station. I’ve been to Centro Rio de Janeiro twice before and it’s always swarming with office workers and locals. The best kilo restaurants are located in Centro where you pay by the weight. I finally got to my hotel at 12:15pm and it was probably the tiniest room I’ve ever seen. It was great for me because it was a secure place to store my bag and it was easy access to a metro station and over 100 buses.

Yesterday was a national holiday in Brazil due to it being the second World Cup match for Team Brazil. Even though it was a holiday, downtown Centro Rio was bustling with merchants selling World Cup merchandise before the game. The farmer’s market was also going on for locals to buy produce. Restaurants were full because people were getting ready to watch the first match of the day between Belgium and Algeria at 1pm. I headed to Carioca metro station at 12:30pm where I met up with a friend for lunch in Ipanema.

After lunch, I took a stroll from Ipanema beach to Copacabana Beach and took pictures along the way. There was a massive police presence in Copacabana due to fact that the FIFA World Cup Fan Fest was located right on Copacabana Beach. Adjacent streets were also closed and I’ve never seen so many tourists in Brazil. Many tourists make Rio de Janeiro their primary destination in Brazil due to its beach scene and the famous Christ the Redeemer statue attraction. While I was walking, I saw many tourists with their iPhones and cameras snapping pictures (including myself).

I was hastily trying to make it to the start of the Brazil v. Mexico game at 4pm because the walk from Ipanema Beach to the end of Copacabana Beach was pretty far. I went to the FIFA Fan Fest last week in Sao Paulo for the Brazil v. Croatia home opener and it was pretty amazing. The Fan Fest in Copacabana Beach was quite different because it wasn’t quarantined. There weren’t any metal detectors like in Sao Paulo. Outside food and drink was also prohibited in the Fan Fest area in Sao Paulo. It was basically a free for all in Copacabana Beach with street vendors selling beverages.

It was quite amazing to see how liberal public alcoholic beverage consumption is in Brazil. You can pretty much drink on the streets and there are no open container laws. Furthermore, anyone can sell alcoholic beverages and be an entrepreneur in Brazil. I saw a little kid selling tequila shots on Copacabana Beach during Fan Fest. People were setting up shop on the sidewalk with liquor bottles and you don’t need an alcohol license.

Fan Fest was underway in Copacabana Beach and the Brazil v. Mexico score was 0-0 at halftime. By then, it was 5pm and I needed to head back to the hotel to grab my belongings and change. My flight was at 10pm and I needed a lot of time to get back to the airport since I was taking public transportation. I caught a bus towards Central station in Centro Rio de Janeiro and got off at the Carioca metro station.

I pulled up my phone to check the score and it was still halftime. It was around 5:20pm and Centro Rio de Janeiro was completely empty. It was quite a stark contrast from the liveliness at noon. I can understand why because it was a national holiday and everyone is at home or at the bar/restaurant watching the game.

I’ve never seen Centro Rio this quiet and there was not one person in sight including cars. I used my iPhone’s GPS to locate the hotel and followed the Google Maps walking path directions. In my walking path, I saw three young Brazilian kids walk towards me. One of the older boys had a green bag in his hand and he revealed a knife. Once I saw the knife, my first reaction was to run away. I started running away from them and my Havaianas flip flops came off due to the uneven cobblestone pavement.

I started screaming for help like a little girl and I still had my iPhone in my left hand. One of the younger kids caught up to me and started to grab my phone from my hand. He knocked me down and the older boy started to come at me with the knife. I was scared to death and I started to plead for them to let me go and not hurt me. The eldest kid who had the knife didn’t have the guts to stab me and take my belongings, so he made a compromise with me.

He started to say in Portuguese, no problem and walked away. He didn’t want me to alert the police and I was in a sigh of relief. I said okay, no problem with hand gestures saying it’s okay and we all walked away in separate directions like nothing ever happened.

I started to continue walking towards my hotel when a passerby noticed what had happened. He asked me if they robbed me and I said, “No, I didn’t get robbed and nothing was taken from me.” I was still shaken from what had happened.

Two weeks ago I shared with you about my experience with giving bribe money to a police officer in Panama City. From both of these first hand experiences, I would never have imagined it happening to me until it does.

Why did this happen to me?

I absolutely fell in love Brazil ever since I obtained a Brazilian VISA two years ago. The Brazilian people are some of the friendliest that I’ve ever met, but there is a huge social-economic problem such as a huge income disparity. You either have money or you don’t.

The three young boys looked like they were from a rough favela in Rio and it’s saddening. I can understand where they’re coming from. They see tourists who have nice watches, phones, clothes and are jealous of them. You can’t really blame them because it’s the way they were grown up and the Brazilian government isn’t doing much to help. I even visited a favela in Rio last year and saw the rough living conditions.

Should I have given up my possessions?

The most common answer is yes of course. Everything happened so fast and it was all done in less than 30 seconds from start to finish. I’m just glad that the outcome was in my favor and I didn’t end up getting stabbed. If someone is going to take something away from me, I am going to try to stop them from doing it. Of course people are going to object with my beliefs, but that’s just the way I am. I don’t give up easily and they’re going to have to kill me to get my stuff.

Could I have prevented this?

Probably, but these three boys were on a mission that early evening. Not only do tourists get mugged, even locals. It just doesn’t happen in Centro Rio and it can happen in Leblon, Ipanema, and Copacabana. It’s also a matter of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Everything happens for a reason.

What I Could’ve Done Differently

I could’ve stayed away from walking the streets with no one around. That was my first mistake. My second mistake was using my iPhone in public (in this case, as a map guidance), but I do that everywhere. Am I going to stop taking pictures? No, I absolutely love taking pictures and my phone is with me everywhere.

Conclusion

I’m not going to stop traveling to Rio de Janeiro or Brazil. It’s a beautiful country and I would love to visit every state in Brazil. I’m not going to stop traveling to Latin America and will take away this lesson as an isolated incident. I still don’t go out after dark wherever I’m traveling, even in the United States. All the bad things happen at night and especially between the early morning hours of 12am – 5am.

 

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24 Comments on "I Was Held at Knifepoint in Rio de Janeiro during the World Cup in Brazil"

  1. the most important thing is u got out of the situtation without being harmed. Nothing more important than your life.

  2. glad you are okay Jamison and that it didn’t ruin your love for Brasil!

  3. Also glad you’re ok…Really crazy sounding situation. I also want to commend you on keeping your cool and not blaming an entire country for a few bad/desparate people. You mention other countries, but you could even be mugged here in the US.

  4. Interesting how you say you’re going to try and stop someone from taking something from you… pretty big talk for someone that “screamed like a little girl” and ran away in your words.

    It’d be $150 to replace your iphone with applecare and even without insurance it’d be what, $600? Very low ROI on running away and causing a scene. You’re very lucky those kids didn’t have it in them to stick you. I’ve been held up at gunpoint twice (once as a 13 year old) and even as a kid, I realized that I had way too much to lose not to give jackers what they’re looking for.

  5. Wow, that is crazy! Glad you are okay!

  6. Of course Rio has had a lot of these incidents. But it’s important I say that going to downtown at night without all people who work there is dangerous., in NYC or DC or even in Paris there are places you shouldn’t walk at night alone. I lived in DC and many people said for instance never ever going to Anacostia. Unfortunately We have a lot of social difference in Brazil and this problem makes the violence episodes more frequent here and there are places you should be award to not go alone, at night specially in the weekend. It’s the worse combination you could ever have done. But I wish you can come back one day and have more luck!

  7. i would like to correct you in two aspescts:

    it was not a national holiday in brazil (in sao paulo it wss a haoliday on the opening – june 12th) but a lot of emplyers let their employees off early (the bigger the city, the earlier they get off to get home in time for the game)

    It is illegal in brazil for children under the age of 16 to work (between 14-16 you can work as an apprentice, somewhat like an intership). And it is ilegal to sell and drink alcoholic drinks under the age of 18. Also the commerce that you saw is also illegal and many times you’ll see the “ambulantes” running from the police that confiscate all their products if they dont have licenses and purchase tickets.

    Other than that…sorry for your situation and glad they didnt actually take anything

  8. I admire and respect your determination to NOT allow this very negative and surreal experience change your overall perception and genuine appreciation for the place that you like or this country that you love. I don’t know if I could do the same in similar circumstances.

    Although the ONLY place where the was an attempt to rob me at gunpoint was in my hometown of Houston. I survived the incident because I stayed calm during the ordeal and reasoned with the attacker my way out of the mugging. It’s always hard to tell exactly what you could have done differently to avoid said situations.

    I’d view it as a lesson to be learn thru the scare that you got, because even when you’re aware of your surroundings bad things can still happen to you. IMO, the fact you were able to engage them, even briefly, maybe THE reason you’re now able to tell about it.

    In any case, I am glad that you’re OK and that this has become another of your life’s experiences! 😉

  9. “I don’t give up easily and they’re going to have to kill me to get my stuff.”

    You’re going to die over an iPhone? To each his own, but it basically goes against generally accepted practice, and even the police would tell you not to try and fight off a guy with a knife to save a cellphone. But hey, if you want to keep rolling those dice, good luck with that. Though it’s not going to be pretty when you run into the kid that doesn’t mind poking holes in you.

    Even people that go through self-defense/martial arts training are told not to fight back when it comes to street rips like this. It’s just not worth it over a material object.

    You really might want to think hard about your stance on this.

    • I do agree with you but I just think this guy was a little overwhelmed when he wrote this article. Living only in safe cities, I was really arrogant after I had been robbed in a city with harsh conditions like Sao Paulo. I thought I could have beaten my robber and not let him taken my stuff. City people like me and this blogger (If he is) are very materialistic and don’t understand the conditions these robbers live through, so it angers us to have been a victim. That’s just how city people are, sorry.

      • I live in a city too, so no, that’s not just how city people are. Whether you live in a city or not, you should know better than to risk your life over an iPhone. It’s pretty much the first thing anyone will tell you, “don’t fight back”. You can buy another iPhone, you can’t buy resurrection.

        I hate being a victim too, but I know when to cut (no pun intended) my losses. I’ve trained in self-defense/Krav Maga which actually teaches knife disarms, and even then our instructors told us to only do this if you’re pretty sure they’re going to kill you no matter what. If they’re just trying to rob you, give them your stuff.

        It’s just dumb. I’m sorry, there’s no other way to say it. And I’m not saying it to pile on, I’m saying it so that maybe next time if something like this happens, he’ll just give up his phone and not risk being stabbed to death in a foreign country.

  10. I would like to make it clear that there is no such thing as national holiday on Brazils game day… A few cities have made it holidays ( Like the opening in Sao Paulo), but other than that its just the employers letting the employees off early to watch the game ( in SP, Rio and bigger cities, they are let off around noon – 2pm, but smaller cities only around 3/4pm).

    Also I would like to make it clear that underage drinking and selling alcohol is indeed illegal! But there are not enough law enforcers to garantee that it doesnt happen ( Dont tell me underage drinking and fake IDs dont exist in the US, because Ive lived there and seen it myself!). In fact, in Brazil adolescents arent allowed to work until they are 16. There are exceptions for over 14 that are taking classes to get specialized in a certain job ( such as an apprentice).

    The same goes for the “ambulante” seller on the beach. They should have a City Permit to sell , but most of them dont… and you will often see many of them running from the police (who takes away everything when they are caught).

    Other than that, you did get very lucky and should react the way you did! Most people would have gotten beaten up badly! Its only an Iphone…

  11. I’ve never heard it said better than this:

    //youtu.be/9EQPrFR9KRo?t=24s

    Kidding aside (mostly), I lived in Brazil for a number of years. They will kill you over $100. They will kill you if you react slowly. They will kill you if you freak out. They will lie to you, and then kill you. It happened when I was there countless times. I myself was carjacked at gunpoint. You do. not. screw around with it. And if you actually value an iphone more than your life… then… click the youtube link again.

  12. You risked your life over an iphone? I honestly cannot believe anyone would do that. You’re either a liar or a colossal moron.

    But hey, whatever brings buzz to your blog right?

  13. That’s not true of New York. Brazilians tell themselves that (“it can happen anywhere!”) to convince themselves Brazil isn’t that bad. But I completely agree that you shouldn’t judge the entire country by one experience. As busted as it is, there are a lot of wonderful things to see and do there. It’s a special place in every sense of the word.

  14. I’m so sorry that happenned to you my friend. And we were talking about safety over lunch right before. It’s a completely random thing, of course it has more chances of happenning here other than some places abroad, but remember that I was robbed gunpoint in Seattle, and they took my backpack with my laptop and money. And I was never mugged in Rio, living here 25 years now! I hope you have better memories on your next trip here! Big Hug!

  15. We stayed in Lennon for 4 nights last week. We attended the argentina and Spain games. We watched one game at the fan feat and visited sugarloaf am cristo. We never once had an issue. For others going to Rio, Leblon is highly recommended if you can afford it. Sorry to hear about your ordeal. Avoid the center of rio at night.

  16. Leblon, not Lennon 🙂

  17. Maria Júlia | June 24, 2014 at 8:31 am | Reply

    Hello,
    I’m not glad to read this, but I’m pretty sure it’s a quite common thing, luckly you didn’t get hurt.
    When we are tourists in other countries we are at some point a bit more exposed to violence than local people.

    Being a Brazilian, my advice is: daylight can be as dangerous as night time. It is much more a matter of being in “the wrong place the worng time”, so during Brazil matches streets are empty and can be sometimes dangerous. Get some information in the hotel/hostel about which streets are safer,try to learn the directions before leaving. And also, when using cell phones and cameras in the streets try not to show them too much, use and put them in your pocket or bag right after. Finally, when going for a walk try to be aware of people around you, robbers will preferly target distracted people.

    Even when we are careful things happen. I hope that despite of this negative experience you take with you the fun part of the trip in Brazil. I’m from Curitiba and I was happy to see your report about my town!
    Cheers.

    • Yes, I know much better now about Brazil when the national team plays! Yes, I was definitely in the wrong place at the wrong time. I will be very careful next time and of course it did NOT ruin my trip to Brasil, it only positively enhanced it! Thanks for reading and Curitiba holds a special place in my heart and I will return in the near future 🙂

  18. Omg that’s nuts, bonkers. I agree with everything you did. It was just being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Happy you got away unharmed. It doesn’t change my opinion about Brazil either. It can happen anywhere.

  19. Wow! Glad you’re safe, Jamison. Some friends and I were held at knifepoint in Mexico City during the 1986 World Cup! I ran and screamed at what I thought was a taxi, but it was the police. They arrived and arrested three of the four would-be robbers. I’ll never forget how fast my legs took me on all of that adrenaline-it felt like I was sailing through the air!

  20. gustavo pereira | January 15, 2016 at 4:57 am | Reply

    I am brazilian have been to Rio 5 times. Rio downtown is considered a bad neighbourhood. Unless you work there, you avoid that region. Best neighbourhood in Rio is Leblon. Ipanema is OK. Copacabana is also bad.

    In Brazil, you never use your iphone in public. If you need to see a map, enter a store, a library, a mall, etc, and check your phone there. Always be aware of your surroundings.

    You can be robbed anywhere, but in Brazil it happens incredibly often . Also, life is cheap here, criminals serve ridiculously short jail times for murder, so never react.

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