Pedro, our Rio de Janeiro Airbnb owner, came to our apartment in the morning. He had a spare apartment key and another key to reset the safe. He brought a folder of gifts – a photograph he’d taken on Rio’s Ipanema Beach, a travel brochure featuring his images from Sudan and a bulletin from his 2013 photography exhibit. He had them ready for travel in a protective, plastic sleeve with barrier paper. Such care.
He offered to take us for a juice and for a trip to Saturday’s market in the nearby square. We were thrilled to have a personal travel guide. We went to the juice store on the corner, and Pedro ordered for us – asking for samples from the waiter who took our order. I had a mango/pineapple juice, and LCP had an avocado milk juice. We all shared a breakfast sandwich, Pedro’s choice. So good.
We walked across the street to the market. Pedro confirmed it was OK to get out my camera, and he put my backpack on his front, crossing his arms across my pack to protect it while we walked the market’s aisles.
Leaving the market, LCP unexpectedly hollered, “ewww, what is this?!” Something disgusting had dropped onto her foot out of nowhere – was it a bird? Was it from a dog? I grabbed a paper towel from a fruit stand vendor to clean it off her foot. Pedro bent down to help her out. Protecting. We’d barely started walking, and it happened again! UGH! Right then, a local stopped us, warning us in Portuguese to keep walking and to get away – thankfully, Pedro was able to translate the warning for us. As we rushed out of the market, Pedro discerned that LCP had probably been a target. It’s a thing in Rio to toss something nasty onto someone’s bare skin – the person reacts by trying to clean it off of themselves and then the thief pickpockets the person or asks for money to clean it. Thankfully, we weren’t victims – we’re thankful for our Brazilian friends who had our backs (and foot.) Once again, protecting.
Pedro suggested that we go with him to Copacabana Beach – we could share his cab. Since his apartment is across the street, he’d change his clothes and then join us at the military fort next to the beach. He had officially become our unofficial Rio tour guide –
Leaving Copacabana and heading back toward our apartment and Ipanema Beach, Pedro gave me some advice, “you need to go change your clothes. You need to blend in like a local – Havaianas, tank top, swimming suit and shorts…” He was looking out for me. Even though I thought my no jewelry and hidden camera equipment made me look less like a tourist, but Pedro’s assessment: right then, I looked like a foreigner, wearing Lululemon pants and designer sunglasses. On the way to change my clothes, we ran into Pedro’s Belgian friend, a real estate developer, who was walking to the beach in his Speedo. The Belgium man reinforced Pedro’s advice. With his 50+ year old mouth full of metal braces, he spoke to us about the sketchiness of the beach, but his happy-go-lucky approach made us laugh out loud. He only brings one credit card and he leaves the card and his cheap sunglasses at a favorite bar while he swims. Words of Rio wisdom: Blend in like a local.
We left Happy Speedo Guy at a beach bar and walked to the end of the Ipanema beach with Pedro. Pedro motioned that it was OK to get my camera out of my backpack. We hiked to the top of a hill overlooking Ipanema Beach, following Pedro as he pointed out the landmarks. At the top of the hill, we watched the locals, took in the view and made more friends.
Having an AirBnB owner, who unexpectedly became our local tour guide and friend,
was a Godsend. He introduced us to his friends along the way, making us feel at home.
We learned Rio’s ropes from a pro and were able to travel all over Rio, protected, with the help of an angel,
and now a life-long friend.