As of today, there are thirty-one days left until the opening of the World Cup. However you feel about the money wasted, the terrible treatment of those less fortunate, or FIFA, the Cup comes anon. It won't be canceled by the recent dengue outbreak, by the demonstrations or by the lack of water. Who needs a shower anyway? This last input from my 7 year olds who are looking forward to the taps running dry.
This blog is specifically directed to those coming to Brazil for the first time for the Cup or for business related to the Cup, or because you are clearly insane since you have chosen to come here at a time when Brazil is least like Brazil. This is a mega-event and has little to do with the friendly, easy-going style that normally is around here (okay, not in São Paulo which is a stressed city).
So, here we go. I am giving my personal advice on your security. I am not a security consultant but I've lived here for 9 years and I think I get it. I have been to World Cup games in South Africa and I've seen the madness southern hemisphere style. Please be aware that this blog post is not designed to scare you but only to give you some ideas of what MIGHT happen while you are here. How you choose to react is up to you.
My strong advice here is to leave nothing to chance. Don't arrive here without a hotel room or without an idea of where the official taxi stand is, or without a few words of Portuguese (please and thank you go a long way). Know the number to call the police (190) and your consulate in your area (up to you to research).
Do not expect to use dollars here. This is not Argentina (cambio! cambio!). Do not carry wads of cash. Use an ATM in the airport to withdraw what you think you will need, but keep an eye out to see who is watching you use the ATM. (*Numerous reader comments are coming back that airport ATMs are NOT safe. I don't know what to say here--it's never happened to me. To be safe, head to a currency exchange there and do it that way). Separate cash into individual pockets. Do not be distracted. Do not chat with people in line. Do not tell them where you are staying, how you are getting there or take any offered rides (see Arrival below).
Take more than one credit card. Keep one back at your hotel or in a different place. Be aware that there are places here that still take only Visa or only MasterCard. Amex is less accepted and forget Diner's and some of those others. Remember you are in a mostly cash society so have some on hand at all times.
Pack light. The less baggage you have to maintain control of, the happier you will be. I wouldn't necessarily attempt to dress like a Brazilian because everyone will know you are a gringo anyway--just don't dress flashy. Leave A&F home (or better yet, burn it), bring a few non-brand t-shirts and jeans and call it a day. Tevas and Crocs will identify you as gringo at 200 meters. Be very aware of the weather where you will be--it will be cold in Sao Paulo (most likely), warm in Salvador and hotter than an inferno in Manaus. Be aware that Sao Paulo is colder than it looks in print--there is no central heat in most places (not counting chic hotels) so bring a pullover, jumper, sweater or whatever you call it in your home country.
Do not carry a laptop case or a backpack that looks designed for a laptop. Be aware that there will be bad guys in the airport and they will probably be figuring out which taxi to follow. Sorry, but true. It's happened to a few of my friends.
Do not wear or bring any jewelry. Yes, I am authorizing your husbands to remove their wedding bands but not to go to the putarias. Don't carry a purse. Money belts are great. You will need to carry ID for many places in Brazil--museums, many buildings, stadiums. I don't know if FIFA will require an original document to get into the stadiums or if a photocopy will do. I suggest carrying copies, notarized preferably, for places OTHER THAN the stadiums. At the stadiums, go original and go money belt.
I used to suggest leaving smartphones at home but I've changed my mind--those are going to help you navigate the countryside here and make sure your taxi is not taking you to Zimbabwe before getting to your hotel. Note: sometimes the Zimbabwe rides are necessary to avoid traffic. The airport taxis are normally highly reliable--I mean Guarucoop here in São Paulo which has a fixed fee for rides and it is not in their interest to lollygag you about. On the reverse side, the name Guarucoop on the taxi door means you are coming from the international airport and you may become a target.You do the risk analysis.
On the major warning side of smartphones: these allow you to become distracted. The more distracted you are, the more likely you will be the first victim of a robbery. If you must look at it while out and about, step into a doorway or a store where you can check it in peace. I can tell you from many conversations with the military police here in São Paulo, the bad guys select victims by who is paying the least amount of attention to what is going on around him/her.
On your arrival, expect big lines. Be patient. Bring a snack. Smile, you are in Brazil. What, your luggage is taking two hours? At least it's coming. Maybe. There should be official helpers around and you can trust those...I will post what they are wearing once I know it. You must have a visa to visit Brazil from the US and from Canada at least, not sure about other countries -- make sure you check that before you leave!
Once out in the arrival hall, you may want to hit the ATM or go directly to the taxi stand. I am guessing lines at the taxi stand will be terrible and you will think about accepting the offer of someone hanging around saying "taxi, taxi?". Don't do it. Wait in line at Guarucoop (in Sao Paulo) or the private taxi stand in Rio, or wherever you are. You do not tip taxis in Brazil though you can round up or if they were particularly good, giving a R$5 or R$10 bill (depending on distance) is always nice. Carry a google map printout of where you are going and let them know you know. Have the address written on a piece of paper and try to do the minimum of waving your iPhone around.
Do not hop into private vans unless you have contracted them through hotels or private agencies. Bad stuff has happened to American co-eds. They cannot be trusted. Buses in Rio and buses in São Paulo are fine (watch for pickpockets, of course, and the distract-and-grab is the most common). Try to stay as close to the money-taker as possible or away from the exit door. Always figure out your route before you go--I suggest Moovit for public transport which is available in Rio and in Sao Paulo, not sure about the other cities.
Getting to the stadium
Go early. If you have a chance to go by official transfer, do it. If you can go by metro, do it. I can't imagine what traffic will be like near these stadiums but I'm willing to guess that it will be a parking lot LONG before you get near it. Taxis will overcharge, for sure, even if it is illegal. The earlier you go, the less stressed you will be about it. Enjoy the atmosphere. Eat some "churrasquinho de gato."
Stadium gear. I realize that you are all coming because you support a country team. I suggest that if that country team is NOT Brazil, you be somewhat careful outside the stadium during the big games. If you cheer for say, Uruguay, and they are playing Brazil in the semi-final match, do not wear your Forlán shirt to the stadium. Put it on when you get inside, paint your face when you get inside, do your happy dance inside. If the "worst" happens and your team beats Brazil, get out of that team's shirt and wear black. I am not kidding. I have seen fans at a qualifying match verbally abuse the 10 Equadorians who were there cheering on their team. Things can get ugly. Especially when alcohol is involved.
More information about security in taxis and public transportation is here.
Inside the Stadium
BH brought to my attention this weekend that the security forces within and immediately outside the stadiums are actually privately contracted by FIFA. In a blog post last week, Juca Kfouri, arguably the biggest expert on football in this country, pointed out that the federal police had yet to find out who these personal security forces are (20,000 officers, apparently). And Mr. Blatter of FIFA has now stated that FIFA is not responsible for any security issues within the stadiums. What? And what are the military and federal police doing--are they inside or outside or what? Confused? Me too.
The important part of this for you, the fan in the stadium, to be aware that there does not seem to be a great deal of the coordination between the private and the Brazilian security forces within the stadium. If you feel uncomfortable with something in the stadium, go with your gut and get out of the situation or area.
If the Worst Happens and you are held up
Remember: bad guys here do not want to hurt you. They simply want your money because they are desperate. You are not. You are here because you care about goals and penalties. You care about your life. If you are held up at gunpoint, or threatened with a gun or knife or whatever, you need to follow these instructions from this past blog. Do NOT resist. You are too important.
I hope and expect this will not happen to you, but it has happened to my husband, to other ex-patriates here so it CAN happen. Before all the Brazilians jump on me about talking negatively about their country, I do know it happens everywhere. But I don't want it to happen in Brazil because I care about it.
All crime should be reported to the local police station. You will need to ask where that is, or call 190 from any phone. There are English-speaking attendants. The reason you want to report it is that then the police will be tracking crime concentrations and may put more men and women on the street there to stop the next crime from happening. Be part of the solution.
Bring any medication you may need with you. Tough tummy? Bring that Immodium or Gas-X or whatever. You don't want to try to explain that to the pharmacist in English. Wait, just call me first because I think I'll enjoy that.
Bring bug spray. Everywhere. There is a very serious dengue outbreak in a lot of Brazil. Prevention by covering yourself by bug spray is HIGHLY recommended. Bring sunblock if you are Canadian or as white as one.
If you should get seriously ill, get yourself to the best private hospital you can find in your host city. In Sao Paulo, I recommend Albert Einstein or Sirio Libanese. Not only for the standard of care, but for the fact that there will be someone there who speaks English. Of course, if you do not speak English, what are you doing reading this blog anyway? Contact your consulate if you need more assistance.
We've covered this in a prior blog here, but it's worth reviewing. Be aware, don't be paranoid. Be most aware of the distraction trick where someone seemingly nice wants to chat you up about the exchange visit they did to your fine country while their accomplice is making off with your unattended whatever. Happened to BH. Only has to happen once. Try to keep all your cash separated into different pockets and cards in your money belt. Always have some cash on hand--if you say you have nothing, you might piss someone off.
There will undoubtedly be protests when you are here. There was a lot of corruption and a lot of bad things that happened locally on our way to hosting the Cup. The anger is not directed against the tourists so I believe that you will be safe from that. But don't join any "parades" okay? And ask your hotel before leaving in the morning if they are aware of any pressure spots, so to speak.
I really don't want to scare anyone here. Brazil is filled with wonderful things to do: get out there and do them! Visit the parks, the museums (I can meet you at the spider and snake museum in SP any time!), the beach, the shopping centers, the historic downtown. Know where you are going when you leave your hotel, and know how you are going to get there. Don't read your smartphone. Go sit at the local bakery and watch the people go by. Find out where your country team fans hang out and hang out at the bar. Smile. Brazil does indeed welcome you. Unless you are Uruguay and then the ghost might just be too big.
Cheer for Brazil! I don't mean just the team.