Here we are. Going to South America. At first Brazil was not on our list but since the only affordable flights were in direction of Rio we did not really have any other choice. We decided to spend a few days wandering around the streets of Rio and see with our own eyes what we admired on TV during the Games.
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Prior leaving for Rio, we read many blogs and guides comparing how best to reach the city from the international airport. Between the city bus, taxis, private companies and Uber, prices and services varied a lot. Not speaking Portuguese and worried about being screwed over, we preferred paying a little bit more by taking a transfer organised by our hostel.
On the 25th of January, freshly awakened from our overnight flight, we found an old man at arrivals wearing a panama hat and holding a paper with our name (Jeannie Benoite). Incapable of speaking each others language and after a brief handshake, we followed him without a word, while he paid the parking and let us in his car. It was quite obvious this ride was not a traditional taxi, but knowing about the many “unofficial” taxis, we were not worried and trusted our hostel.
As we left the car park, less than 50m away from the exit, we saw what looked like two policemen asking the old man to park his vehicle on the side. The driver then presented his papers but the police seemed to ask for a document that he was unable to provide.
Not really cooperating, the police asked him to get out of the vehicle while we remained sitting uncomfortably on the backseat, starting to think… only 5 minutes in Brazil and are we already going to be held up by fake policemen. Are they expecting us to bribe them? Will they get guns out and take us as hostages? We thought of all the scenarios that would leave us out on the first day of our trip … Not a good start.
We tried to think this situation through and noticed that many cars stopped to ask directions from these policemen who seemed to be in fact working for the Government. Later on, they approached the car again, opened the door and began asking us questions in Portuguese. Jenny seemed to understand parts of what was being said and tried to answer in “Spanish sh sh sh”. The conversation was obviously a little bit complicated and we ended up waiting in the car for a good half hour. Meanwhile, the police took pictures of the license plate and made a few calls, as we took pictures of the police and driver. We understood the police were stopping fake taxis which are not paying fees and taxes on unofficial runs. Our driver was in a bad position and we had a hard time explaining that we did not pay him a thing as this is a private transfer from the airport to our hostel. Nothing worked, the police didn’t want to hear what we tried to explain and asked us to get out of the taxi, take our bags and jump in a yellow taxi – an official one… We will never know what happened to the driver.
In the end there was more fear than harm. We even paid 50% less than the price agreed with the hostel. However, we still don’t know what to think of all this drama. What happened to our driver? Do these police really apply the law honestly or are they in charge of protecting the mafia taxis at Rio airport? Several locals seem to think that the second option was the most credible …
An interesting start to our South American journey.