Lots of people have been asking me about the Olympics, the situation in Rio and whether the city, which the international media keeps painting as chaotic, polluted and violent, will be able to effectively host the games.
Here is what I have to say about that:
1-Yes, Rio is a large city in a developing country, so it definitely isn´t as safe as Toronto or Boston. However, the idea that you will be immediately mugged as soon as you breathe *carioca air is a bit off mark. Let´s put it this way. Better safe than sorry but don´t be paranoid. Just don´t walk around with all your money, your documents and with an expensive camera hanging from your neck in certain areas of Rio, and you should be fine.
2-Is Zika going to kill us all? No, it won´t so for the love of God stop talking about this mosquito borne illness as if it was as deadly as Ebola. First of all, we are not even sure that it is a possible threat for pregnant women. The link between the Zika infection and microcephaly has not yet been established conclusively, but my advice for pregnant women is to avoid traveling here, just in case. Secondly, during the outbreak in Rio last summer, I knew of a few people who did catch Zika and they were fine after a week. Of course, it sucks to catch it, you end up with a fever, muscle pains and some body rashes, but then you´re fine. Like any disease, a small number of people can have more serious health consequences, but that´s also the case for the common cold. Moreover, there are probably more cases of Zika right now in Florida, where it´s the summer, rather than in Rio, where it´s the winter and where cooler temperatures make it more difficult for mosquitoes to proliferate. Remember, opposite seasons for opposite hemispheres. I really think the fear of catching Zika in Rio should be the least, I repeat, the least of your concerns when traveling to the Olympic city at the moment. Shame on all the golfers and athletes who have canceled their participation in the games due to fears of contracting Zika. They are missing out big time.
3-Is the Guanabara Bay polluted? Hell yeah, some parts are extremely polluted, others less. I personally would have held the swimming competition farther away from the Bay, not sure why the Olympic organizers chose to keep the contest in Copacabana beach and other areas. That was something that could have been avoided, especially in order to avoid the bad PR. The media reports and criticism are on point on this issue.
4-Is Rio´s infrastructure, including its public transportation, unsuitable for the Olympics? Although many people have argued that that´s the case, I have to disagree with them. Compared to many cities in the world where I´ve lived in and visited, I think Rio´s transportation system is reasonably ok and functional. Has anyone ever taken the New York subway during rush hour? I mean, Rio´s subway is cleaner and more modern than New York´s subway, although much more limited as far as distances covered are concerned. Plus, the bus system is very good in Rio, I have taken the bus several times to different parts of town without any problems. Now with the inauguration of the VLT (light rail system) and the BRT (bus rapid transit) urban mobility should become even more efficient.
5- Still speaking of infrastructure, all the Olympic venues are ready for the games. This is a fact so I don´t understand why people are still worrying about this.
6-Ending on a positive note, Rio´s natural beauty and the welcoming attitudes of most cariocas are what make this tropical hub so unique. According to a Forbes survey, Rio was ranked as the happiest city in the world. That is a very significant result when considering the problems that cariocas face on a daily basis. It reflects their light-hearted spirit, always smiling, willing to help out and to welcome strangers and friends alike. It doesn´t take much to get a carioca to invite you over to their house for a coffee or just to spontaneously strike up a conversation on the street. Also, don´t be afraid of touching and kissing. We love to kiss (on the cheek) and hug and mean nothing offensive by it! We also love to start dancing spontaneously to the beat of practically any kind of music, it doesn´t matter if we are a CEO of a multinational company or simply a high school student. Cariocas of all ages and professions are spontaneous and are not bound by social conventions related to their job positions as much as in other countries.
Indeed, there is a certain joie de vivre that is very much alive and unique in this marvelous, bustling city. I would dare to say much more than in any city that I have lived in in Europe, ironically enough where the term joie de vivre was actually invented As such, to summarize Rio as a Zika infested, water polluted and violent city really does not reflect its complex, multifaceted reality. I believe the media has been doing a lousy job in reporting about this year´s Olympic capital, being either unable or unwilling to pick up and report on the cultural nuances that make Rio what it truly is: a city of contrasts, of inequalities, but also of great natural beauty and laid-back people who live and smile despite their everyday concerns.
*carioca is a the word that describes a person who was born in the city of Rio de Janeiro.