Gustavo is away this week. He’s on a trip for work, which means this is the first time I’m staying here in Rio without him.
For the first few days, I savored the alone time, watching old movies, getting up at the crack of dawn to practice yoga in our room, heading to the gym with just my headphones on, focusing solely on myself. Then came the time in the week when I had spare time to do something – anything – and, I realized, I had no idea what to do.
Here’s the thing: I enjoy being by myself. I love to travel alone and pound the pavement with just me, myself, and my thoughts. It brings up memories of one particular day when I was in Berlin – my first trip alone to a country where I didn’t speak one lick of the language – and I walked all day, from one neighborhood to the next, my cold feet throbbing, and my camera full. I loved every bit of it.
Even in France and Spain, Cyprus and Canada, Austria and Hungary, I’ve found a little bit of time every day to walk around by myself. For me, I need to explore a city on foot, alone, in order to truly take it in.
However, it wasn’t until this week alone in Rio that I realized how little I do that here. And how little I enjoy doing that here.
I won’t beat around the bush. On the most concrete level, Rio isn’t the safest city in the world and that hinders a lot of explorations. I love to walk around without a destination in mind, but that really only works in cities with enough infrastructure and safety to ensure that I won’t be 100% alone and in a dangerous situation. No, it doesn’t matter how much of an independent woman or strong feminist I am – some situations are just unsafe.
Rio’s WhatsApp network probably contains more warnings and useful information than the entire police force. There you can find an underground network of updates and news; people share incidents they’ve heard about with one another to ensure safety. Just looking at one of the CrossFit groups I’m in right now, the last message begins with “Hey guys, if you’re heading to Jacarepaguá, be careful.” There was a murder recently and the public funeral may spark some more violence, so be aware.
It’s critical to take these messages with a grain of salt. Plenty are fake, but enough are real. It’s an adaptation to try to help protect each other and, if you ask me with my foreign mindset, a way of bonding about something that can be shocking and traumatic, no matter how many times you’re exposed to it.
That’s why I think Brazil, and Rio in particular, is such a social culture. There’s safety in numbers, as well as joy. So very much relies on word of mouth because that extra personal touch is needed when there’s so much uncertainty.
Cariocas very much value spending time together more than anything. I can’t think of the last time I saw someone drinking alone in a bar, or at a movie, or even at the gym. Why would you go by yourself if you can do it together? In the past, when I’ve shared an event or party that I wanted to go to with friends, the response is always about who can and cannot make it, which other days would be better, maybe we could find something else on this day, etc. In the meantime, I’m wondering why I now have a detailed schedule of the next month for everyone in my circle and thinking, “Okay, but I’m going to go anyway because that’s the day it happens…”
Even in the weeks leading up to Gustavo’s trip, friends and family asked, “Will you be okay by yourself? Let me know if you need anything. I’m here.” While I very much appreciated the care, I also wanted so badly to express how excited I was to spend time by myself – that good, old fashioned American individualism!
That said, my desire to spend time alone and do things along is a hindrance in Rio. If you’re not sure if a restaurant is open, you better Whatsapp them. If you want to go on a hike but aren’t sure if it’s safe, bring a friend. If you want to go swimming, a buddy is there to keep an eye on your things while you’re jumping waves. Walking back from a new bar at night is better in pairs.
Sometimes I get frustrated by the expectation of always spending time together. Yet, now that I’ve had this week completely alone, I’m craving that comfort that comes from being with others. It’s a reassurance, a buffer for all of the bad things that happen on a daily basis. Life is harder in Brazil, unless you work as a team.