A mugging was a genuinely new experience for me, and in many ways it was an absorbing experience.
I had earlier that evening been discussing with two Belgian friends (who live and work in Sao Paulo) the perception of crime in Brazil versus its actual occurrence. Without doubt you hear some pretty bad stories; normally from the Brazilians themselves and stories I don’t doubt in the slightest. But on occasions I have been left wondering whether the dangerous Brazil people describe to me is the same country I’ve been moving around for the last two months. Ultimately until it happens to you the alarm feels rather abstract.
I wasn’t blinkered to the stories though, and had been taking what the FCO might describe as ‘sensible precautions’ – watch removed and carrying limited amounts of cash.
And so it was I came to be returning to the boat alone after an evening (and a fair chunk of the early morning) out with the Belgians. The taxi couldn’t drive me directly to the marina entrance because from early Sunday morning the authorities close the main road leading to it so that it can be used by cyclists in a traffic free environment (a policy I admire).
So I asked to be dropped at the nearest point on the other side of the rather broad dual carriageway. I then strode out for the footbridge which would deliver me to within a couple of hundred yards of the marina entrance.
As I stepped onto the unlit bridge I heard some whispered voices down to my left, and looking ahead I saw a young woman walking towards me which drew my attention as I wondered if the voices were in any way connected to her. As I passed the lady I could hear someone scampering quickly underneath me, and as the penny dropped that a trap was set, a stocky yet agile bloke emerged over the railings of the bridge about ten yards ahead of me, making a big show of a relatively small knife in his right hand.
As I raised my arms in a gesture that I hoped would be recognised internationally as “whoa, whoa, whoa” (think I probably actually uttered that as well for emphasis), his accomplice raced up behind me and pulled everything out of my trouser pockets before I even had chance to turn around. It was the single-most act of efficiency I have witnessed in Brazil.
There was then a slight stand-off as we all stared at each other and they tried to ease their way past me on the bridge to get back to their original starting position. No doubt because I’d had a fair bit to drink I don’t remember feeling scared, and in fact my impression was that they were more anxious than me. Rather stupidly I grabbed the guy who had my possessions by his PSG replica shirt and pleaded “mi telefono”, which resulted in me getting my shirt ripped in retaliation. But incredibly my foolhardy request was also answered, with my phone handed back as he jogged back across the bridge. I could scarcely believe it.
The only explanation I can think of is that they were delighted to get their hands on some ready cash, and as petty thieves / addicts they wouldn’t have known how to realise any value from the handset.
So I made it to the other side of the bridge where I was approached by a friendly guy who had sensed what had happened and was coming towards me alternating shouts of abuse at my assailants with words of comfort to me. An unusual combination.
At this point I did have a minor sense of the physical symptoms of shock, but the alcohol undoubtedly masked this considerably and I was able to get to sleep without difficulty.
The next day I reflected on being very lucky and it certainly underlined for someone who has been fortunate to experience very little crime that it is a very real threat.
Interestingly I didn’t have any of the violation feelings I remember experiencing many years ago when my car was broken into overnight in Spain, but that’s perhaps because on that occasion a number of personal items were stolen.
My belief in karma also received a significant upswing when the following day I got a free upgrade to Business Class for the long flight home. Nice one BA.
PS: Whilst I was back in the UK for two weeks a group of Spanish Olympic sailors were held up at gunpoint on their way to the same marina (main sailing venue for the games). After this attack was widely reported the security in the area improved dramatically, with guards placed on the approach to the footbridges.