Rio Diaries: Don’t Always Believe the Headlines

Olá from Rio! I arrived in Brazil yesterday morning, and let’s cut right to the chase: I was expecting an uphill battle from the start. How could I not after reading countless scare tactic headlines about the Olympics for months? But as I quickly learned on the ground here, and as Phillip Dutton so wisely put it: Don’t always believe the headlines.

I took an overnight flight from Atlanta and arrived early yesterday morning at Rio de Janeiro-Galeão International Airport, which is currently teeming with smiling volunteers ready to help the endless stream of people pouring into the country.

Within 30 minutes of landing, I breezed through immigration and customs, validated my accreditation and found my way on a bus to the Deodoro Accommodation Village, a former military barracks that is now housing members of the media, officials (including the eventing ground jury!) and volunteers during the Olympics.

Checking in at the reception desk was equally easy, though perhaps one of the most peculiar check-ins I’ve ever experienced in that in addition to my keys and a wifi code, I was also given a package-wrapped remote for the television in my room.

The first of many bus rides

The first of many bus rides

While my shower was trickling cold, dirty water when I first turned it on, the extremely friendly maintenance crew had it fixed within an hour — not that I had time for a shower at that point. After splashing some water on my face, I caught a bus to the Olympic Equestrian Center, which is about a 20-minute bus ride from Deodoro Village depending on traffic.

Did I mention all of the buses have free wifi? Considering I blew through my international data package in less than 48 hours, this has been an unexpected and much appreciated bonus. I’ve had to make two trips to the Main Press Center in Barra in the past day, and it’s been a bit less stressful thanks to being able to type away on my laptop during the ride.

As for the food, there’s a little concession stand outside the media center at the equestrian venue that sells light snacks, and I’ve enjoyed the empanadas for lunch, just R$10 (about $3 USD). I’ve dipped into my stash of protein bars I brought from home, but I’m not starving. Deodoro Village offers free breakfast in the mornings, and there’s a dinner buffet for R$50 (about $15 USD) in the evenings.

Bus stop with a view!

Bus stop with a view!

Are there many food options for those of us in Deodoro beyond that? No. The convenience store in the village is only handy if you need items like dandruff shampoo, bug spray or crackers. Are there any local restaurants within walking distance? No, and even if there were, we’re housed in a military complex for a reason. (Safety first! Though I should note that several friends have taken taxis and used Uber without any issues.)

I can’t help but be charmed by Rio. There’s a “Havana Nights” sort of magic to the city, with colorful buildings from a different time dotting every corner, exotic trees and flowers overflowing in abundance, and eye-popping mountain views unlike anything you’ll ever see in the U.S. just about everywhere you look.

Not all of my fellow journalists and photographers have had such a rose-colored experience in Rio so far. Jane Thompson of New Zealand’s Horse & Pony Magazine and Mollie Bailey of The Chronicle of the Horse both went without their suitcases for several days due to lost luggage debacles at the airport.

Pippa Roome of Horse & Hound is now going on two days without hot water in her shower. Carley Sparks of Horse Network spent the morning sitting on a couch at Deodoro Village due to a clerical error with her housing reservation that prevented her from checking in to her room.

My morning #officeview at #rio2016 #equestrian #eventing #jointhejourney #twohearts A photo posted by jenni autry (@jkautry) on

Some are going hungry for fear of eating the food. (See: scare tactic headlines. A fellow journalist told me that the salad I scooped onto my plate at dinner tonight could be “contaminated” due to the water quality in Rio.) I’ve now consumed meat, milk, vegetables, fruit, cheese and everything else the CDC warnings told me to avoid, and I’m still here to tell the tale.

Bottled water is easily available to purchase, and the venue’s media center has a cooler of filtered water available for refills. As for concerns over the Zika virus, I have seen two mosquitos thus far, and I vanquished them with the 140-page guide entitled “Rio 2016 Press and Photo Operations.”

To sum it all up, will you find a downside if you look hard enough? Of course. But thus far I’m captivated by Rio’s vibrance, energy and color, and any hiccups along the way are worth it in exchange for this incredible adventure. The fact that the horses and riders are all equally happy at the top-notch equestrian venue puts a cherry on top of the entire experience thus far. Did I mention the weather is gorgeous?

We’re ready to kick things off with the first day of dressage tomorrow. Thanks for following along, EN! Go Eventing.