When I first encountered him he seemed so friendly and I never imagined how he would change. I was photographing the sights of downtown Rio de Janeiro when he approached me; a young guy, well-dressed with a pleasant smile. He greeted me engagingly and asked if I needed a guide. When I showed him my guidebook he shook my hand and went on his way.
I continued my sightseeing and an hour passed before I saw him again. This time I was capturing the relaxed ambience of a public park on my camera. It was lunch time and people were out enjoying the sun. I greeted him as he approached me but quickly realised things were now very different. His previous pleasant demeanour was now that of a ruthless street criminal as he made a grab for my camera!
I held onto it tightly as he calmly told me to give him the camera. When I refused his voice became more agitated and he repeated his demand. At the same time I felt something being held against me and when I looked down I could see a knife in his hand. I knew instantly I was in trouble but I also knew that my camera contained priceless travel memories that I didn't want to lose.
Thoughts were flashing through my mind but I had to keep my composure. I told him I could give him some money but I'd have to get it out of my daypack. He agreed and let me take a half-step back. It was the opening I needed to escape but I needed to be very quick and decisive in my actions.
I took the pack off and placed it to the ground. From the corner of my eye I could see him looking nervously around and I seized his moment of distraction. Instead of unzipping it, I grabbed my pack, kicked him in the shins and starting running for my life! I didn't stop until I reached the park entrance and even then it was only for a moment. I had no idea where my assailant was and I didn't care to wait around and find out!
I ran again to where I remember seeing a police station. Inside, I slumped against the wall. I was shaky and out of breath, but at least now I could report the incident. Unfortunately though, my Portuguese was limited to "hello" and "thankyou". "English", I queried "Does anyone speak English?" Several blank looks were returned to me. "English?" I vainly pleaded again but only received apologetic head shakes.
I reluctantly and rather nervously left the police station. As I sat in the sanctuary of a nearby church I wondered what they would have done if I could have told them what happened. It's probably such a common occurrence they'd barely take an interest. Either way, I'd been lucky. I was unharmed and learnt a valuable lesson. I am now more streetwise in the big cities of the world.