Routed from Rio


Q: My friend and I just recently traveled to Rio de Janeiro during Carnaval. We had reservations at the Hotel Praia Ipanema.

On our first day in town we went sightseeing and then headed to the beach right across the street from the hotel. We were walking along the shore line when we were suddenly surrounded and attacked by about a dozen teenage boys with knives. They demanded our belongings, which at the time was a beach towel, lotion and room keys.

I was grabbed by one of the guys but managed to break free, but my male friend was held at knifepoint. Fortunately he was also able to get free with just some minor cuts. We then ran across the street back to our hotel.

When we reached our hotel the doorman stopped us. We explained to him what happened and all he did was shrug his shoulders and roll his eyes. He offered us no help. I was still very shaken up and scared. We tried getting into the hotel so we could have the front desk call the police, but the doorman would not let us in. He was more concerned that we had sand on our feet and did not want us tracking it in the lobby.

The doorman then pointed to a door located in the backside of the hotel where he told us to go. We did not feel safe going through that door because there was a group of kids much like the ones that attacked us standing there. We were so upset and scared for our safety. We could not believe how unhelpful that doorman was when he could clearly see how scared and upset we both were.

We did not even feel safe in our hotel, the place that we should feel the safest at, so my friend and I decided to check out. We got on the first flight back home.

When we returned, we contacted our travel agency hoping for some kind of refund since we were there only one day, but we also wanted to make them aware of the problems we had with the hotel that they recommended. In view of what happened I am requesting a refund on part of the $2,500 we spent. Can you help?

— Leah Peters

A: Talk about having a bad vacation. I’d be pretty shaken up, too, if I was assaulted by a gang of teenagers and then denied entrance to my own hotel. There’s no excuse for the way you were treated.

I contacted the hotel to get its side of the story. Angela Cardinot, the hotel’s sales manager, reviewed your complaint and agreed that things didn’t go well when you stayed at the property. But she blames a language barrier, not incompetence, for your treatment.

For example, the doorman you dealt with doesn’t speak any English. So it wasn’t the sand on your feet, but the fact that you didn’t know any Portuguese, that made him stall – at least according to Cardinot. She also said the hotel later offered to call the police after you told an employee that your room key had been stolen.

Her point is well taken: You should have taken a moment to learn a few phrases in the language such as:

“Get your hands off me.”
“Open the door! I’m being attacked by a gang of teenage boys.”

Then again, is it unreasonable to ask someone working at a hotel with a large number of English-speaking visitors to learn a few useful phrases? The doorman might start with these:

“I’m not letting you in until you clean the sand off your feet.”
“We aren’t responsible for the gangs of teenage boys roaming the beach.”

Other than brushing up on your Portuguese, how could you have prevented this from happening? Well, you shouldn’t have planned a vacation during Carnaval. That’s kind of like going to New Orleans during Mardi Gras or Key West during Fantasy Fest and expecting those places to be the sedate tourist traps they normally are. You should have known that things might get a little rowdy.

I don’t think it’s asking too much to check out the State Department’s Consular Information Sheet on Brazil. “The incidence of crime against tourists is greater in areas surrounding beaches, hotels, discotheques, bars, nightclubs, and other similar establishments that cater to visitors and is especially prevalent during Carnaval,” the U.S. government warns. “Occasionally, crime against tourists has been violent and has led to some deaths.”

My point is, you should have done your homework before you booked your vacation. If you’d known what you and your friend were getting yourselves into, you might have had second thoughts.

“We really sorry for the sequence of unfortunate facts Ms. Peters had in her travel to Rio,” Cardinot told me. Although the vacation package you booked isn’t refundable, the hotel views this as a “very special condition” and is offering you a free five-night stay in the future.

I think that’s a fair resolution, and I would take the hotel up on its offer. Just not during Carnaval, maybe.