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Where I've Been interviews Nick Hawkins (@whereishawkins)

With the Olympic committee grand announcement coming up on Friday, October 2nd, Where I've Been were thrilled to interview Nick Hawkins, who just fairly recently returned from a trip to Rio - one of the four 2016 Summer Olympic Games nominees. If you haven't start following him already on Twitter, you should do now! Nick regularly discusses his passion for travel, life experiences, soccer, and just general, fun-lovin' chit-chat. You can also explore his blog here and look through his photo albums of his previous travels.
Here's what Nick had to say about his awesome trip:

How long were you in Rio and where did you stay?
I ended up staying in Rio for a week in Ipanema. It was far from the downtown area, but I like the idea of being next to the beach. There were a decent amount of relatively inexpensive hostels in the area, but I decided on The Mango Tree, which was a decent place to stay and not a party hostel. First rate place, and under $30 a night.

What were some of the neighborhoods like? Safe? Dangerous?
You know, I didn’t feel like I was threatened because I was practicing common sense. You’d hear all these horror stories of someone who knew someone whose cousin went to Rio and got mugged or something along those lines, but generally they leave out the part about them being drunk or stupid. Of course, being a big guy with a big camera around my neck made for a prime target, but I’m sure the smart ones thought it might be a trap.

I did a favela tour, and it wasn’t what I expected. I thought we’d have to worry about guys with guns and other nonsense, but it was pretty safe. Of course, there are rules to entering the favela, and you have to respect them.

But any major city has crime problems. We both live in Chicago, and we know that there are areas where you should and shouldn’t go after dark. It’s the same everywhere.

What methods of transportation did you use to get around Rio?
Local bus and Metro. It’s the only real way to get around the city. It was not too expensive and actually pretty nice. Once you figured it out, it was a good way to go. The only downside is that you had to sort of know where you were going since stops weren’t announced. Rio’s traffic was pretty bad, so there was a lot of sitting. But taxis were plentiful and relatively inexpensive.

Did you encounter many locals? How were you perceived by them?
I always make it a point to hit local bars. I was lucky enough to be in Rio during a Brazil/Argentina World Cup qualifier (where Brazil won 3-1) and met some cool people, who found it funny that a gringo would be excited to see Maradona upset at his team losing. And I enjoy meeting people from other places – isn’t that why we travel? Even sitting on a park bench, carrying on a conversation with someone about pets is a nice moment and shows us how that there’s little difference between people around the world.

What are some things you learned about Rio that you never knew before?
For some reason, I had this impression that Cristo Redentor (the large statue of Christ the Redeemer) was extremely tall, but it’s only 130 feet high (including the pedestal.) It’s actually 20 feet shorter than the Statue of Liberty (just the statue, not the base.) I guess I just had imagined it being a lot bigger.

Again, the favelas were interesting to go into. Essentially they’re self-reliant communities, ruled in part by the local drug lords. Sure, they’re impoverished, but it doesn’t mean that everyone in there is bad. People that live in there have a code that crime isn’t tolerated in the favelas, because crime invites the police in, and when you operate a lucrative drug enterprise, the last people you want are the police around. So if you commit crimes in the favela, you might end up dead as a result. It sends a serious message to the residents. Again, don’t be stupid and you shouldn’t have a problem. And you can’t blame the residents of the favelas – they’re just trying to get by like everyone else.

Also, the concept of driving while intoxicated seems relatively new to people. Apparently it used to be that during massive traffic jams you’d have people selling beer so you could have a beer while you waited in traffic.

What was your favorite moment of your trip, and why?

It’s hard to single out one particular moment of the trip. Even when the weather wasn’t cooperating and I went to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain and was in the fog, I was still having a great time. I think that when it comes to traveling, we forget to pause for a moment and go “I’m in Rio, how awesome is this?” All the moments were special, and it’s not just about checking items off your list of things to see. It’s the sights and smells that make a trip memorable.

On Oct 2nd, the Olympic Committee will be announcing the host city for the 2016 summer Olympics. What's the overall vibe in Rio regarding the Olympics 2016? Do you think Rio would make a great host city? (cleanliness? good facilities?)

I think that the Olympics for Rio would be a fantastic benefit to the country. They’re already preparing for World Cup 2014, so a lot of the tourist infrastructure will be in place. The overall vibe is a lively one, and I think that the city has the most to gain from the Olympics.

Olympics are a terribly messy proposition. They’re always overbudget and tend to leave a lot of white elephants. I just think it makes a lot of sense to reward Rio with the Olympics.

What is one key piece of advice you would give to someone traveling to Rio for the first time?
Keep your mind and eyes open, especially on the beaches.

Can you name one thing you'd change about Rio?
Other than the obvious poverty in the favelas, not really.

Wanna know more about Rio? Be sure to visit Where I've Been's destination pages or shoot us an email at
Don't forget that tomorrow, Thursday October 1st, you could win a trip to Rio (or the three other Olympic nominees). Tune in to Twitter and follow us @whereivebeen and FIND OUT HOW!
Safe and happy travels!
Katy (@whereivebeen)

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Where I've Been interviews Nick Hawkins (@whereishawkins) + trip