If you travel internationally to certain parts of the world, you can easily become a target for petty crime. The local crowds can spot a tourist from a mile away, not only by the way you look, but by the way you dress and carry yourself.
And let’s be honest, there are parts of cities in the United States such as New York City where it is just as dangerous, so this is not a knock on the rest of the world.
One time on a Saturday evening around 8 pm, I was walking down the iconic sidewalk along the beach in Rio, when I came across a mugging in progress 20 feet in front of me. Two Neanderthals from one of the many slums were trying to take this German guy’s fanny pack and he wouldn’t give it to them. One had the pack trying to pull it away from him, while the other one was holding his other arm back with a knife pointing down at his neck. He finally gave it up and they went running across the street.
Seriously, you have to be aware of your surroundings in a place like Rio and not make yourself a target by carry backpacks or anything like that. Most of the time I walk around down there like I don’t have a dime to my name.
One of the best things to use as a form of non-lethal protection is pepper spray. It has a couple of advantages over a tazer, another personal protection device.
Hand-held tazers or stun devices are close proximity weapons, meaning you have to get close to the assailant and touch them in order for it to disable them. Yes, there are tazer devices that shoot an electrode 15 to 20 feet that sends a shock from the handheld unit, however, those are much more bulky and let’s face it, not very practical unless you are on a Police force.
Obviously, getting close to an assailant with a knife is not something you or I want to do.
A good tazer also costs upward of $50, much more expensive than even the best pepper mace and needs to be charged often so it is effective if it is ever needed. And that is the basic issue I have with tazers. How do I know if the thing is charged enough to do any good at any given time?
Pepper spray allows you to confront someone from a short distance, temporarily disabling them while you run away.
And it doesn’t always have to be used on humans. Many joggers carry it in case they run into dogs or other animals, and it has the same effect on them.
So guys, I know what you are probably thinking. One time I met a guy in my hallway outside my apartment in Rio and he wanted to come in and see how I remodeled it. He happened to see my bottle of pepper gel sitting on the bar and made the comment that pepper spray was for girls. I asked him if it was his first time in Rio and he said yes. He will learn.
It's like the line in Platoon I believe, where the old vets are talking to the new guys about what to do and what not to do. One of them says "there is no such thing as a coward out here". The same principle applies to your safety anywhere.
What is Pepper Spray?
Pepper spray is manufactured from a lachrymatory agent which causes inflammation in the eyes and mucous membranes of the upper respiratory system.
Pepper spray effects include a lot of pain and discomfort, irritation, uncontrollable sinus discharge and temporary blindness because you simply cannot open your eyes for a time.
If you were wondering what gives pepper spray its power, it is capsicum, the same chemical that makes chili peppers hot. If you have ever eaten a chili pepper, you experience some of the same side effects. Pepper spray is in much higher concentrations of capsicum causing severe reactions.
The mixture is usually diluted with oil, water and glycol and mixed with a propellant in a compressed canister.
For the most powerful version, look for a 10% solution.
Mace Pepper Gel
This is my personal favorite because it comes out like silly string and it is more accurate and less susceptible to wind than the aerosol spray.
I sprayed the side of my house from about 15 feet away and hit the general area that I was aiming for with ease. If you aim for the head, it will cover the entire area with just one squirt.
Also, I haven't had any problems with leakage and I carry it in my pants pocket a lot when I'm traveling in South America, even when I'm riding my bike in Rio de Janeiro. In fact, I've owned 2 bottles of these, plus a bottle or two of the regular spray, and never had a problem with leakage. It's bulky in your pockets, but worth the peace of mind.
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This type of spray is probably the kind that most people are familiar with. It comes out in a mist with an effective range of between 5 – 10 feet. However, it has a couple of liabilities.
You have to be closer to the assailant to use it reliably, and it can be less effective if blown around by windy conditions.
I have used both kinds. The only advantage that this pepper spray canister has over the pepper gel is that it is less bulky so it is almost non-existent in your pants pocket. I use this version when I am wearing a certain type of clothing. However, I always feel safer with the pepper gel.
Tips for Using Pepper Spray
When your pepper spray arrives, open it and take it outside to test it. Most products are good for 4 to 5 effective blasts, so wasting one in the beginning is no big deal.
If you ever have to use it, run immediately. Don’t wait around so you can punch them in the face. You’ll just contaminate your hand and probably get it all over you.
Is pepper spray legal?
As far as legal advice, yes it can be deadly to some people, but it is extremely rare. If you want to call the Police after you leave the area go ahead, but honestly, I don’t care what happens to someone that starts something like that with me. You do what you feel is best.
If you have ever seen video of Police trying to control protesters, they do not seem to be concerned over the well-being of possible asthmatics in the crowd, so while the risk is there, remember, you didn’t start the incident so do what you have to do to protect yourself.
And the best advice of all, don’t spray yourself in the face. But if you do, only soap and water will wash it away. However, it will take time and probably days to get all of it out of your hair.
If traveling on an airplane, it is legal to place it in a checked bag, but never attempt to put t in your carry-on luggage. I always put mine is a ziplock bag in my checked luggage and I have never had an issue.
So what did we learn here? Never go to Brazil, right?
Actually, you can find dicey areas in any city in the world, including Paris, Rome or New York City.
There are many different brand and types of pepper spray so the ones I listed here are just two examples.
Be careful with pepper spray. You don’t want your first victim to be you. A friend of mine was sitting around once in an outdoor restaurant and was examining someone’s canister of spray, and he accidentally squirted himself right in the face. I asked him what it felt like and he said he couldn’t open his eyes for about 30 minutes. And then he would experience the same symptoms for days when he would shower and get his hair wet. Bottom line, the stuff is powerful so use it carefully.
In fact, some states in the USA will not allow it to be sold, so be sure to check your local laws. If you try to order it online, most of the time the companies will not even ship it to certain addresses.
Also, there are no returns of pepper spray even if it is unopened in the package. However, if you have an issue, or even order the wrong type as I did once, a quick email to the company should resolve the problem. In my situation, they shipped me the one I wanted at no additional cost.
I have been carrying a bottle of it in some form for the last decade when I am in Brazil. I have never had to use it though. I never put myself in dicey situations, but also, I think I have one advantage over many of the other victims. I look like I can run, and I can really fast, especially when threatened. I can run like Forest Gump.
If all of this talk about crime has you thinking why in the world would I ever go to a place like Brazil, well remember, the same thing happens across the USA all the time. If you don’t believe me, tune in on any given day and watch the Investigative Discovery channel.
Again, I have never had to use it, and the only time it has ever been shot was when I was playing around with it outside my home.
I highly recommend the pepper gel. It shoots straight, sticks to everything and is not affected by windy conditions.
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