Cedar Rapids couple paints warm and welcoming picture of Rio

Whitney and Roberto Pino on dream vacation at Summer Olympics

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By Rob Clark, The Gazette

A beautiful city.

Security on every street corner.

A well-run transportation system.

Warm and welcoming people.

This is how Cedar Rapids resident Whitney Pino describes the scene in Rio de Janeiro, where she and her husband Roberto are on a dream vacation and soaking up all the 2016 Summer Olympics has to offer.

Whitney, 33, an employee at Van Meter Inc., and Roberto, 35, a Rockwell Collins employee, arrived in Brazil on July 31 and are spending two weeks seeing the sights and experiencing the games. Before leaving, they purchased tickets to see men’s gymnastics and a couple basketball games, but passed on shelling out $5,000 to see Friday’s opening ceremonies inside Maracana Stadium.

But after arriving, they found a local booth where tickets were selling for much less — $1,000 each.

“They were still expensive, but not as expensive,” said Whitney Pino. “We debated back and forth multiple times, but decided this was a once-in-a-lifetime trip. That’s what we’ve been calling this.”

After securing their seats, a post went up on Facebook with the hashtags #CantWait, #NotCheap, #KidsEatFreeOnTuesdays, #DidIReallyJustDoThat, #CardboardBoxForAHome and #OpeningCeremony.

Turns out, it was money well spent.

“The event was spectacular, definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience that we will never forget,” said Pino. “Brazilians have so much pride in their country and this was a celebration of their culture and truly a showcase of the pride and people.

“I loved every minute of it.”

Pino said the ceremony had a common theme of diversity and acceptance best demonstrated as the Olympic Refugee team marched into the stadium during the parade of athletes.

“All nations accepted these athletes as their own,” said Pino. “This was absolutely my favorite moment of the night. One world. One team.”

Pino says she began thinking about attending the games nearly eight years ago as the city of Chicago became one of four finalists to land the 2016 Summer Olympics. Rio was eventually named the winning city in October 2009.

A graduate of Kennedy High School in Cedar Rapids, Pino said she has maintained a relationship over the years with Cecelia Mierelles, who was an exchange student from Brazil at Kennedy.

“We stayed connected. I sent her a message saying if the games are in Chicago, I’ll host you and if they are in Brazil, you host me.”

Together, they are renting an apartment in Rio.

“We’re a half block from the beach on the opposite side of the city from the Olympics,” Pino said. “We take the metro and public transportation, which is very well organized.”

She said she and Roberto are learning as they go, but they feel very comfortable in the city.

“Even two weeks ago, we felt nervous,” said Pino. “There’s been so much talk of terrorism, Zika, water quality ... but we decided we were coming.”

Pino said she has experienced nothing unpleasant.

“We feel very safe. Their equivalent to the National Guard is on every street corner,” she said. “The people of Brazil are absolutely warm and welcoming. The thing that will blow your mind is the volume of Brazilians with a second language — mostly English — is outstanding.”

This has eliminated any communication issues, Pino said.

Furthermore, she said the Brazilians are very curious about Americans.

“They are really interested in learning about us and where we are from,” she said. “They don’t have a really good understanding of where Iowa is. We have to associate everything with Chicago.”

She said those without tickets to Olympic events, often gather in front of giant televisions that have been placed in downtown parks.

“It’s like Greene Square, but much, much bigger,” she said.

Pino said she and Roberto have two children, Lorenzo, 8, and Gianna, 7, who they are staying in touch with through Facebook. The couple saved for six years to be able to take the trip.

“It’s a lifelong dream,” Pino said.

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