Sunrises and Assault Rifles in Rio

That time we got everyone up at 3.30am to watch the sunrise with the best view in Rio.

Where? Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

When? July 2018

With whom? Martin, Meghan, Rhys, Danny and Pules.

My last post saw us climb Parrot Peak for the sunrise in Ilha Grande, a beautiful island off the coast of Brazil. Now Martin and I reckoned ourselves night hikers and decided to enforce that on the rest of the gang that we’d met up with in Rio. There are two mountains side by side in Rio called Dois Irmaos or Two Brothers. We climbed up the bigger brother to watch the sun rise over the city. I’d read up on it and the plan was to get an uber to the entrance to Vidigal, a favela, then jump on the back of a motorbike taxi to take us to the start of the trek. Lots of info all over the web said this and it was all consistent. So when we ordered the uber and saw that it could take us all the way and eliminate the need for a moto taxi, we did that instead. Meghan and Rhys were thrilled to be awake so early in the morning.

Funny story: Martin was very keen for the hike, and as we were chatting away about various things he said “I wouldn’t go into a favela if you paid me”, judging his motives on a BBC documentary he’d once seen. “That’s awkward”, I told him as I broke the news that the hike starts in a favela. They have really bad reps but since the Olympics and the world cup in Rio, the favelas have been massively pacified. In fact, we met a Brit at the top of the mountain who lives in a favela and told us that the gangs that run the favela make sure that you are safe there, and that they only commit petty crime in the tourist areas like Copacabana and Imanema.

Once we had arrived in this favela, we somehow had to get behind a locked and bolted football pitch to start the trail. After successfully avoiding someone who looked like they wanted our valuables, we loitered outside the locked gate suggesting possible next moves. I suggested scaling the fence, Danny thought we might be able to go around the outside. As we were discussing, Martin chipped in with “I don’t want to alarm anyone but there is a boy coming towards us with an assault rifle.” As you can imagine, we were alarmed. This boy, who must have been no older than 16, approached us with a backpack, an AK47, and a big smile. He came over with a firm grip on his rifle, asking in Portuguese whether we were looking for the trail. We said yes and he told us to go over the fence. Problem solved. Then he offered us a high 5, which we did, because he had an assault rifle. We climbed over the fence and found the trailhead at the bottom of the mountain.

This time, we didn’t have head torches. Martin and I had a torch but others used the lights of their phones to light up the ground. It wasn’t a difficult hike but it did require lots of care. Logs stuck out in various places and there were lots of trip hazards in the tree roots. Judging by the time, we thought we must have been approaching the peak but it was difficult to tell when we were densely covered by trees. We came across a couple of false peaks before we got to the real one.

The lights from the city lit up our view and we gazed on at the beautiful sight before us. We were surprised to be the only ones at the top, given what we’d read about the views from this peak, but sure enough, more people arrived. Getting there first gave us the best view from right at the front of the rock before it dropped off for being too steep.

We befriended a couple of Bolivians, an American who is soon to visit London, and the aforementioned Brit who had moved here. It was a lovely atmosphere at the top and because there were so few of us, we were all chatting away to each other.

The sunrise started with a red and orange tinge on the horizon and slowly lit up the entire city. Again, this was the first time that Martin and I had seen it in daylight, so we were stunned. The other four of our party had gone up Sugarloaf mountain the previous day, and made comments about how the view here is much better.

Rio has mountains scattered throughout the city, which is part of what makes it one of my favourite cities, but for the sunrise this meant that the rays would seep through the gaps in the rocks, making a very picturesque scene.

When we had arrived on the top, Martin dropped our torch. It was now light enough to see whether the bushes had caught it below, but this did require us to descend a very steep part of the rock, which then turned into a cliff. With hindsight, we probably shouldn’t have done that. To get back up, Martin went on his bum and I spidermanned.

As we were hiking back down we heard lots of gunfire, followed by sirens, then lots more bursts of gunfire. We couldn’t stay up there all day so we continued on, towards the sound of gunfire. We hid in the trees whilst we tried to find an uber, but whilst there were many in Copacabana near the hostel, there weren’t any here. So instead, we walked. We stuck together as a group of 6 and walked down the hill to the entrance of the favela. It had a really lovely sense of community, and everyone we passed said good morning to us (in Portuguese). The houses looked decent; it actually reminded me a lot of Morden, an area in London.

At the entrance, we were able to find an uber to take us back towards the city centre so that we could have a big but earned breakfast feast.

Info: As I mentioned earlier in the post, don’t be afraid of this favela. I don’t know about others, but this one was perfectly safe, despite the dodgy bloke at the beginning, the boy with the assault rifle and the ominous sounds of gunfire. I actually felt safer here than the touristy parts like Copacabana, where locals target tourists. Dois Irmaos is on the edge of the city and is not as tourist trodden as Sugarloaf and Christ the Redeemer, so you don’t have to pay for the views here, which, having been at the top of all three, are the best at Dois Irmaos. I think it will soon be much more popular as people start to realise how much better it is. The hike took about an hour, but with a smaller group it would be faster. Once you found the trail, it was very obvious for the rest of the hike. On the way down it gave some great views of the suburbs of the city.

Product of the week: This hike is completely free, so the only costs are getting there. Uber is the best way to get around Brazil, we have found in Rio and in Sao Paulo when we were there. They are everywhere and are so cheap! A 20 minute journey might cost you the equivalent of Ā£3.

Tip of the week: Do a night hike for sunrise! It is so worth the crappy early morning wake up for the epic views you get as the sun comes up. Put this on your bucket list.

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