The first week here in Rio has been a whirlwind, so many new people, places, sights, sounds, and foods to take in. It’s a lot to digest and it has been a lot of fun to try and find our feet here. On Tuesday Mat and I decided to get right into it by hiking Pedra da Gávea, the world’s largest beachfront stone monolith (what a title). It was hard to find info about the trail and most accounts recommended hiring a guide. After searching the internet for a while I found a post that said it was possible to make it on your own but that you may have to do some rock climbing along the way. Not ones to be scared off by a little free climbing, Mat and I decided to go for it.

We took off on a bus from Ipanema just before 10 AM towards Barra da Tijuca, a barrier island suburb of Rio which is often referred to as “the new rio” or “the miami of Brazil”. Its about a 45 minute bus ride in traffic, but some of the views over the ocean and of Pedra da Gávea itself made it hard to believe this is what many people look at on their daily commute.

After passing through the tunnel under Pedra da Gávea, we hopped off the bus and headed toward the trailhead, located in an upper class neighborhood on the backside of the mountain. The entrance to the trail was marked by a sign and by a guard station with a couple of park rangers hanging out inside. We signed in with them and talked a little bit in broken portuguese and english; after they took our names down, we started our climb up the mountain.

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The first hour was a lot of steep uphill hiking through the jungle. There were some colorful orchids in bloom and lots of unfamiliar  flora along the way. We really started to feel the heat at this point, the high was forecasted to be 98 fahrenheit, and even in the shade we could feel the temperature in the jungle rising as we made our way up the increasingly steep trail. After about an hour of climbing we came out to a clearing with a great view over Barra, and more impressively, of the enormous head shaped wall of rock that we were going to scale. Looking up at the 100 foot vertical faces on all sides was intimidating, and it was hard to imagine how we would be able to get the top of this seemingly impenetrable rock cylinder. After taking some pictures and applying sunscreen like my life depended on it, we continued on and emerged from the jungle into a grassy highland. Without the protection of the jungle it became blatantly clear that the sun was going to hurt, and since shade was now hard to come by my only option was to continuously apply my SPF 900 sunscreen and cringe like a vampire.

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So we kept making our way along the trail and eventually came to the point where we were going to have to start some actual rock climbing. This last section is known as Carrasqueira pass, and it is a near vertical section of rock climbing that did not look easy from the bottom. Without thinking about it too much we just started off up the wall, grabbing footholds and moving towards the top, and before we knew it we were there. After walking through some welcome shade, and scampering up a few more boulders we emerged at the actual top, tired and ready to take in the view.

One of the amazing things about Rio is that practically everywhere you look you can see some combination of dense urban landscape, beautiful beaches, and awe-inspiring jungle covered mountains. This is true almost no matter where you are in the city but I think I can safely say that from the top of Pedra da Gávea, you can see the best Rio has to offer of all of these. There are huge mountain ranges extending back into the mainland, Pão de Açucar and Cristo Redentor visible in the distance, and the light sand beaches of São Conrado, Barra, and Ipanema running the coast between the mountains that punctuate the shoreline. We could see hang gliders floating easily and seemingly aimlessly in the breeze above the favelas that dot the hillsides below. These favelas are shantytowns that tend to be built on the sides of mountains, and something about them seems to convey movement even from a distance. Rocinha, the largest favela in Rio with more than 150,000 inhabitants, was directly in sight, sprawled over the back of Morro Dois Irmãos and sandwiched up against modern high-rises with a fancy golf course in sight. Looking at Rocinha from a distance I couldn’t help but marvel at the vast differences between the appearance of the favelas vs that of the middle and upper class neighborhoods. The divide between how different classes live is really visible even from a distance. From afar the favelas look like a jumbled mess of houses piled on top of houses, with no discernable pattern or system of roads. Meanwhile the upper class neighborhoods nearby are filled with high rise apartment buildings and residential areas with pools visible in backyards. The stark contrast between the rich and the poor is made starker by the geographical proximity of one to another. Looking down on Rio it is fascinating to think about the diversity of life both within and between economic classes here and to see how that is manifested in the fabric of the city.

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To see pictures from our hike check out my facebook album.

We’ve been having a lot of fun meeting people from the hostel and enjoying the city, and I’ll keep posting here with updates.