I had read about the Dois Irmaos (Two brothers) hike in Rio on many blogs and I pinged our travel agent to ask if he would arrange for us to do a sunrise hike to the mountain. To my surprise, he flatly refused. "Not a sunrise hike, Aparna. We can do a daytime one, though." To get up in time for the sunrise, which in Rio is at 5 am, we would have to leave our hotel by 3 am. The trailhead to the hike is accessed through a Favela (slum) and Adam, our agent, was adamant that it was too risky to go wandering around in that area in the wee hours. He launched into a big tirade about guns/drugs/the mafia/shootouts and how he could not take responsibility.
So we started off around 9 am with Sergio (our guide for the day). Sergio is probably 15 years or more older than me, but much fitter, as would become obvious later! We took an Uber to the favela. A bunch of guys in yellow reflective jackets each sitting on a motorbike started hounding us for our custom as soon as we got out of the Uber. We picked a mototaxi each and the bikes took off. Up the steep hill, zipping through traffic with abandon and taking corners at great speed, it was quite an adventure!
The favelas in Brazil don't look like Indian slums. If anything, they look like lower middle-class housing in India. So the sense of abject poverty that you get in Indian slums, is definitely missing. Many of them, at least in Southern Rio, lie on the sides of the mountains so they have spectacular views of the beaches, ocean, and mountains. We passed through a community football ground where a heated game was in progress. The trailhead lay inside the Tijuca National Forest, the largest urban forest in the world, bang in the center of the city. The Government has taken up a lot of reforestation initiatives, introducing native plants and trees to the habitat.
The trail itself is short (1.5 km only) but belies the distance by being extremely steep. It took us about 45 minutes to get up the hill, Sergio agilely leading the way and me bringing up the rear, huffing and puffing. At periodic intervals, Sergio would look back at me encouragingly. "Almost there!" he would exclaim. I stopped listening to him after the fourth time. Along the trail, there were 2 enterprising lads from the favela who had lugged up ice-cold drinks for thirsty hikers, at captive pricing of course!
The view from the top? I'll let the pictures do the talking.
We headed back down the trail, exchanging smiles and Feliz Natals with the cold drink vendors, back through the football ground, another hair-raising mototaxi ride down the hill, to a shop selling what looked like bhaturas (turned out to deep fried cheese puris) and..... bliss....fresh sugarcane juice! I needed that sugar fix and for 5 Reais (US$1), we could get unlimited refills.
Definitely an unmissable part of the Rio experience!