Monday 2 January 2023

Dois Irmaos

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!

Brazil #1

"God is Brazilian" - the people of this country like to say. One can almost believe it; that it could be no alchemy of geography and climate, but only a divine hand that could have endowed this land with such an indecently large share of natural treasures. To counteract which, as one of our guides wryly observed "We have our politicians!" 

The tiny part of the country that we managed to see in a week or so is swoon-worthy alright. Rio's setting is spectacular, a picture-perfect composition between the South Atlantic Ocean, Guanabara Bay, and the Atlantic rainforest.

What really stood out for me though were the people. Our family usually blends in quite well in Latin America, but in Brazil, there is such a wide range of skin tones that no one could tell we were NOT Brazilian (until they started jabbering to us in Portuguese, at which point it was clear we weren't even from the same continent!). It's not that there is no racism in Brazil but there has been such a long history of miscegenation and "racial democracy" is such an ingrained part of their national identity, that race is simply not a part of the national conversation as it is in the US and other countries. 

And the body positivity!!!! I was very impressed with how Brazilians of every size shape color and age own and rock their itsy-bitsy bikinis (I rarely saw anyone in a modest one-piece swimsuit; if I did, likely they were foreigners). Not just women but men too. From 80+ year old grandmothers and grandfathers to tiny kids, from the morbidly obese to the size zeros, whether suffering from postpartum stretch marks or the unfortunate effects of gravity;I guess this is what comes of a lifetime of wearing the minimum of clothing and knowing no one cares or judges what you look like. 

Keep calm, sip a caipirinha and watch the sun go down in Copacabana :)  

Also, even purist Tamilians will find it hard to complain about the coffee :) 


Arpoador. In Portuguese, it means "Harpoon thrower". In the 16th and 17th centuries, this rock was where the indigenous people of Brazil and the Portuguese settlers would harpoon whales. Today it is THE spot to view the famous South Atlantic Sunsets in Rio. 

We arrived well in time for the 6.45 pm sunset, found a good spot, and perched uncomfortably on the hard rock. The husband went to the very edge of the rock to guarantee unobstructed views. Y plugged in her Airpods and immersed herself in a musical world. Ads, irritated that we were a full 30 minutes early for the big event, pulled out his phone as well. 

I elected to people-watch. Next to us, a young couple was cootchie-cooing inside a warm blanket.  A little ahead, another couple was fiddling with some complicated pieces of equipment to get the best shots of themselves with the falling sun. A woman about my age tied her flip-flops around her arm and gingerly made her way down the rock, away from the rapidly swelling crowd, to sit in solitary splendor at a 90-degree angle to the sunset. I would have loved to click a picture of her, so regal she looked illuminated in a glowing haze of yellow. In the water, surfers were riding the waves with varying degrees of competence. In front of me, Morro Dois Irmaos (the two brothers' mountain) leaped up from the waters, their jagged peaks in sharp relief against the orange sky. "Agua, Agua Coco!" yelled a young man walking in between the crowds, paying scant heed to the view. He had probably seen hundreds like this one and was intent on selling his water and coconut water before the crowds dispersed. 

The kids woke up from their phones. "It's really pretty", Y remarked and started clicking photos. As the sun slowly sank into the ocean, clapping burst out all around us. Ads looked at me in wonder "Why are they clapping?"

"It's a tradition here. I read about it", I told him. 

That evening, there were probably 200 or more people on the Arpoador, waiting for the sunset. Yes, many were on their phones, and many were posting about the experience even as it happened.  #stunningsunset 

There were foreigners like us, and Cariocas too. There were rich people from Leblon and Ipanema and poor people from the favelas. There were families, people in love, kids, and people having deep conversations with others and themselves. There were also people making a living selling coconut water. 

But for 45 minutes, all we did was sit on a rock and wait patiently for that most common yet most timeless of daily events, a sunset. For a brief moment, even the avid surfers just bobbed along with their boards, their bodies and eyes turned towards the horizon. And when it finally happened, all of us clapped, in delight and wonder, and okay....because everyone else was doing it :) 

I could tease some "universal human experience" gyaan out of this but what I really learned from it was that one must always always clap for a sunset :) Oh and sunrise too, why not?!