Post carnival the rains came which put paid to any climbing plans in Rio so we decided to head off to Petropolis for a few days, a city about an hour to the north . Some research had found that you can trek from Petropolis to Teresopolis (~42kms) through the Sierra dos Orgaos National Park, although the Lonely Planet advised that a guide is required as it is easy to get lost on the various un-marked paths. We could not afford the cost of a guided trip so we gave up on that, instead we planned on of a bit climbing and hopefully camping at the crag for free. We had left our tent in Santiago, but thankfully Mark (Rachel’s and currently our landlord) lent us his.
The bus to Petropolis went from the Rodovaria Novo. Google reckoned was an hour bus ride away, however in true Brazillian stylethe bus did not arrive and we opted for catching the Metro and walking the short distance to the Rodovaria. The map indicated it went past a little network of minor roads, the type which usually serve favellas so some caution might be required… The area around the Metro station was being used for dismantelling the carnival floats, there was a fair bit of security associated with this. If it wasn’t for this additional security presence we would have probably got right back on the Metro and abandond the walking option. Unfortunately we needed to leave the relative safety surrounding the end of carnival and quickly found ourselves wandering down a road right next to some favellas. We looked like targets with our fully loaded packs which screamed “come rob a gringo!” We decided to hail a cab which could not come quick enough, but eventually grabbed one which took us the remaining 1km to the Rodovaria, about twice as long as walking. At least we arrived with us and all our belongings intact – well worth the budget busting taxi fare!
We hopped on a bus and relaxed watching the north of Rio go by. This seemingly is an enourmous conerbation of favellas and industrial sites, quite a contrast to our experience of Rio so far – walking along beautiful beaches and amongst mountains and forest in the city. It was also pourng with rain.
We had not expected the bus terminus to be about 10k outside of the city, which was a bit annoying, and as this was a spur of the minute decision we had to find accommodation when we arrived. But this is what the internet is for, right? We booked a hostel, and although we couldn’t quite figure its location relative to us, it coudn’t be that far?… A visit to the information desk directed us to the toilet attendant who spoke English! The attendant called someone to cover his post and duly helped us (he seemed to be somewhat under utilised in his normal post I think). The way to the hostel was not straight forward and took 1.5hrs and 3 buses to get to! It was now 8.30pm, dark and raining hard. We pushed the intercom expecting to be let in, instead we were told by security that the hostal was full. He refused to even come to the gate to discuss the matter, but using google translate we tried to impress on him that we had a reservation and it would be really nice to be able to come in. We failed. We decided the only thing to do was to walk back to the most recent bus station, fortunately the driver who had dropped us off was on his return journey and kindly stopped to pick us up – he didn’t speak any English but obviously understood we had nowhere to stay, and got the other bus drivers to help and take us to a hotel. The Petropolis bus drivers are just totally amazing!
Walking into a hotel without a booking at 10pm is never going to work out cheap, so with our budget in tatters we went out to find food. We ended up in a pavement bar ordering mystery food that turned out to be an amazing version of steak and chips – seemingly the cook had discovered herbs, something of a surprise. They then came round with a bottle pulled from the freezer that contained some liquor based on condensed milk and possibly a home brew. This was delicious, and strong! It as also a gift, so we were feeling much more friendly towards the city by this time. The bar was an awesome place for people watching as numerous locals came and went.
The next day, after trying to take the best advantage of the continental breakfast while trying to avoid the mouldy biscuits and other not so fresh fare, we headed into town to find a hostel. A lot of walking around later we found the open tourist office who helped us find out that we did have a reservation at the HI Hostel Samambia for the previous night, but contrary to their website all English speaking reservations staff leave at 5pm so there is effectively no booking or check in after that time – our booking was only made just after 6. The tourist office were very helpful and booked us into the Hostel 148, which was really great and has the best breakfast we have had in a hostel. We may have to come back and edit this post if we find somewhere better, but I doubt it! Home made jam and cakes/pudim, yummy.
The tourist office had also mentioned the hike that I had written off as a bad idea when Barbara asked about camping. They said it can be done without a guide although they have never done it…. The possibility of completing the Petropolis -Teresopolis Travessia (traverse) definitely got me excited. The next few days were spent researching the route getting a map emailed to me from Clube dos Aventureiros and sourcing provisions for the trek. With all this done we headed for the park in the late morning on the Tuesday, meeting a couple of climbers along the way. The Brazilian guy Igor said he would be up for a climb on Friday, score!
The entrance to the park was a rude awakening, I had understood they charged a bit more for foreigners to enter the park, but the fee is not just for the entrance, they charge a trail fee if your doing the traverse and a nightly fee for each night you in the park. Our dreams of recovering our budget position seemed to be dashed as the park fee totalled about £40, I said we would only be one night in the hope we might sneak another night for free.
The first part of the hike was through the rainforest and was pretty hot and sweaty – we did stop off at a waterfall on the way, but we didn’t get under it.
Eventually the jungle gave way to grassy slopes, only Brazil does grass a little bigger than in the UK. As we continued gaining height there was less and less vegetation until we gained the plateau where it was bare rock slabs. Along the way we met Willem, another guy doing the traverse, and we walked the last part to the hut at Castelos Do Açu together.
We were welcomed by the hut ranger and shown where to camp so we pitched our tent, which turned out to be somewhat larger than expected. I can’t believe we lugged such a big tent around!
The ranger came and said we could cook and shower in the hut. It turned out a hot shower was a few pounds, but a cold one was free – as we had not expected any showers so a free cold shower seemed like a luxury! We then cooked our dinner and sat talking to Willem who turned out to be an ex-professional cyclist, which would explain why he was difficult to keep up with!
The second day of the trek is the most technical and difficult to navigate especially if the cloud comes in, which fortunately it did not. The view of the granite peaks of the Sierra Dos Orgaos were stunning and the rock climbing potential looked amazing.
There were a couple of wrong turns along the way, with one that resulted in flailing round in the brush for an hour trying to find the path. The final part of the traverse required some scrambling which was exciting in places due to the size of our packs, did I mention the enourmous tent?
We caught up with Willem at the second hut after having gone to the summit of Perdo Do Sino, the highest peak of the traverse at 2,275m. The hut was set in amongst some beautifully kept lawns and gardens so we asked if we could camp an extra night as it was such a nice place, agreeing to pay the extra night’s charge when we left the park. The ranger at the hut was a really nice guy and we spent some time talking with him in the morning before making a leisurely start down to Teresopolis. We stopped to bathe at some waterfalls and admired the diversity of the jungle from a high level walkway on the way. By the time we got down it was 5.10pm just after the park closes for the day, we went to the admin office to pay the extra night’s fee, but the security guy was not really bothered so we got a free night after all! We then walked all the way to the bus station and got on a bus back to Petropolis, unfortunately being delivered to the out of town bus station again. At least this time it was a single bus straight to the door of Hostel 148 (and we knew the way now, which helped). We then caught a bus back to Rio the next day where we had a date with Christo on Corcavado to keep!