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Brazil=One Big Jungle
As an American, it’s difficult to comprehend that Brazil is basically just one big jungle. In America we have deserts, plains, badlands, grasslands, prairies, swamps, woodlands, and urban sprawl. But, as far as I can tell, Brazil is just a huge, tropical, jungle country (about as big as the USA) where everything grows amazingly well.
I personally believe these jungles extend to Brazilian cities as well. Like lost Mayan cities in Central America, I feel that if Rio de Janeiro was abandoned for a couple of years it would entirely disappear under the quick-moving appendages of the tropical flora. This is a story about my wife and I discovering Rio’s urban jungle firsthand.
Sugarloaf, a very Touristy Site
In Rio there are many important sites to see. These sites include Copacabana beach, Christ the Redeemer statue, and the mountains Corcovado and Sugarloaf. All are huge tourist draws – each bringing in tens of thousands of people a year I’m sure.
While sightseeing, my wife and I joined our good friend Julia, a Rio local, on a tour of Sugarloaf Mountain. Sugarloaf is iconic. It’s easy to recognize in the Rio landscape since it’s a solo, giant rock jutting up from the ground. Access to the top of Sugarloaf comes via gondolas. Everyone rides them. They’re safe and efficient. It’s all very modern and trustworthy – which is important to most who travel (I’m looking at you Americans).
We timed our tour of Sugarloaf near sunset in order to achieve optimal “photographic spectacularity.” At the top we walked around, took in the view, and played with (ok, ran from) monkeys. The sunset was brilliant. We lingered for a while taking pictures and just getting lost in the beauty of the scenery. Rio is truly a spectacular city from above.
Time to go?
Not long after the sun went down, with plenty of light left to guide ourselves, we headed back to the gondola station for the return trip down the mountain. Only, well…when we got to the station, the gondolas weren’t running. We wanted to ask someone what happened, but there was no one around to ask.
“I didn’t see any signs,” I said. “There was no warning given. No one called out on a loudspeaker. There’s no one here. We’re screwed.”
Julia, the local, was just as surprised as we were. She had no idea why there was no warning. She had no idea why we would just be trapped up there. Her confusion gave us some comfort – at least we weren’t just some dumb tourists. Still though, we could only think the obvious, “How do we get down?”
As foolish as we were, we quickly figured out that we missed the last gondola down. Still though, it was so strange to see absolutely no one – no one whatsoever. Not a soul. It was like an alarm sounded and everyone hurriedly left us alone.
Were we being pranked?
Only One Way Out
After some wandering, we found what looked like a path. It was almost completely dark, so, obviously, a path looked incredibly promising. After all, the path was paved and sloped downhill. Feeling relieved, we assumed we would quickly find our way to the parking lot.
But almost immediately, we discovered a huge downside to the path – it wasn’t very well lit. Darkness soon engulfed us and we were struggled to see anything. Then the path became unpaved. And being unpaved, it was incredibly uneven. And then the rain started. What started as a nice, even, paved road soon degenerated into a uneven, muddy mess.
And then we understood how unprepared we were – equipped only with flip-flops and a single flip-phone, which was low on battery and even lower on brightness. But just when we realized that we might be in trouble, the jungle came alive. The monkeys howled. Trees shook. Animals lined up to devour us.
Twenty minutes prior we were happy tourists among all the other tourists taking sunset pictures. Now we were inching along single file – Julia leading the way with her flip-phone – slipping and sliding on the path. There was great howling and hissing around us; Fear and trepidation abound.
For minutes we muttered rhetorically. “What was that?” “Are you okay?” “Are we safe?” “Can you see anything?” “Did you hear that?” “Is something crawling on me?”
Our Unexpected “Friend”
As one would expect, we were struggling, taking small steps only. There was much confusion on which way the trail led. Then we heard a new noise – a faint noise coming from behind us. Footsteps.
Just then, in perfect English, a man said, “Be careful. There are snakes out here. Boas. Seriously.”
What loomed behind us was a huge, shirtless man carrying a machete. Moonlight lit his muscular physique and shone so beautifully on his weapon of death. His necklace, constructed from the incisors of carnivores, was the least intimidating thing about him. A poorly lit picture of him, had we taken it with Julia’s flip-phone, would have made the perfect horror movie DVD cover.
I gently and discreetly nudged both women toward our inevitable killer while I took a step toward the dark jungle in the opposite direction. I imagined running for my life only to be expertly tracked down 17 seconds later.
However, in a beautiful stroke of luck, our executioner decided not to spill our blood that night. Instead he offered to lead the way down the path.
But still, we weren’t entirely sure whether we were in the clear or whether the machete-wielding animal-whisperer was just waiting for the most opportune time to send us all into an early, shallow grave. We followed with apprehension.
Ten minutes of careful human caravanning abruptly ended when our death guide stopped walking and just started hacking at a poor, defenseless tree lying on the ground.
Again, H-O-L-Y F-U-C-K.
Just a Dream?
We glanced at the ground looking for bone pentagrams before we figured we were free to go, but only if we quickly scurried away. We forwent proper valedictions and made haste down what we thought was a path. The rest is a blur, but we made it out alive so it doesn’t really matter. Or – and I’ve given this some serious thought – we actually died that night and I’m just a ghost writing a crappy travel blog that no one reads. I would have just blown your mind there, but, again, I’m pretty sure no one is reading this.