Fabulous Nature Hike Just Outside of São Paulo Capital – Trilha do Índio (The Indian’s Trail)

panaroma bridge

View from the bridge of our final destination off in the background. We came from the trails on the right and slept near the tunnel on the left.

Escaping the brick and concrete jungle which is São Paulo does not always require traveling that far outside the city. Both this year and last I went on a hike down the Trilha do Índio (The Indian Trail) organized by my good friend John. It is a roughly 30 km trek that begins on a Friday evening in one of the southern-most neighborhoods of São Paulo, Barragem, and ends in Itanhaém, a beach city on São Paulo state’s south coast.

This hike is requires more stamina than physical agility, as it starts in the highland and makes its way down the mountainside to the beach. It also requires a guide, and there are Forest Rangers situated throughout the first leg of the hike to turn lone hikers around.
cold night

2016 we went in the winter.


On Friday night we meet up somewhere in São Paulo City and make our way down to Terminal Paralharelos and take another city bus from there to the neighborhood of Barragem. We arrive sometime between ten and eleven p,m. and wait for our guide, an indigenous fellow named Geraldinho. Geraldinho also acts as our liaison when we reach the Rio Branco indigenous village at the foot of the mountains. They don’t always like many visitors on their land and usually ask for food donations and candy for the children as “payment” for us letting us stay or pass through.

Once the group is settled in Barragem, we begin the hardest part of the hike. It is a roughly 10 – 12 kilometer walk to the mouth of a tunnel where we camp out for the night.
Evangelista

Old Evangelista Train Station which is now completely in shambles.

The path begins on a dirt road situated about a ten minute´s walk from where the bus let us off at its last stop. We walk this road for about an hour and a half until we reach a railroad.

We take a quick break to eat and drink something there before hopping onto the tracks and heading left towards the now defunct Evangelista train station. From there we walk on to one of the tunnels where we will camp out for the night.

It´s important to note that walking on train tracks is illegal and we are only allowed to do so because of our guide´s deal with the Forest Rangers. We have been stopped on this path before, but Geraldinho has taken care of any issues every time.  
railroad tracks

There is nothing good I can say about these tracks.


I’ll be blunt, walking on train tracks in the middle of the night is not very enjoyable. The key is to have a good pair of shoes on, a comfortable backpack, and a flashlight. T
he first time I did the railway section, I felt like my feet were going to fall off as I kicked rocks and the occasional loose pieces of iron. Worse is when one steps into recesses between the wooden planks of the track that catch one by surprise in the pitch black night.

It takes about two hours to get to Tunnel 24, our resting spot. The first year we managed to get there in good time – around two in the morning. This time the trip took a bit longer because we were slowed down by the higher amount of trains passing by. They are very long and required us to step off the tracks and wait for them to pass before continuing forward. We arrived after four a.m. at the tunnel, but I was equipped with better footwear and a lighter bag, so the whole trek was a bit more manageable.

At the tunnel we are afforded some time to rest our legs. Some people choose to sleep under the bridge while others camp out by the mouth of the tunnel by the tracks. With a train passing every thirty minutes to an hour, sleep wouldn’t be the exact word to describe the experience – it’s more of a body rest.

 

The joke that goes around among the hikers is that if one makes it this far on the journey, the rest will be a cake walk. The railroad track does indeed separate the weak from the strong and this year it caused enough of a knee injury to one of the hikers to make him have to turn back when the morning came.

 

mountain

From atop the bridge we spy our final destination in the background.

Day two, Saturday, means setting off at about 10 a.m. to reach a rest spot by a river to have lunch. We have a quick breakfast and marvel at the views from a top a bridge that lies just before the tunnel then cross the to the other side of the tunnel where just a bit ahead lies the entrance to the mountainside.

 

down the mountain

Going down the mountain. It begins very steep and then slowly levels off.

We make our way down the steep slope for about twenty minutes before it becomes a bit more level to walk down – but it’s still a one way journey down with plenty of slips and falls. The mood is generally lighter, though, and people love to shout out “Selva!” (Jungle!) when someone makes that inevitable splat on the dirt.

After about an hour, the sound of the river roars below us. This is a hopeful sound which means rest is coming. We walk on for about another hour before we find a rest spot to lay out our tarps and make some food.

 

The courageous ones, namely the younger crowd, waste no time to take a dip in the ice cold water. This year I took my small cousin, Jose (13), and his friend, Seba (14), and they wasted no time jumping right in.

After about an hour we get back on the trail. It was time to head over to where two rivers meet to find a place to camp out for the evening. Crossing this river is always exciting. Due to the heavier currents, slippery rocks, and water that goes up nearly to the knees. One must measure their steps as there are places that seem like stable footholds but are actually very slippery rocks that can cause a rough tumble.

 

20170401_160420

Hanging on to each other so as to not fall.

Last year we made this crossing  but decided to continue on to the indigenous village. This was a mistake, as we ended up walking through the forest in the cover of moonlight for nearly three hours, in what felt like circles, before reaching the village. The pain that rushed through my body on that night was from another world, and I needed to take some muscle relaxants in order to get some sleep. This time around we played it smarter and stayed for the night.

 

group 2017

Our 2017 group where we camped out for the night.

The group set up their tents and I made a tarp to protect my cousin, his friend, and I in case it rained. We slept fine, but the rain did fall and it poured down hard and consistently nearly all night. In fact it rained so hard that the bottom of the tarp fell from the branch where it was hanging and the weight of it landed on my face. I woke up punching, kicking and screaming thinking I was being attacked by someone or something. I also let out a savage yelp that brought the whole camp out of their sleep.

Once I reassured everyone that I was not being eaten alive we had a good laugh. I was certainly in kill or be killed mode.

The next day we hung a bit by the river, had a big community breakfast, skipped stones, and took some pictures. We left around ten a.m. with the intention of reaching the indigenous village at midday.

 

20170402_082310.jpg

Where two rivers meet.


What a relief it was to do this part of the trail by light of day. It was an absolute breeze, with the last difficult part being a wide section of river so cold that it hurt my toes for about ten minutes after crossing.

 

20170402_120521

Entering the Rio Branco indigenous village.

panaroma indian village

In 2016 we slept at the school inside the indigenous village but it took a little negotiation.

At Rio Branco village we spoke to the indigenous residents, who were quite friendly. With them I am never sure if they are putting on appearances or plotting to kill us. That is why respect and politeness are paramount and entering their land without a guide is not recommended.

Last year, for example, we arrived at their village around 9 p.m. and there was some confusion as to the agreement to let stay there for the night. It took some convincing on the part of Geraldinho (and perhaps a few extra Reais from our group leaders) to smooth the deal out.  This time around we simply hung around for a little while and waited for a van that would take us back to São Paulo.

 

2016 group dirt road

Our 2016 group suffering on the dirt road.

wiped out

The 2016 group fatigued but finally at the end of the hike.

This brings up another important change in plans: We didn’t walk the nearly 15 kilometer dirt road which leads to a small bar where we waited to take a bus to the Itanhaém beach last year. This dirt road was my undoing. I had decided to donate the shows I had been wearing to the indigenous people and then I put on a pair of shoes that weren’t quite as worn in as I had imagined. It only took about a kilometer or two of dirt and rocks before my right knee succumbed to the pain.

 

panaroma dirt road

The endless dirt road and it´s banana plantations.

My friend John lent me his walking stick, and I trudged slowly on until after another few kilometers my left knee gave out. I was a no good and slowly gimped the rest of the journey with the help of the stick and a friendly lady who lent me her shoulder for support. I also tied a scarf for around my more busted up knee to stabilize it. It was ten kilometers of torture – not counting the ride back home. 

 

panaroma beach

Last year we made it to Itanhaém beach.

busted up me

Fighting the pain.

Fortunately, this year I did not have these issues. Whereas the previous year I had to take Monday and most of Tuesday off to recover my knee, this year I was up at 6:30 a.m. to begin a day that ended at 7:30 p.m. As I write this on the bus ride home I feel great. Proper shoes and managing weight are two keys to survival on these hikes. Take only what you need and a few items in case of emergency.

The hike itself is probably at an intermediate level. Like I said, I took my two kids with me and they did just fine. The year before many more kids from my friend John’s church’s
 scout group went and they fared alright.

São Paulo city is mostly known for its concrete jungle, but the southern and eastern points of the city are marked by more green than the average traveler can imagine. And one only needs to slip a few kilometers outside the city limits before being swamped by seas of Atlantic forest. I highly recommend exploring this wilderness that surround the urban jungle.

If you know of any great hikes that are easily accessible please leave information about them in the comments below and let me know if you ever want to join me on one of mine.

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Read about my walk through Agua Branca Park – one of the capital’s finest parks – by clicking here.

Read about my walk through SESC Pompeia – a fabulous cultural center in SP – by clicking here.

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2 Responses to Fabulous Nature Hike Just Outside of São Paulo Capital – Trilha do Índio (The Indian’s Trail)

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