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.
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.
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.
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.
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. The 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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