On a Spring trip to Rio, we signed up with Rio Hiking to rock climb for the first time. We could not have picked a more beautiful or challenging climb. Tell us if you agree! You can also read more about our ascent in Siddhi’s post at http://pauperswithouttravel.com/2012/06/11/climbing-sugarloaf-mountain-an-unforgettable-testament-of-beauty/
I have written about a few of those breathtaking moments in my travel experiences that have renewed my love and appreciation for the spirit of life that surrounds me. There was the time I kneeled in a cave in Tibet’s Drepung Monastery with monks who displayed unbelievable gratitude on the brink of survival. There were the paralyzing minutes I stood at the summit of the Temple of Poseidon at Mount Sunion in Greece, allowing the power of a sight I only thought could command me in the pages of mythology to overtake me with an indescribable grip. There was the ride I took through the favelas of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil that shattered and then reconstructed the way I perceived surface-level encounters with the places I visited. All of these moments in my travels have been crucial building blocks in my growth as a person, but their influence only sunk in with time. There was one experience, however, that instantly impacted me by rehabilitating my dwindling sense of faith.
On a hot Spring afternoon in Rio de Janeiro, my family and I stood outside our hotel, waiting for a jeep to pick us up from Leblon beach. We were about to embark on what we were universally told was the city’s greatest attraction: climbing Sugarloaf Mountain (Pão de Açúcar). The peak beautifully overlooks Guanabara Bay and at higher elevations all of Rio. Although we’re not the biggest fans of guided tours, we knew that a legitimate rock climbing challenge would require help from people who had scaled Sugarloaf enough to be able to get us back in one piece. And so after a picturesque drive to the base of the mountain and a necessary dose of caffeine at a modest roadside tea shop, we trekked to the checkpoint where our ascent up one of the most remarkable climbs of my life began.
Snuggled in the tight security of our helmets and harnesses and feeling like the most professionally equipped amateurs ever (hey, it was memorable to feel incompetently official), we step-by-step moved up the uneven terrain of Sugarloaf. I had expected something along the lines of a difficult hike, so the reality that this actually vertical rock climbing overtook me with a simultaneous surge of excitement and downright fear. Even after becoming slightly accustomed to how I was supposed to use my hands and legs to balance my body, I felt like the rope I was attached to would snap with my every subtle movement. My hands were charred from clinging onto the gears for dear life. My paranoia of plummeting down hundreds of feet into oblivion was helped only meagerly by my refusal to look down. Never in my life had I been so fatigued and afraid at the same time. I was literally on this vertical slab of rock, trying to cling onto the smallest ridges I had ever had seen in my life. With the encouragement of our wonderful guides, some mental endurance, and the gorgeous progression of a setting sun, we made it to the summit of a mountain that would give me the one the most soulful memories of all time.
Words cannot do justice to what met me when I stepped foot on the topmost, circular platform of Sugarloaf. All the heat and physical wear of the last few hours was an insignificant price to pay for the ultimate reward: a 360 degree panoramic view of all of Rio at night. It was too captivating to believe. I could literally see every light in the city twinkling, and all that light together reflecting off the surface of the serene water below. It was incredible.
But that’s not why standing at the top of Sugarloaf Mountain became part of the those few travel experiences that embedded themselves so deeply in my conscience. Since my great-grandmother passed away a few years ago, my faith in any sort of power that existed beyond me had began to fade irrevocably (or so I thought) into the memory of a negative life experience. Since that day, there were three special moments where I felt her presence, as if she was watching over me and telling me that I had no reason not to be smiling. The first was on the beach of Sanya in China. I felt her presence through the element of water. The second was when I dedicated my first candle to her on my sweet sixteen. I felt her through the element of fire. And now, standing at the summit of Sugarloaf and seeing all of dazzling Rio at night, I felt her through the element of earth. It was as if she was the force helping me endure that climb so I would get to the top of this mountain and witness the beauty that life was capable of. It was unforgettable.
After spending time appreciating the greatest aerial city view I have seen, we all took a cable car down to the historic center half-way between the Sugarloaf summit and base station that educated us on the history of the mountain, how the cable car system was created, and the mysteries of the nebulous Acai berry that the Brazilians believe unless properly prepared is merely a marketing scheme for nutritionists with few legitimate benefits. Our adventure ended as the cable car descended to the bottom, but the memories of that evening will be forever indelible.
For anyone interested in this climb, Rio Hiking is a fantastic adventure company that leads some great tours in Rio. Check them out here:
Who? Anyone interested in seeing or photographing Mt. Fuj. This experience is for those who can tolerate cold weather and extended exposure to a temperamental climate.
What? Mount Fuji, the tallest mountain in Japan and one of the country’s “Three Holy Mountains” (alongside Mount Haku and Mount Tate). It is widely considered an iconic geographical landmark.
How? Although the Paupers aren’t fans of guided tours, getting to Mount Fuji and Hakone in a single day is quite a convoluted process unless you’re a skilled climber or are familiar with Tokyo’s landscape. So the easiest way to get see Fuji is through a tour company. A bus picks you up from your hotel and takes you to Station 5 of the mountain which is about 2300 meters high. From there, you take a bus to the town of Hakone that is centered in volcanically active areas near Lake Ashi and are led through a brief exploration of the region. Once the day winds down, you have a choice of either taking the bus back to the city, or the faster alternative: the famous bullet train.
Why? Personally, the entire Fuji experience was quite underwhelming. I feel like the reason I felt that way about something so many people rave about is because of my minimal tolerance for cold weather. I was bone-chilling cold the entire time and almost developed frostbite standing at Station 5 as I struggled to even hold my camera because of the biting wind. I had to spend 20 minutes near the portable heaters inside a small gift shop to undo what 20 seconds of December weather had done to me. But that is just my natural reaction to a climate. For those who are fans of photography and adventure day-trips in general, Fuji and Hakone could be memorable. There are some fantastic landscapes to capture, and when the day is right (which is luck in and of itself as you can reach Fuji only to find it shrouded), the vistas are beautiful. The views of the lake at Hakone are pretty stunning as well, and the cable car ride to the top of Owakudani Crater is reminiscent of the rising sulfur images of the national parks in Hawaii.
There are several tour companies that offer the Fuji/Hakone trip in a day.
Here are just a few:
If you are a true adventurer at heart, we’d love to hear how you saw Fuji without a tour!