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Tijuca with Tito

Forgive me father, for I have sinned; It has been five days since my last blog post.... I'll have to ask my mother's forgiveness for that quip, but nonetheless, I apologize to everyone for not posting for the last five days. I haven't been spending that much time in the apartment, which makes it difficult to sit down and write when I am here (I also started a new book that I'm deep into, which also hurts my desire to write). Regardless, there have been a few big developments since last I wrote:

1) I completed my first on-camera interview with a NINJA member. While this isn't particularly exciting, it does mean I'm getting a lot further on my way toward what I need. I'm starting to question whether or not this should be a written or a video piece based on my reporting, but that's a decision for a later date. Either way, I've found some interesting things out about the group that will help my future interviews immensely.

2) I went back to the Sugar Loaf mountain on Urca after this interview and was greeted with a GORGEOUS sunny day instead of the cloudy and hazy day I received the first time I went to the top. I took a ton of photos and also recorded a time-lapse for almost an hour (this is where I put the video recorder on go for an extended period of time and then speed it way up in the editing suite so you can see the city change over time. In this case, it's mostly clouds moving over the city, but it looks pretty cool from what I can tell).

3) I finally got to explore the Tijuca National Forest.

Now that I have most of the secondary footage I need for the Midia NINJA, all I'm really waiting on is actual interview footage. This gives me a little more time to explore the city and I took the opportunity to book a tour of the Tijuca National Forest. I used the company "Jungle Me," which great reviews everywhere I looked. I was to be picked up at 8:30am yesterday morning in my neighborhood to go on a 5 hour hike through the giant rainforest dominating Rio's lower peaks. From what I understand, the trails aren't well marked and there are a ton of them, so getting a guide was a necessity.

At 8:45, Tito pulls up in an old Land Cruiser to fetch me for the hike. It turns out that I'm the only one of the hike today, so it's essentially a private guided tour of the rainforest. Tito was to be my guide, and as I later found out, he was the person who started the entire company.

We drove around the mountain from Santa Teresa, stopping at a couple lookout points to take pictures of the city. After driving for 30 minutes or so, we arrived at the parking spot. It feels like you've driven far outside the city, but in point of actual fact, you are right in the heart of the city. The area we'd be hiking encompassed the second highest peak in Rio and was sure to give us some incredible views.

There is a restaurant and an old house at the parking grounds we chose. There is also a row of four trees that I later learned were the first trees to be replanted here in the forest in the 1800s. The grounds of the rainforest are great for producing coffee and tobacco, and farmers began clear-cutting the forest in the early 1800s to plant and harvest those cash crops. Later, one of the Portuguese Princes ruling Brazil realized the Carioca River had stopped flowing and postulated that altering the rainforest was the reason why. Over the next 13 years, a crew of around 50 people replanted 80,000 trees in the forest. Today, the rainforest looks like it has always been this way because there has been over 150 years of secondary growth. As you'll find in the picture gallery, you can still see the original four trees from this round of replanting.

Tito gave me a 30 minute history lesson on Brazilian history as well as how it affected the rain forest. It was illuminating, but probably boring for me to write it all out. I enjoyed it, though, and would be happy to chat about it with anyone that wants to upon my arrival home.

Then we started the hike. It was nearly 80 degrees when I left Santa Teresa but was easily in the 50s within the rainforest. You could see your breath on every exhale as we ascended the trail. The underbrush was thick, pushing down onto the trail from every angle. It was so dark I couldn't take pictures because the canopy essentially blocked out the sun. You forget the landscape you're in during your day-to-day life in Rio, but this city was built into a rainforest — the land that has been preserved personifies this.

The trees are tall, the air is heavy and the diversity of life is overwhelming. Tito told me all about the trees and shrubs, how the indigenous used them and their symbiotic relationships with other lifeforms in the forest. The altitude mixed with the lack of sunlight on the ground made for chilly conditions in the air. Despite there not being much rain since I've been here (and the forest being on the side of the mountain), the ground held so much water from the root systems supporting the forest. It was like I was back hiking in the New Zealand rainforest except instead of being in the middle of nowhere, I was smack dap in the center of a 10 million person metroplex.

The Tijuca National Forest is over 10 times the size of central park, according to Tito. And, there are other rainforests in the greater Rio area — this one is just the most central. From different points in the hike, we had views of every angle of the city — the North Zone, Centro, the South Zone and the West Zone. It was still a bit hazy yesterday, so that's why some of the photos appear a bit washed-out, but the views were still incredible.

Tito and I had a great time hiking through this natural wonder. I learned all about his life and career, his family and his favorite spots to go to in Rio. We had basically eight hours together, and it was cool to spend it doing something I love (hiking exotic locations) with a cool local guide. If anybody is ever in Rio and wants an unbelievable hiking experience, ask for Tito at Jungle Me.

Anyway, today was spent working because I had good Internet for most of the day (until we inexplicably lost power for the entire neighborhood for about an hour around 5pm... the second time that's happened). I don't want to give away too many of my photos before I make the trip video after I get home, but I wanted to give you guys a bit of the feeling from the experience yesterday. Enjoy!

 

BrazilAndrew Stern