“It could be your last photo!”
“That is life-risking!”
Those are some of the comments I’ve received after posting photos of myself hanging on the edge of the cliff, Pedra do Telegrafo (Telegraph Rock).
People love to jump to conclusions. I find it highly amusing.
Even though I believe we should all push the limits of our comfort zones, do you really think I’d do something as life-threatening as that, just for a photo?
As I was reading up on the hikes in Rio de Janeiro, I came upon this one cliff where everyone seemed to be hanging on the edge, posing dangerously, and couples re-enacting Titanic’s illogical scene where Jack was holding on to the huge piece of floating ice Rose was on, even though there was clearly enough space for both of them.
In the photos, they all looked… effortless. Something wasn’t right. I had to find out if it’s as death-defying as it looks.
I wanted THAT crazy, dare-devilish photo for myself.
Pedra do Telegrafo is atop a 354m hill – Morro de Guaratiba - about an hour’s drive west from the tourist area of Rio de Janeiro. Technically, it still is in Rio de Janeiro, but far past several neighbourhoods and is fairly untouched by us gringos.
How to Get to Pedra do Telegrafo, Rio de Janeiro
To get there, you can take a bus to Barra de Guaratiba, walk a distance to a rather inaccessible area, find your way through a run-down neighbourhood, getting frustrated with the lack of English speakers, hike up the hill, to find a long queue already formed (it was reported that the queue can get up to 6 hours long).
1. From your neighbourhood in Rio de Janeiro, take a bus to Terminal Alvorada.
2. Find a blue express bus to Malto Alto station.
3. Take the local bus 867 towards Barra de Guaratiba.
4. Alight at Barra de Guaratiba and walk towards the yellow church.
5. Take the stairs besides the church to an alleyway.
6. The alleyway is the start of your hike.
7. Follow the yellow painted footprints.
8. Take your highly sought-after, extremely deceiving shots!
Or, you can find a tour guide to bring you there. It was the Carnaval period and most tour companies were closed, but I found one through SUPtours.
Felipe, my introverted guide, shuns the crowd. He prefers the nature over beaches, football and Carnaval – all things Brazilian. He picked me up at 7am and even though I wanted my sleep, I was glad we left early.
Felipe explained to me that he once took the bus to Pedra do Telegrafo at 8am and only arrived there at lunchtime. I was thankful to be driven there by him because honestly, after having went there, I wouldn’t have known how to get there by myself.
We walked through a neighbourhood that has the makings of a favela (slums on the hill) – uneven roads, makeshift houses, and trash everywhere. The residents there must be very fit because this was the steepest road I’ve ever walked. My thighs were burning. I was gasping for air. And we haven’t even started the hike yet!
How was I gonna hike the Inca Trail or Torres del Paine if I can’t even do this?!
It was one hellish warm-up. Felipe promised me the starting walk through the neighbourhood is the toughest part of the whole hike.
He was right. As we walked on the hardened mud path on the actual trail, the steepness levelled. The path was easy. There was no need to go on all fours. I’m not gonna bore you with the details of putting one foot in front of the other, and repeating it a thousand times on this uneventful path. We reached the top with a good rhythm of 30 min.
Whoever said it is the journey, not the destination, that matters, obviously lived in a time before Instagram.
To our relief, only two couples were before us! We waited only for 5 min but it was the most impatient 5 min of my life. I was getting on my edge before actually getting on THE edge.
Woman! Do you really need to take the same shot 3728 times?! Are you aiming to become Instagram’s Next Stop Model? Get a room guys, stop making out on the edge!
The cliff was a jarring rock that, when positioned with the right camera angle, provided the illusion of a mountain edge against a backdrop of blue sea, green forest, and white clouds. There seemed to be a giant drop between the edge of the cliff and the sea.
In truth, the rock is about 2m above the ground. Stand on it, hang on it, sit on it - even if you fall, nothing serious will happen. But I gotta admit, it was strenuous to wrap my arms around while lifting my legs up and waiting for Felipe to snap the photos.
As I happily walked away after getting my photos, more people arrived.
Felipe and I chilled on a nearby boulder with a high vantage point, only accessible by rope. As we looked down, a line formed at the rock. Everyone there wanted the perfect photo, that “one more shot”. They gave birth to the meaning of the words “cliff hog”. The wait went up to hours.
It’s crazy, what people will do for that perfect Instagram shot. It wasn’t a cheap excursion, but I was glad I woke up early.
On the boulder, we chatted while waiting for the clouds to clear. Felipe shared with me about his dream of visiting the Amazons and Alaska – his curiosity aroused by watching Discovery Channel. He has all episodes of Man vs Wild, idolizes Bear Grylls and even proudly displayed his survival kit! This is a person whose comfort zone is right there and then, and gets paid for doing what he loves. There we were, two persons from two very different countries, sharing our dreams with each other, with our fates intertwined by an Instagram-worthy piece of rock.
As the clouds dissipated, we got brief views of a faraway swamp and a beach that is 45km long - longer than the width of Singapore.
Admiring the verdant landscape, I thought about how fortunate I was. If I were to have anyone bring me into the wild or up into the mountains, it would be with someone who truly lives and breathes his passion for nature.
To contact Felipe, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or Whatsapp him at 21 99404-2873
- Go there early! And I mean EARLY. I arrived there at 8am, and just 5 min after I had my shot, a line started forming. Queues can get up to 6 hours!
- Save the hassle and get a guide or at least a car. It’s too complicated and too long to go by public transport.
- Even if you don’t get your death-defying shot, you get to enjoy the view of the lush green forest, turquoise sea, magnificent mountains and the lesser known beaches in Rio de Janeiro.
- Get a bowl of acai at the bottom of the hill in the neighbourhood to replenish your energy.
- I didn’t do this but it makes sense to explore Barra de Guaratiba for a full day as it is probably the only time you will be there. According to Felipe, there are other trails nearby, the beaches are comparatively empty, and the popular activity is stand-up paddling.
- It can be difficult to get back to the city. Again, I’d recommend hiring a guide. But if you find yourself stranded without a transport, ask one of the cafes/restaurants to call you a local driver.
And now, it's your turn.