Keep fvcking going.
That’s what I tell myself every time I meet with a challenge.
That’s what I told myself when I hiked up Corcovado in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
It was only day 3 of my South America trip and I’m already drenched in sweat and panting heavily. It wasn’t hot, as the path was covered by trees, but man, Brazil is as humid as sunny little Singapore.
I thought I’m fit. I did a 2 days’ hike carrying a 10kg backpack up Mount Kerinci, the highest volcano in Indonesia. You know that feeling where you feel like you can do anything relatively easy after a not-small feat? I felt that.
And besides, I did my research; it was only a 2 hours’ hike. It should be a piece of cake.
I failed to consider the fact that the hike at Indonesia was 1 year ago. And since then, I have been inactive as hell. It’s just been school and work and staying indoors.
I was totally unprepared. I severely underestimated the hike up Corcovado.
To be honest, the path wasn’t even THAT steep. But it felt like I’m walking up a 45-degree slope the whole time. Coupled with the humidity of rainforest Brazil, I slowed to a crawl, little step by little step, dripping little sweat by little sweat.
I encountered fewer than 10 people on the hike and every single one overtook me, with a friendly “Bom dia!” (Good day!) At some points, I heard the rapid pace of footsteps and as it turned out, some locals even do their daily jog on this path!
Yes, people are jogging effortlessly on this steep, uneven path; not unlike us on the flat, soft stadium track. And yet, I am struggling to walk up.
Keep going, I told myself. Jesus is waiting at the top.
The iconic statue of Cristo Redentor - or Christ the Redeemer - with his wide-spread hands is what await hikers at the top of the Corcovado Mountain, itself a part of the Tijuca Forest National Park. It felt to me like seeking the elusive guru in the cave at the top of a snow-capped mountain. Enlightenment awaited me.
Of course, this isn’t the only way to visit Cristo.
Hiking Corcovado Mountain for Cristo Redentor
The easy way is to pay R$74/R$61 (high/low season) and take the tram up at Cosme Velho (a not very accessible neighbourhood), or an even easier way is to go on a guided tour in a van. That was the way I did with a group of international friends back in December 2014.
I never liked tours. We were rushed from places to places, like a sheep being shepherded around. Sure, we ticked off the items on our must-see list, like the Maracana Stadium, Cristo, and Lapa Steps, but never got to truly enjoy each attraction.
This time, when I returned to Rio, and as soon as I realized it was possible to hike up the mountain, I immediately did my research.
Turns out, the starting point of the hike, Parque Lage in the Jardim Botanico neighbourhood, is within walking distance from my Airbnb. Of course, I had to hike up.
Take a taxi or bus to Parque Lage. Opening hours: 08:00 until 17:00 (18:00 during daylight savings)
At the bottom of the mountain, you have to register with the park rangers, who kindly offered a brochure with a map of the hike. Granted, you never really have to use it as there is only one path up. If you do find yourself getting lost (like I did at an intersection), just follow the yellow markings on the trees. They are there to keep hikers on track.
Before I left, my Airbnb host warned me to be careful and to join other hikers if possible, because there have been reports of mugging on this track. Two weeks later, in the Backpacking South America Facebook Group, someone reported being robbed by three armed assailants. I was fortunate to not have the same experience. On hindsight, I realized that’s what the registration was for, and I would recommend anyone not to do it solo.
After almost 2 hours of birds chirping and crickets singing, I came to the most challenging part of the hike: a rebar ladder - thin metal railings acting as steps with a metal chain to pull myself up the steep rock wall. It was a tad scary, but very do-able. Apart from the slight steepness of the main path, this is the only obstacle.
Once I conquered that and went past the tram tracks shortly after, the final part of the hike is a winding tarred road up to Cristo.
Actually, I take back my words. THIS road is the most dangerous obstacle as you have to watch out for vehicles going up and down the hill, in and out the winding road, especially tour vans flying around the turns. Best to stick to the side of the roads. Never underestimate Brazilian traffic.
At the very end, was the entrance to the main attraction. After paying the entrance fee of R$26 (USD $10) and choosing to walk the stairs instead of taking the escalator (after all the hiking, why cheat?), I was greeted by the majestic sight of Cristo.
This was the second time I came here, but I was still in awe. Walking beneath him, I felt puny. Like an ant under a giant.
It was around 12pm when I arrived and the viewpoint was packed with tourists; some holding out selfie sticks, and others laying on the floor to get a better angle photo. It was amusing to see mats placed on the floor for that purpose.
The last time I took a photo with the Singapore flag. This time, I held out a scarf that says “Singapore”. Proud #SingaporeRepresent here.
From the top of the 710m high mountain, besides seeing Cristo, you are also rewarded with a panoramic view of the Marvellous City, Rio de Janeiro. The entire landscape - consisting of the Corcovado Mountain, Tijuca Forest National Park, the Botanical Gardens, and Guanaraba Bay - together form the Carioca Landscape, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
With the wind drying up my sweat, this time I could truly appreciate the time atop Corcovado mountain. No nagging tour guides to rush me along.
I felt a sense of satisfaction for finding the guru in the mountain.
There is a saying about climbing mountains: going up is optional, getting down is mandatory.
(I chose to take the tram down.)
And now, it's your turn.