Tourist traps and pleasureful journeys

Category: Travel

I’d done what you might consider touristy things lately. But I approached them differently.

Per tradition, visitors gather at a tourist locale for a session of cellphone photography and selfies. Some opt to lounge a bit and actually descend below that level of the surface.

In common vernacular, we refer to this state as being present. For most, however, the passage of time treads on the superficial.

The journey to the respective site tends to also present nothing of the extraordinary. One of many motorized transport options usually avails.

Beyond that, tourist operators will happily assume the responsibility. Double-decker trolleys, vans, guides, an overpriced gastronomic assortment of the degenerate, are among the multitude of options to splurge your resources.

For my purposes, beyond all of this appearing bland and superficial, I don’t derive much pleasure in the given tourist destination unless I’ve exerted some effort to attain it. And that effort usually entails hikes.

I prefer the grueling hikes, sometimes poorly chartered, with certain element of risk, no mobile device, appropriate hiking shoes, and armed with a taste for adventure.

Having resided considerable time in the Jardim Botânico neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro, I took advantage of the adjacency to the vast forested region Parque Nacional da Tijuca, which envelops endless trails, but also a series of the commonly visited tourist sites.

Take the Vista Chinesa, for instance. In itself, the site offers a splendid panoramic view of the city, as dozens of others of the kind, the difference lying merely in degrees of altitude, not so much in the perception.

Otherwise, there’s but a gazebo on the cusp of that overlook, styled in the ways of the Asian, painted to imitate bamboo, ghastly gargoyle torsos extended from the canopy.

The traditional method of reaching the site is to follow the roadway by automobile or bicycle. It’s a steep and scenic ascent nonetheless, from what I’d gathered, although this isn’t the path I’d elected.

I chose the majestic abyss of the National Park. The journey was nothing among the advertised, although I don’t claim to have intensely researched (or at all).

Strolling in the general direction of where I’d supposed the jungle to commence, I made inquiries at various intervals along the way. Hardly anyone was in possession of precise directives.

Following the main road, I’d eventually passed the official junction, one side leading along the main roadway, the other marked by a sign “acesso à Vista Chinesa” with a large red cross over the words. Naturally, I’d chosen this route!

I’d eventually entered a completely unmarked narrow trail in the backwoods of some tenements. The trail would immediately split into no less than three. I’d chosen a direction on a whim.

Extended rainfalls had recently ceased. The soil was everywhere muddy and slippery, the air moist, misty, and cleansing.

Signs had occasionally occupied various tree trunks, approximating the distance to a number of destinations (the very Vista Chinesa, series of waterfalls, Mesa do Imperador, Solar de Imperatriz, etc). Sometimes these pointed in an unclear direction where paths diverged, or would diverge at but a short distance.

There was much stochastic decision making along that forestry of fallen tree trunks, stream crossings, muddy hill climbs, vigilant monkeys along the tree tops, and very sporadic encounters with the human species. I welcomed the element of chance, as I hadn’t any other option.

An hour and a half later, as I emerged from the forest soiled in sweat and mud, steps from the Vista Chinesa, tourists were abound, frenetically snapping photographs. I remained a while, although soon welcomed the return descent into the abyss. For me, the journey was the experience.

A similar scenario presented itself at Corcovado (the famous Cristo Redentor mountain peak), which too lies within the Tijuca National Park area.

Plenty of motorized options exist to reach the altitude and snap photographs. At the base of the mountain peak lies Parque Lague, a blissful sanctuary of narrow, well-paved passages, alluring step stones over rocky caverns, little islands spread out across the pond, and as dense a tropical vegetation as one can fathom within such an enclosed area.

Visitors with cell phone cameras hover in masses. I don’t know if I derive more pleasure or existential agony roaming this territory. Destined to enter a camera view frame at every moment, one fake smile and body posture more toxic than the next, I puzzle over this condition.

To great fortune, for the adventurous, there exists a very steep 4km trail commencing at the back of the park. The Corcovado trail naturally weeds out the masses.

In fact, a Careoka commonly warns against it, necessarily apprehensive of assaults and robberies attributed to that jungle. For our purposes, the extent of those assaults, and the merits behind the apprehensiveness, are factors hardly relevant.

It’s a mighty steep climb, that trail. At certain points, it transitions into a climb quiet literally.

Perhaps one Brazilian I’d encountered along the way. The remaining adventurers communicated in Spanish or English.

The trail felt endless. The legs survived mostly by virtue of adrenaline.

Upon emergence, there remained a small climb along the plain roadway, distanced at maybe 500-700 meters, this a continuation of the official tourist corridor. Some Brits I met along the way opted for a run to the destination. Of course I enthusiastically consented!

Admittedly, I never ascended to the final Corcovado peak. I had not the faint interest for the entrance fee nor the swarms of tourists living the moment in photographic frenzy.

The journey rendered far greater pleasure. And so would the return journey.

I need mention that a very steep descent along the forest still recruits severe leg musculature, especially with the hills moist after rainfall. My legs later demanded days of repose.

An analogous sort of journey occurred in my early days of Rio. The renowned Pão de Açúcar peak draws nearly unilateral interest among visiting tourists.

Adjacent to it lies the slightly lower peak Morro da Urca, this providing a challenging trail along the jungle and a still impressive panoramic overview.

At the top also await kiosks, restaurants, and swarms of tourists engaged in degenerate aliments and alcohol. Off to the side departs the cable car to the aforementioned Pão de Açúcar peak.

As you invariably suspect, I desisted.

Cellphone photography and selfies have come to infest scenic retreats. It gives me further reason yet to evade the especially pretty areas filled with tourists, merchants, and generally easy access.

Fortunately, the superficial hot spots often give manifest to an adventurous side journey.

Questions, comments? Connect.