I wasn’t scared of the favela, I was scared of the moto ride through it.

I’m not a big fan of motorcycles but there was no way around it.

“This is how we get around in the favela.”

“Look… take it easy. I’m a newbie here,” I told the moto-taxi guy.

Off we went. It was both exhilarating and terrifying—not the speed but the way the driver was negotiating traffic, hairpin turns and impossibly steep streets.

And this is how the hike to the Morro Dois Irmãos, the Two Brothers Peak, started.

I know Rio de Janeiro pretty well. We’ve been here ten or twenty times and in total, I must have spent a few months in this city I have a love-hate relationship with. Over the years, we’ve explored Copacabana and Ipanema (classic) but also Botafogo, Gloria, Catete and even “don’t go here!” Centro.

Yet, I’m fully aware that I only know maybe 20% of the city. The rest of it is a no-go area for gringos—Vidigal, Rocinha, Cidade de Deus and dozens of other favelas that are part of the scenery, colouring hills, giving Rio de Janeiro a “dangerous” reputation but mostly making the city work because chances are your waiter, cook, doorman, beach vendor and more live in a favela.

This time, I was only in Rio de Janeiro for the weekend. I wanted to make my stay memorable—I miss Mark and Feng in Rio, we have tons of memories here. So I signed up for the Morro Dois Irmãos hike offering the best views of Rio and a chance to explore a favela since the trail started atop Vidigal.

Vidigal overlooks Ipanema, Leblon and São Conrado—in other words, some of the richest neighbourhoods of Rio de Janeiro. The stark contrast between the rich and the poor is what makes the city so unique, so occasionally dangerous and so fucked up at the same time. Much like everywhere else in the world, the rich overlook the poor. But in Rio de Janeiro, the poor literally look over fancy condos and easy lives.

My guide was a 28-year-old Vidigal resident. He had joined a gang, went to jail, enlisted in the army, gone to Europe and now, he was back as a proud yet angry Vidigal resident. “They have everything. We have nothing except the views. But I wouldn’t live anywhere else in Rio.”

I only caught a glimpse of the favela during the moto-taxi ride—we would be back later, after the hike that started behind a house on a very narrow dirt path.

It was steep, slippery but rewarding. We reached the first viewpoint half an hour later. Rocinha, one of Brazil’s biggest and most famous favelas, was right below, next to the posh neighbourhood of São Conrado. We could hear the music and the drums. Saturday night, party time in Rocinha.

We climbed higher up to a rock for better views but it was cloudy.

“Let’s go down and explore the favela,” the guide offered.

Hell, yes.

And so we went down the trail, in the dark, with a flashlight. Not to self, hiking with Brazilians is not for the faint of heart.

“Can I take pictures?” I asked.

“Oh yeah. Just not at the drug point. I’ll tell you when.”

Ten minutes later, we walked by four guys, with machine guns, counting cash on a table.

“And as you can see, the police station is right behind them,” the guide pointed out. “Nobody cares. The police don’t care. It’s just… the way it is.”

The only drugs the favela allows and sells are cannabis and cocaine. Crack, fentanyl, etc., are banned.

Favelas have rules and standards.

Favelas are also very normal neighbourhoods with families cooking dinner, kids playing in the street, supermarkets, nail salons, barbers and more. I suspected as much but it’s worth mentioning it.

It’s also worth noting that people take care of their place and their community. The streets are clean, the houses are painted and there’s wonderful street art everywhere.

I felt completely safe in Vidigal, safer than in Copacabana. And our little group of four wasn’t met with hostility at all.

“People need to understand favela people are nice people. Okay, we’re ruled by the Comando Vermelho. Better them than the militia. But there’s no crime within the favela.”

We ended up at the Bar da Laje for more amazing views over Ipanema, and then we walked down all the way to Praça do Vidigal.

Damn. I like the favela more than Copacabana and Ipanema now. For the first time, I felt I was breathing in Rio…

Vidigal and Morro Dois Irmãos from Ipanema
Vidigal and Morro Dois Irmãos from Ipanema
Vidigal and Morro Dois Irmãos from Ipanema
Vidigal from Leblon
Praça do Vidigal, Av. Pres. João Goulart, 920 - 958 - Vidigal, Rio de Janeiro - RJ, 22450-242
Praça do Vidigal, Av. Pres. João Goulart, 920 – 958 – Vidigal, Rio de Janeiro – RJ, 22450-242
The moto-taxi ride up to the Vigidal favela
The moto-taxi ride up to the Vigidal favela
The moto-taxi ride up to the Vigidal favela
The moto-taxi ride up to the Vigidal favela
The moto-taxi ride up to the Vigidal favela
The moto-taxi ride up to the Vigidal favela
Trilha Morro Dois Irmãos
Trilha Morro Dois Irmãos
Trilha Morro Dois Irmãos. Rocinha favela
Trilha Morro Dois Irmãos. Rocinha favela
Trilha Morro Dois Irmãos
Trilha Morro Dois Irmãos
Trilha Morro Dois Irmãos. Rocinha favela
Trilha Morro Dois Irmãos. Rocinha favela
Praia de São Conrado, Rio de Janeiro
Praia de São Conrado, Rio de Janeiro
Praia de São Conrado, Rio de Janeiro
Praia de São Conrado, Rio de Janeiro
Trilha Morro Dois Irmãos
Trilha Morro Dois Irmãos
Trilha Morro Dois Irmãos. Rocinha favela
Trilha Morro Dois Irmãos. Rocinha favela
Trilha Morro Dois Irmãos. Rocinha favela
Trilha Morro Dois Irmãos. Rocinha favela
Trilha Morro Dois Irmãos. Rocinha favela
Trilha Morro Dois Irmãos. Rocinha favela
Trilha Morro Dois Irmãos. Rocinha favela
Trilha Morro Dois Irmãos. Rocinha favela
Trilha Morro Dois Irmãos, second and last stop
Trilha Morro Dois Irmãos, second and last stop
Trilha Morro Dois Irmãos, second and last stop
Trilha Morro Dois Irmãos, second and last stop
Trilha Morro Dois Irmãos, second and last stop
Trilha Morro Dois Irmãos, second and last stop
Trilha Morro Dois Irmãos, second and last stop
Trilha Morro Dois Irmãos, second and last stop
Trilha Morro Dois Irmãos. Rocinha favela
Trilha Morro Dois Irmãos. Rocinha favela
Praia de São Conrado, Rio de Janeiro
Praia de São Conrado, Rio de Janeiro
Trilha Morro Dois Irmãos. Rocinha favela
Trilha Morro Dois Irmãos. Rocinha favela
This is where the trail began and ended, behind these houses
This is where the trail began and ended, behind these houses, in Vidigal
Where the moto-taxi dropped me off, before the trail
Where the moto-taxi dropped me off, before the trail
Inside Vidigal, Rio de Janeiro
Inside Vidigal, Rio de Janeiro
Inside Vidigal, Rio de Janeiro
Inside Vidigal, Rio de Janeiro
Inside Vidigal, Rio de Janeiro
Inside Vidigal, Rio de Janeiro
Inside Vidigal
Inside Vidigal
Bar da Laje, R. Armando Almeida Lima, 8 - Vidigal, Rio de Janeiro - RJ, 22450-244, view on Ipanema
Bar da Laje, R. Armando Almeida Lima, 8 – Vidigal, Rio de Janeiro – RJ, 22450-244, view on Ipanema
Bar da Laje, R. Armando Almeida Lima, 8 - Vidigal, Rio de Janeiro - RJ, 22450-244, view on Ipanema
Bar da Laje, R. Armando Almeida Lima, 8 – Vidigal, Rio de Janeiro – RJ, 22450-244, view on Ipanema
Bar da Laje, R. Armando Almeida Lima, 8 - Vidigal, Rio de Janeiro - RJ, 22450-244, view on Ipanema
Bar da Laje, R. Armando Almeida Lima, 8 – Vidigal, Rio de Janeiro – RJ, 22450-244, view on Ipanema
Bar da Laje, R. Armando Almeida Lima, 8 - Vidigal, Rio de Janeiro - RJ, 22450-244, view on Ipanema
Bar da Laje, R. Armando Almeida Lima, 8 – Vidigal, Rio de Janeiro – RJ, 22450-244, view on Ipanema
Bar da Laje, R. Armando Almeida Lima, 8 - Vidigal, Rio de Janeiro - RJ, 22450-244, view on Ipanema
Bar da Laje, R. Armando Almeida Lima, 8 – Vidigal, Rio de Janeiro – RJ, 22450-244, view on Ipanema
Inside Vidigal, Rio de Janeiro
Inside Vidigal, Rio de Janeiro
Bar da Laje, R. Armando Almeida Lima, 8 - Vidigal, Rio de Janeiro - RJ, 22450-244, view on Ipanema
Bar da Laje, R. Armando Almeida Lima, 8 – Vidigal, Rio de Janeiro – RJ, 22450-244, view on Ipanema
Bar da Laje, R. Armando Almeida Lima, 8 - Vidigal, Rio de Janeiro - RJ, 22450-244, view on Ipanema
Bar da Laje, R. Armando Almeida Lima, 8 – Vidigal, Rio de Janeiro – RJ, 22450-244, view on Ipanema
Inside Vidigal, Rio de Janeiro
Inside Vidigal, Rio de Janeiro
Inside Vidigal, Rio de Janeiro
Inside Vidigal, Rio de Janeiro
Inside Vidigal, Rio de Janeiro
Inside Vidigal, Rio de Janeiro
Inside Vidigal, Rio de Janeiro
Inside Vidigal, Rio de Janeiro
Inside Vidigal, Rio de Janeiro
Inside Vidigal, Rio de Janeiro
Inside Vidigal, Rio de Janeiro
Inside Vidigal, Rio de Janeiro
Inside Vidigal, Rio de Janeiro
Inside Vidigal, Rio de Janeiro
Thee trip to the Morro Dois Irmãos
and Vidigal
Thee trip to the Morro Dois Irmãos and Vidigal

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3 Comments

  1. Kiky February 6, 2024 at 2:31 am

    I laughed when I read your moto-taxi experience!
    Most part – oh I must say all part of my country, reckless motor cycle drivers are EVERYWHERE, eh…except in Jakarta’s main roads where police officers are every here and there.
    I can’t ride a motorcycle, my kids do – they learned from their friends. My dad didn’t allow me to back when I was a teen. Too scary, too dangerous.
    They barely wear helmet especially in rural area.
    The foreigners who visited Bali are now the same, what a pity :/

    We do have similar service, a hired-private motor cycle to get people around, also to deliver goods within the city or food— like a Pandafood service.

    Reply
    1. Zhu February 7, 2024 at 12:22 am

      Your description reminds me of Thailand! I’m scared of motorcycles, I’ve seen too many accidents. This trip was an exception because there’s no other way to get around in the favela.

      Reply
  2. Pingback: Travel Hiccups and “Gentileza Gera Gentileza” in Action

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