17 January 2019 – Experiencing true solo travel: my first hike alone

Yesterday I decided to go hiking by myself and it was the biggest emotional roller coaster ride…

For the past 2 weeks, I’ve done nothing but laze around…but even after one week…I became restless and missed being active. During the 2 weeks, I was waiting to find company to go do the hike…

Nobody came.

I got tired of waiting and decided to go by myself (after all, that’s the best part of solo travel right? You don’t have wait or agree to do what YOU want)

I had absolutely no idea what I signed up for…

My day started off with a healthy mixture of anxiety and curiosity…turning into “WTF am I doing with my life?” And then massive fear. I was scared of anything that was in front of me and every sound…I was even cursing at myself aloud at one stage. I kept fighting with my emotions… wanting to give up but then reassuring myself the next second. When I got to the top, I felt like a warrior princess who could take on the world. I couldn’t stop smiling…I had to face my fears head on and overcame them.

Even though my journey wasn’t fun or pretty, I surprised myself far beyond my expectations and I am so proud of myself.

 ***WARNING: this blog contains explicit language (and my future posts will too)***

16 January 2019 – Before the hike

Fuck my stomach is hurting…must be all that chocolate cake I ate last night before bed and this morning.

Today and yesterday were my days off. I was supposed to go hiking yesterday but slept in until 10.30 and it just seemed too late to go hiking because my boss told me that the hike would take me about 7 hours. Even though the sun sets at 8pm here during summer, the last thing I wanted to do was to hike in the dark after sun set. I didn’t want to take that risk. In hindsight, it was great that I stayed in because it was the last time that me, the boss and Argentinian girls would work together (the boss will be gone for some time and return to the hostel after all we all leave)

 

The things that went through my mind…

I normally feel comfortable roaming through cities alone but this is the first hike and probably the first ‘adventure’ I’ve done on my own.

Admittedly…I’m a little scared. I don’t know what to expect.

But I am going to do this. I have committed to this.

Deep down…I don’t really want to do it.

I just know I should be organised and well-prepared…especially with water, food and mosquito repellent.

It’s also boiling hot already and the thought of going on a hike right now is plainly unmotivating…but it will be really nice to be able to do some form of exercise after doing absolutely nothing…not even walking much for 2 weeks.

Let’s see how we go!

 

On the way to the mountain

I ended up getting one of the volunteers (‘Bella’) to order an Uber for me because I had issues with the app on my phone

Bella: “It’s 20 reals”

Me: “Ok. Thank you!”

Four minutes later…my Uber arrived at the front of the hostel.

I opened the door and a small white car pulled up.

Me: “Can you please tell me the number plate?”

Bella: “It’s 493”

I quickly looked at the number plate – it matched.

Awesome!

The car took off as soon as I hopped in the back of the car.

I packed my bag with some snacks, 3 litres of water, sunscreen and money but fuck…I forgot the mosquito repellent – of all things! It was probably one of the most important things to bring.

My boss even asked me “did you get your yellow fever vaccination?” before I went on the hike. That was a big sign that there’d be lots of mosquitoes. Oh well…at least I had the things that needed to live if I ended up getting stranded (gotta stay positive right?)

Fuck…I also forgot to bring other important things for emergencies and injuries like a first aid kit. Wow…could I be less prepared? I should have at least brought a lighter in case I got stranded so then I could at least light a fire but noooo….all my food obsessed brain thought about was nothing but food and water.

Oh well…what’s done was done. I wasn’t going to make my driver go all the way back because we were already close.

We drove through the city and then started going into some sort of rural-looking area. The road was extremely bumpy.

This had to be at least the fifth time I really felt every bump and corner turned in a car… as well as the speed the car was going. It couldn’t be just a coincidence right? Either the cars in Brazil have very poor suspension…or the drivers I’ve had haven’t been the best drivers. Maybe it’s both? It’s so weird though because I didn’t have this fear in South East Asia at all and roads are even bumpier, traffic is crazier and nobody sticks to the law.

The place was becoming more and more desolate. There were only very few shops and houses. Even the road turned into a red, dirt track. When I looked around, I could mainly see lakes, large grass fields and mountains in the background. It almost looked like the perfect place for a criminal to take someone to murder them or keep them hostage.

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On the way there

At this stage I thought: “what the fuck are you doing with your life Mei?”

Maps indicated that we just had to turn onto one more road to get to the pousada (small hotel – the starting point of the hike)…but it was completely blocked off by construction.

“Hmmm…how the hell were we going to get there?”

Every entry point was blocked.

We did a U-turn, trying to find a detour. I had no faith but the driver proved me wrong (took about 10 minutes though).

When we got to the “location”, there wasn’t any sign of the pousada. Everything just looked like some farmer’s property.

Were we even in the right place? Maps said we’d reached our destination but I couldn’t see the Pousada anywhere!

The driver stopped and waited for my instructions.

I frantically searched for the pousada’s number and asked the driver if he could call them from his phone to ask for directions. His call was rejected.

We tried again and again…but no luck…

The same thing kept happening

Argh!!! Now what?

My driver did a quick search on his phone and discovered that we needed to go further down the road.

*Phew*

I couldn’t help but feel relieved…at least we were going somewhere (but deep down I was hoping we couldn’t find it so I could go back to the hostel).

We drove for about 5 more minutes before we saw a sign with the Pousada’s name and an arrow

YES!!! We weren’t lost!

And then…the road started becoming increasingly steep – woohoo! We were definitely close!

To my surprise, the place looked more like a farm than a hotel ~ all I could see was a warehouse filled with farming equipment and hay. There was also a man working on the other side of the road. My driver suddenly stopped to ask for directions in Portuguese, gracefully thanked the man…and continued driving uphill.

That’s when the property started looking like an actual hotel.

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Part of the entrance

After getting dropped off and paying my driver, I started hunting for the reception desk… following the only footpath that was there.

Wow the pousada was absolutely stunning. I thought that hostel I was working in was a paradise but this was like a paradise on steroids ~ the pool was 5 times the size…surrounded by these amazingly beautiful large gardens and relaxation/common areas with plants and flowers everywhere.

Finally!!!

The beautiful Pousada

The calm before the storm

I found the reception desk quite easily but the receptionist couldn’t speak any English so I let my best friend Google Translate do all the talking…

Me: “I would like to hike the mountain. Is it 15 reals?”

The receptionist nodded her head and brought out a registration form for me to complete. All the terms and conditions were in Portuguese. I had absolutely no idea what I was agreeing to when I signed it but oh well…what else could I do?

Me: “Do you have any mosquito repellent?”

The receptionist nodded her head again, putting the repellent on the desk.

Thank god!!!

Me: “How do I get to the mountain?”

She escorted me past some rooms to the opening of a forest and started speaking to me in Portuguese. I assumed from her body language that she was telling me to walk straight ahead.

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The entrance of the hike

The beginning…

Here we go…

Nobody else was around.

It was literally just me and the millions of trees, plants, insects and animals

Ugh

Trees, rocks and more trees…

10 minutes in…

Fear starts kicking in. I kept asking myself:

“What if I get lost!? What if I get hurt!? I have nothing to use to protect myself!”

All I could hear was nothing but the crunch of the leaves under my feet, insects and animals in the forest. It was really scary. I couldn’t help but feel like giving up and running back. I didn’t want to end up lost and dead.

Whenever the path occasionally split into two, I always chose the path which looked more traveled. There was no way I was risking anything. There was no time to take the road less traveled.

I kept trying to reassure myself. It didn’t work. The only thing I could do was to walk as fast as possible. Luckily, the path was very flat and obvious. There was only one path most of the time…not a ‘choose your own adventure’ sequence…

 

20 minutes in…

I was walking at full speed when I suddenly heard this REALLY loud noise of some animal running at the speed of lightening. It almost sounded like someone threw a big rock and a snake or some other animal was slithering/running through the leaves.

I couldn’t help by scream. I was petrified. I swear my heart even stopped for a split second. When I scanned the forest to see what it was I realised it was just a big lizard.

*Phew*

As I delve deeper into the forest, I thought I’d at least encounter some other hikers coming back from the hike but there was nobody. I kept hearing all these strange noises of insects or animals I’d never heard before (including those darn lizards!).

Everything scared the shit out of me.

I had to try to comfort myself:

“It’s ok. They are all probably more scared of you than you are of them.”

I shouldn’t have said that…

All it did was make my imagination run even more wild. I imagined some wild mammal jumping out of the forest and coming to attack me.

Argh! All I could do was keep walking.

There were so many trees and plants around that I couldn’t take a single step without my footsteps sounding like crunching leaves and the forest was almost completely covered by shade. I was happy that the sun wasn’t glaring through because it meant I didn’t need sunscreen…but it also meant that there were lots of spider webs…everywhere.

It was so bad that I’d feel webs sticking to all parts of my body every two seconds.

“Obviously nobody’s done this hike in a long time…

I was too scared to start pondering about my life because my first priority was surviving…but even that was a battle ~ my brain kept telling me that I was scared and then switching to comfort me and tell me that everything was going to be ok. It was like having an angel and devil on each shoulder. I didn’t know who to listen to.

A million things went through my mind…

“Seriously Mei…what the fuck are you doing with your life???”

 “I should have brought something to protect myself. I should have worn long sleeve clothes or something and I should have brought that god damn mosquito repellent…how could I be so unprepared???”

“What if it takes too long to get to the top and then I have to hike in the dark. I don’t even have a torch and both of my phones have limited battery.”

“If I get stranded at night, where would I sleep? How would I fend off the mosquitos? All I have is a scarf. I’m wearing a singlet and shorts ~ that’s like having an open field for mosquitoes to feast!”

All my thoughts did was scare me into walking faster…

One of the worst parts of the hike was that every time I stopped for even a second to take a picture of something or simply just decide where to put my foot, I heard the beautiful humming of a mosquito.

Great! There’s lots of mosquitoes everywhere too.

All it did was motivate me to walk even faster.

For a long time, there was nothing but trees and plants….and then more trees and plants…until I came across a sign pointing the direction of the hostel and the direction of the mountain. At first, I didn’t really pay attention to the signs, almost going back towards the pousada but I decided to carefully read the signs and saved myself from going in a full circle.

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Relief from human signs…

At least I knew where I had to go when I returned from the hike

It was comforting to see signs of civilisation (even if it was just a sign)…so much that it gave me enough strength to continue with the hike.

Maybe they would have signs along the way?

That would be good….

 

When the REAL hike began

I had enough of those darn spider webs! I kept on finding them on my body or face.

Argh!

I needed a weapon right? Just in case an animal came out to attack me or something. I looked at the ground and found a reasonable sized stick on the floor amongst the forest of leaves on the floor – this will have to do.

Then my imagination started running wild again…

Suddenly I started feeling like some jungle warrior princess…but only because I had a weapon (I was still ridiculously scared of everything). It made me feel a little more protected and gave me just that extra confidence I needed to continue…

But somehow I didn’t end up using it as a weapon and used it as my spider web exterminator instead ~ for the whole journey, I waved the stick up and down in front of me….moving it faster when I went through congested areas. And every time there was more space, I swung the stick around like Bruce Lee would swing his nun chucks. It was sad because even though I gave my all to protect myself from webs, they managed to find a way to get all over me.

For a long time there was nothing but trees and plants with the occasional big boulder here and there. I couldn’t help but question my decision in hiking by myself: “I’m NEVER hiking by myself again. Fuck this.” As much as I wanted to turn back and give up…I kept pushing myself to go forward. I don’t know why.

More trees and plants…

Eventually…I saw an open space with lots of sunlight from above and some form of a view of the city…but the view was pretty covered by trees (shame)

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The small but assuring view in the sun

Then…I heard a river – woo!!!  I was SO relieved after only hearing insects and lizards for the past hour or so.

Fin

 

As I continued walking through the forest, the sound of the water progressively got louder until I saw the river with my own eyes.

The pathway suddenly stopped.

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Finally – some sign of water…

I guess I’ll have to cross the river. There were enough rocks to make it across.

 

Are we there yet?

After walking on a reasonably easy pathway for about an hour, stopping every now and again for either a drink, to make sure I was on the right track or to try and remember a certain landmark for the way back, the hike suddenly became really steep.

Fuck… how am I going to get up??? And how am I going to get down from this?

Can I really do this?

Luckily there were many trees and roots that I could use to help me up. Without them, I think I would have been doomed, given up and gone home. The stick also came in handy for extra support (I eventually upgraded my original stick to a longer stick for better protection)

At one point the hill was so steep that it was impossible to just walk up. The only saving grace was a long root which was unattached to the ground ~ it actually looked like a big climbing rope.

I slowly but surely pulled myself up…and made it to the next flat surface. By this point I was covered in dirt and sweat.

 

1 hour and 30 minutes in…

“I’m done. I just want to go home now.”

I was ready to give up. By this point I didn’t care about getting to the top anymore…

But excitement and hope took over my body when I looked up and around me and noticed that I was so close to the top.

Oh my god! I’m almost there! Yes! Finally!”

I walked and climbed as fast as I could…sweating like crazy…

“I’ll be there any minute now!”

 

15 minutes later…

I still hadn’t reached the top…

How!?!?

Argh!!!!

I didn’t understand why it was taking so long because I could almost see the top of all the trees and a clearer view of the sky. All I could do was keep re-assuring myself that I would get there soon and keep walking up…

Before I knew it…my patience and persistence paid off ~ I saw an opening to a flat area at the top of the mountain…

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My view when I realised I was at the top!

FINALLY! I made it!

And it was simply…underwhelming.

The overgrown trees and plants everywhere gave me the tiniest view of the city. That wasn’t the only disappointing thing – there were giant moths and bugs of all sorts swarming around me everywhere. I heard buzzing everywhere I stood.

My mediocre views…

It was 2.15pm ~ wow, I’d made it up in 2 hours, 1.5 hours faster than expected! Go me!

I walked around to see if I could get a better view but my hopes were not fulfilled. The only way to get a decent view was if I climbed up one of the trees. I’d come so far to not be rewarded with a complete view of the city…

It wasn’t the easiest tree to climb but I somehow jumped and pulled myself up…finally getting the view I deserved. It was definitely something!

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The better view from the tree

Sadly, it was hard for me to enjoy because there were so many bugs flying around me at full speed (I’ve never coped well with bugs). I quickly took some pictures, ate a banana and then started trying to figure out how I was going to get down.

I looked down at the ground beneath me. I was about 1.5 metres high.

Now…I’ve never been the bravest person when it comes to heights ~ I had no idea how I’d get down because from what I could see, the only way down was to jump…

But it was so high up – argh….

I just kept staring at the ground and wondering how I was going to get down

“Just do it Mei and spring your legs when you land. It’s not THAT high and you don’t have a choice…”

“One…two…three…go!”

I lifted my leg, ready to jump…but chickened out at the very last minute.

“Argh!!”

I took another few seconds to build the courage again and finally forced myself to jump.

Instead of elegantly landing like a gymnast, I fell onto my feet and rolled onto my bum.

After getting up, I saw this tiny green thing crawling on my hand. I screamed at the top of my lungs

“FUCK OFFFF!!!” (I really don’t do well with bugs)

I flicked it off me as quickly as possible.

It was time to go.

Even though I was ecstatic that I had extra time to get back, I was still concerned about getting lost. I grabbed my stick and started making my way down.

 

Returning back…

Going down was actually much easier than I anticipated. After achieving the hike up, I felt on top of the world…I mean, I felt REALLY confident…like a warrior princess. I didn’t even feel the need to swing my stick around anymore so instead, I held it like a soldier holds a sword…ready to attack if needed.

There were less webs sticking to me, but those darn mosquitoes kept buzzing around my ear every time I stopped. Halfway back, I plugged in my headphones, loaded Spotify and pressed play. And I can safely say that it was the best decision because it drowned out the sound of mosquitoes.

I was walking like a queen by this stage.

Ok, I’m lying ~ there was a point where I screamed at the top of my lungs in fear because I either saw or imagined a wild animal was jumping up at me when I saw a big leaf move from under my feet. But apart from that incident, I manoeuvred down like a ninja (at least in my head anyway).

I won’t bore you with rest of the details of the descend but I will say that it was like any ordinary descend ~ there were steep parts and slippery parts.

The most important part was that I didn’t get lost…

I found the sign which directed the way out with ease.

It was a different direction from the way that I came and gave me this situation of confusion. I had to decide.

“Is this the right way back or should I go the way I came?”

Part of me wanted to play it safe and go the way I came but my body made me follow the sign. It was about 20 minutes until I finally saw the sky clearly and open space. I had to walk through some sharp, skin-cutting grass VERY slowly but eventually made it to a dirt road.

When I found open space back to civilisation…

I couldn’t believe that I made it! It was so nice to be away from plants.

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Feeling accomplished

Back to civilisation

I wasn’t entirely sure how to get back to the hostel so I did what any normal person would do and followed my gut instincts. After about 5 minutes, I noticed something peculiar in the distance ~ a whole bunch of goats were running in the same direction I was headed. I had no idea what was going on but continued walking with them.

Walking with the goats…

Then I started seeing familiar things.

Yes! I chose the right direction!

I started letting my guard down and relaxing so much that I kept stopping to admire the view.

Relaxing and enjoying the view…

Back at the Pousada

It was so nice to step back into air-conditioning after sweating like crazy for 4 hours. The first thing I wanted to do was wash my hands and face.

Me: “Can I use your toilet?”

Receptionist: “It’s just behind here (in Portuguese)”

Me: “Obrigata” (thank you)

Receptionist: “De nada” (you’re welcome)

I couldn’t believe how dirty I was. The water I washed my hands with turned into a brown river and the tissue I wiped my face with was also covered in brown.

Feeling happy and proud of myself, I decided that I deserved to enjoy the Pousada ~ I came all the way to the mountain and completed a hike that it would have been stupid for me not to enjoy a beer and some food there.

Me (to the receptionist): “Can I eat and have a drink here?”

Receptionist: “Sure! Just go to the restaurant”

After ordering my food and an ice-cold beer, I sat in the company of my thoughts, hotel-paradise, beautiful mountains, view of Rio Das Ostras and the natural music of different animals or children in the background.

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The view I was rewarded with in the end

I couldn’t stop smiling. I felt so good and I couldn’t believe how beautiful the view was. I was so proud of what I achieved. At that moment I realised that hiking makes me happy, mountains make me feel content and nature makes me feel at peace. I can’t say I’d ever hike by myself again but the fact that I had enough courage to do it was enough for me.

Even my of night ended up being so much fun ~ I scored a free lift with one of the pousada owners back to the city centre, got invited to eat dinner with a 61 year old man and his ex-girlfriend, got given a free necklace from one of the street vendors and accidentally fell into the pool from lying on the flamingo when I returned ‘home’.

 

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