I have been looking at The Two Brothers from the comfort of Ipanema beach for the past six weeks. They’re impossible to miss, rising majestically from the sea with the favela, Vigigal, clinging to the slopes. But as I slogged up the last steep section, I did wonder at the wisdom of deciding to make this famous trek a) nursing a slight hangover from the samba party the night before and b) with two athletic young ladies half my age and with legs twice the length of mine. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s easy. It is definitely a tricky ascent, but when you make it to the top you are rewarded with a view of Rio that will stay with you for the rest of your life.
The fun begins when you reach the bottom of Vigigal. You can choose to dice with death and hop on the back of a motorbike which will take you up the hill, but we decided to take the combi bus (old VW vans) up to the start of the walk. This in itself is quite an experience. There are no public services in the favelas and so everyone relies on these ‘buses’ to get up the incredibly steep hills. Just when you think you can’t possibly get any more people into the van, someone else hops in and then, squeezed in like sardines, you’re off, at break neck speed, twisting and turning up the hill to the top.
Somehow we missed the proper start of the walk and ended up weaving our way through the back of the favela, avoiding the snapping local dogs, until we reached the path. From here it was a steep upwards climb all the way to the top, taking about 75 minutes to get there, with a few fabulous vantage points along the way.
From the top the views were nothing short of spectacular. From Christ the Redeemer to Niteroi, the lagoon, the beaches and the whole of Guanabara Bay. We sat and took it all in for quite some time and then, after lots of photos and the obligatory selfies, we started the tricky descent back to the top of Vigigal. Once back on the road, we walked down to the main road at the bottom. This is a pacified favela, with a constant police presence, and certainly with a lot more infrastructure than others I have visited during my stay, so the only danger we faced was being mowed down by the motorbikes as they sped up and down the main street.
A bus ride back to Ipanema and home: aching legs, a feeling of great achievement at having done the climb and with memories that I will never forget. My photos don’t really do it justice but hopefully it gives you some idea of how stunning Rio really is. For all the problems here – and there are many – the natural beauty of this city is indisputable and still has the ability to take your breath away.