We arrived at Rio bus terminal and started off towards Jungle Beach lodge. The directions, which I’d hand-written while making a reservation over a garbled phone call at Stone of a Beach hostel, were simple: Take a Viacao 1001 bus from Rio to Casimiro de Abreu. When you arrive, buy a ticket for the Viacao 1001 bus TOWARDS Nova Friburgo. But you’re not going to Nova Friburgo – you’re getting off along the way, so make sure you keep your bags with you and sit near the front. When you get on, show the driver this note in Portuguese. It says: Please drop me off by Cascata, 100m before the town of Lumiar. And stay on your toes, because there’s no stop and it’s easy to miss.
The problem was, when we got to Casimiro de Abreu nobody had any idea what we were talking about. We showed a bus driver our note. He had no idea. We showed him the flier for the hostel. Still no idea. Ticket salesman: same deal. He was willing to sell us a ticket on the next bus to Nova Friburgo – FOUR HOURS LATER – but couldn’t guarantee anything after that. Plus it was raining. If we waited four hours and took the bus, we could very easily end up in the middle of nowhere – in the jungle – in the rain – with all of our stuff, and with nowhere to stay.
Little by little as we struggled to figure out where to go next, we began attracting the attention of the locals. This was a small town, and suddenly everyone was once again smiling and trying to help. The woman who worked as an attendant at the station’s bathroom even got on her own cellphone and began trying to call the lodge for us, making a long and patient effort to understand our situation. But to no avail. No answer.
Thankfully, some other backpackers eventually showed up on their way home from a camping trip and spoke with the taxi drivers in Portuguese for us. One driver claimed he knew exactly where Jungle Beach Hostel was, and would take us there for 50 reais. The bus to Nova Friburgo, three times as far, was 8. A taxi should’ve been no more than 25. But he’d been witnessing our struggle for the past hour and a half, and knew our situation. We tried to bargain. He insisted that the city had imposed a flat-rate fee and he couldn’t do anything about it. Well, okay…he could go down to 45.
Right. Like the little city of Casimiro de Abreu had passed a law saying that taxis from the bus station to Jungle Beach Hostel, which nobody had even heard of, out in the middle of nowhere, must charge exactly 50 reais and not go by meter. More like “You’re stupid gringos, you’ll pay whatever I tell you.”
But he was right. We didn’t really have a choice. If he could drive us up to the door while none of the bus drivers knew where we were going, we had to take it.
We start driving. The guy’s a maniac, flying around blind curves on the slick (but thankfully paved) roads. It starts to rain harder. We have no idea where we are, or even if we’re going in the right direction. The town fades away in the rear window as the jungle around us grows thicker and thicker. After awhile even the crosstreets stop. All other traffic disappears.
After about 30 minutes he pulls over to the side, next to a small wooden gate. There’s nothing that says “Jungle Beach.”
“We’re here” he says.
“No freakin way we’re getting out until we’re SURE we’re at Jungle Beach Hostel. It’s pouring out there, we’re not interested getting stuck in the middle of nowhere with all our luggage.
“I can’t drive down this steep dirt road in the rain”
“Yes you can”
He gets out and pushes open the gate, easing the car onto the steep muddy road with thick foliage encroaching from all sides. We continue to drive deeper into the middle of nowhere. After a few minutes, the jungle briefly opens up as we pass over a wooden bridge next to a fabulous misty waterfall – then it’s back into the foliage. Peder and I just keep thinking “Man, I hope this guy knows where he’s going.
Finally, lights up ahead. An isolated building in a little clearing. “We’re here” he says.
Still no signs that say “Jungle Beach Hostel.”
“Alright Peder, you go check it out, I’ll wait here in the car with the stuff.”
He heads out, returning less than a minute later with a man and a flashlight.
“Justin! You guys made it! We’ve been waiting for you all day!” the man says.
Finally. We’re in the jungle.