For over 2½ months I had admired the remarkable rock formation that dominates the mountainous ridge above Abraão. Bico do Papagaio is, as its name implies, similar in shape to the beak of a parakeet.
On sunny days it looks bleak and forbidding with its sheer granite cliffs glowering over the luxuriant rainforest and even on a clear day, it is sometimes wreathed in clouds. Even experienced hikers describe the climb to the summit in reverent terms and there is of course also the terrifying story of the unfortunate explorer who was lost for a week up in the forest near Bico do Papagaio. I shuddered every time I passed the sign marking the beginning of the trail that warns against starting the trail after midday or trying to reach the summit without a guide. Not for me I thought, with or without a guide.
So, imagine my own surprise when I agreed without hesitation to an invitation by a friend to join him and a group of local friends the following day on a hike to the summit of Bico do Papagaio. I spent a somewhat sleepless night thinking about all the things that could go wrong, including, strangely, a fear that my one pair of trainers might not make the journey there and back.
But at seven sharp the next morning I was all set for the terrifying hike, come what may. A 30km round trip hike from sea level to 964m above sea level was never going to be easy. But doing it with a group of friends with a good sense of humour and a tolerance for my slow, birdy habits might help? There were many times up that steep, boulder and root covered trail when I thought I should just give up but was spurred on by my cheerful, stoic companions. Around 20 minutes from the summit, almost sick from the exertion of the incredibly steep trail, I was very tempted to say: “Just go on without me while I slowly die here, I will be happy if a random bird comes along, you can carry my body down if I am still alive when you get down from the summit.” But I didn’t say that, thankfully, there is something about being part of a group that makes it harder to give up. I hauled my tired legs up the final 30 or so metres of the trail and made it to the incredible sheer rock face that is Bico do Papagaio. Another imaginary conversation followed: “Made it to the almost summit,” I almost said to my companions, “Even if there is a way to the top, which I doubt, I am content with my achievement and am most certainly NOT going any further.” But, of course, I didn’t say that and onwards we all trudged.
After a circular, gently ascending path round the hanging rock of the Bico and a steep climb up a sheer rock face using a guide rope (easy!) I amazed myself. There I was standing on the highest part of the summit. After the exertion of the trail, it suddenly felt cold. Cloud mist swept across the peak and all I could see at first were thick forested slopes slipping in and out of cloud banks. All of that effort and no views?! Then suddenly the sun broke through the cloud – blissful warmth! – and down below was a panorama of the coastline of the island, floating in and out of cloud - Lopes Mendes with its incredible 2km beach, various coves with turquoise blue waters including Feiticeira and Caxadaço and the harbour of Abraão and multiple islands off-shore. It was the most stunning view I had ever seen in my lifetime – no comparison!
Peering over the vertiginous cliff edges of the peak was both terrifying and exhilarating. One wrong step and that would most certainly have been my last. We had a well-deserved picnic on the rock and then while my friends took selfies, I clambered around looking for birds and plants. It was a unique perspective to look down on urubus gliding on the thermals, disappearing into thick clouds and then reappearing in the sunlight. I also really enjoyed watching a pair of beautiful rufous-collared sparrows hopping about on the lichen covered rocks and mossy branches gobbling up insects and seeds. There were also a number of unusual flowers – including a beautiful deep red lily.
The trail downward was easy compared to the ascent. Paradoxically, my nightmare about shoes came true but not for me. The 13-year old daughter of a friend who was part of our group developed a painful blister and one of our party ended up chivalrously lending her his trainers and walking down barefoot.
Climbing to the top of Bico do Papagaio was a great achievement, it was most certainly worth the effort and yes, I would probably do it again. But it most certainly is not for the faint-hearted. And I would not attempt the ascent without someone who knows the trail, even on a second attempt.