The Story Of When I Hitchhiked To A Palace In South America With My Best Childhood Friend

It was during a date night in the middle of October in 2017 that my best childhood friend and I excitedly talked about going on a trip to spend New Year’s Eve together. We wanted to welcome 2018 in a new place, and we were super excited about that. Sabrina and I had spent pretty much most of New Year’s Eves together in our hometown since we were little kids, however, we had never gone a trip to spend it somewhere else.

We both missed each other so much because I had spent a semester of 2017 abroad and I had just returned home. She knows me well so she knew that by suggesting for us to travel I would one hundred percent say yes, so that’s what she did. The funny thing is that I was already thinking about traveling for NYE and inviting her to join me. Our thoughts and energy were somehow connected and we undoubtedly wanted to make this trip the best of our lives.

It wasn’t our first time traveling together though. In fact, we had been traveling together since we were 10 years old. We are both singers and we were part of a choir which got us to travel a lot whenever we went on tours for our performances.

When it came to our New Year’s Eve trip, the first thing we agreed on was that we didn’t want to spend a lot of money because we both had a lot going on in the upcoming year. So, we decided to find the best and cheapest way to travel and we thought that joining a travel group to the beach would be a smart thing to do because it would help us save a lot of money. Sabrina and I are such big beach lovers. We love to go to the beach, and we had already done it together a couple of times before. So our first choice was renting a small beach house and going together for the NYE, which is a very common Brazilian New Year’s Eve tradition. We looked at prices, and we said yes right away. However, deep inside we were both craving for a different experience. That’s when we said we weren’t really in the mood to go to the beach anymore.

It was December 5th and we had nothing planned yet. Traveling within Brazil is expensive because Brazil is a very large country. Just so you know, the state that we’re both from is the size of Spain. So going from one place to another can cost you a lot of money. We were desperately trying to find a place because the prices were getting higher and we were super afraid we wouldn’t be able to make it and that’d force us to spend it together in our hometown again. Then, on a random night, she called me and told me to meet up with her at the ice cream shop that was located near both of our houses. I initially thought she just wanted to see me for no reason, but when I got there she looked way too excited. She had thought of the place we could go to. I will never forget what she said: “Gabe, I know we don’t want to spend a lot of money on this trip, but I have the perfect place for us to go for New Year’s Eve”.

When she said that I was expecting her to say we should go to Paris because it’s always been our dream to go to Paris together. When I went to Paris by myself she was so mad at me for almost two weeks because it’s been our dream to go there together. I was willing to make any sacrifices and spend any amount we had to to make this trip happen, but booking a trip to Paris last minute wouldn’t be a smart thing to do. She said: “No way. It’s not Paris, Gabe. We can’t go to Paris now. It’s better than Paris”. Then, after making all that scene, with a big smile on her face she said: “We should go to Campos do Jordão”.

The first thing I said was: “Are you joking or are you being serious?”

I had heard of this town many times, but I didn’t know much about it. I knew it wasn’t too far from us, so that was a plus. But then, she sat down, and while she ate her ice cream she would so enthusiastically tell me all the reasons why we should go there, and why it was exactly what we were looking for.

Campos dos Jordão is a small but super famous town located in the state of São Paulo in the southeastern part of Brazil. The city is situated 5,341 feet above sea level and it is the highest city in Brazil. Although the town was founded by the Portuguese, It is mostly known as Brazilian Switzerland. The German, French, Italian and Swiss architecture of the city and its beautiful and breathtaking nature make every visitor think that they are not in Brazil but Europe. Over 4 million people visit this town every year, and everyone loves it. It is one of the most desired winter destinations in South America, and its beauty is just magnificent. The town is also known as the perfect honeymoon destination for it is a super romantic place with lots of luxury hotels and houses. There are thousands of parks, outdoor activities, and some breathtaking observatories. Campos dos Jordão is also home to the largest winter festival in Latin America. They are very famous for their local craft beer as well. You can also take a tour and learn how their beer is made at the town’s brewery. Their beer has won several national and international awards, including the European Beer Star Award. They are also known for their wine, chocolate, and for having such a present European cuisine.

We booked everything on the same night. While I looked up cheap flights on the internet, she made sure she’d find us a cool hostel there. I watched a couple of YouTube videos to try to plan an itinerary, and so did she. The only way to get there for us would have to be flying from Belo Horizonte, which is our hometown, to Sao Paulo, which is the capital of the state of Sao Paulo. Then, we would have to catch a bus from Sao Paulo to Campos dos Jordao. There was only one private bus company that operated there. So, we had a hard time trying to find available seats for us.

As soon as reached Sao Paulo we wanted to grab a quick snack before getting on the bus to Campos. We agreed on going to this cute coffee shop that had a small little library inside. We ordered our breakfast, and sat down at the table, and started talking right away. When Sabrina and I start talking, nothing can stop us. We can go on conversations interruptedly for hours without even noticing the time go by. At some point in our conversation, we talked about our desire to go to the northern part of Brazil which is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in South America. While we were talking, a random woman nicely jumped into our conversation saying she is from this place we were talking about. We got to know each other and she was the sweetest. She offered her home for us and said that if we ever booked a trip there she would one hundred percent host us and take us everywhere there. She sat with us at our table and we just talked about everything. That’s one of the reasons why I love Latin countries, especially Brazil, so much. We are just super hospitable people, and it doesn’t matter if you’ve just met someone, they will treat you like a best friend or a family member. They will feed you, they will tell you stories, and they will be the best people you will ever know. Then, we exchanged phone numbers with each other, and she asked Sabrina and I what we did for a living. Sabrina told her she was in college getting her degree in business administration and she was working at a startup as an intern in the customer success department. Then, I told her that I had just gotten my international certifications as a translator and interpreter and that I worked as an ESL teacher and as an interpreter for two international companies in Brazil. As soon as I closed my mouth saying that about me, another random lady who was sitting near our table stood up and said to me: “Hey, sorry for getting into your conversation, but I was just looking for a certified translator to translate some paper for me”. It was the funniest thing in the world. Sabrina and I had just arrived in Sao Paulo and we were already making friends and signing contracts. That was unforgettable. I exchanged phone numbers with that lady, and after that, Sabrina and I left the coffee shop feeling so happy. How in the world would we imagine that that would happen? Me finding a freelance job, and us making a new friend together. We laughed at the fact of how funny life can be sometimes, and at how many surprises there are ahead of us if we are fearless enough to be open to new experiences without judging anything or anyone. We got on the bus to Campos and fell asleep right away. We were exhausted. The trip from Sao Paulo to Campos lasted about 4 hours, so it was a good amount of time to take a nap. I woke up with Sabrina pocking me in the arm saying enthusiastically that we had arrived. It was colder than in our hometown and we just loved it. The first thing we did was to eat at a local restaurant and the food was delicious.

The attractions were endless. We ate and tried their chocolate, wine, food. We rode the cable car that flies across the entire town. We went shopping, hiking, and it was a very special time with Sabrina. We visited one of the most beautiful parks I’ve ever been to which is called Amantikir, and we ate at a treehouse which was one of the most awesome things we had ever done as travelers.

I love traveling with Sabrina. She’s one of the most special people I’ve ever met in my whole life. We’ve lived beautiful moments together, and I’m so grateful for her being my friend. There are a lot of things we have in common, and one of them is the enormous passion for traveling. This is why she’s not only one of my best friends, but my favorite travel buddy.

As nothing is perfect, we knew that the town is super cute and full of attractions, however, the negative aspect about it, which we hadn’t heard of before getting there, was the fact that Uber was prohibited there at that time. So, most travelers either rented cars or they used the town’s cabs and public transport to get to places. This was super disappointing for us because we hadn’t rented a car, and as we wanted to explore as much as we could, riding a taxi every time we needed to go from one place to another was costing us a lot more money than we expected. And that was exactly what we didn’t want. We wanted to do as much as possible but spend as little as possible. So for a lot of times, we joked and said that we should hitchhike at some point.

New Year’s Eve:

It didn’t matter what we did, our big plan, the number one reason why we traveled there was to celebrate this special night together. New Year’s Eve is such a special date for the both of us, and we were so happy to be spending it in Campos Dos Jordao. We wanted to make a big deal out of it, so we reserved the fanciest restaurant in town so that we could eat before the fireworks started. Watching the fireworks on New Year’s Eve is such a big tradition in Brazil. The most famous show happens at Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro. So we were super excited to see the fireworks and welcome 2018 with the biggest smile on our faces. The fireworks were going to be at the town’s main square where there was also a concert taking place. The live band was amazing and they brightened up our night. Minutes before the fireworks, I asked Sabrina if she had anything in mind for the first day of the year. I wasn’t sure if she wanted to sleep in or if she wanted to do something fun on January first. I was totally fine with either one. Then she told me that she had heard of a palace that used to be one of the governors’ private homes but it ended up becoming a museum and that it was located at the highest spot in town. I got super excited to go there.

We saw the fireworks, partied all night long, and went back to our hostel to get some sleep before we hit the road towards the governor’s palace.

We woke up around 9 in the morning. It wasn’t too late but it definitely felt too early for us because we had gone to bed at 5 am. We ate breakfast and got ready to go visit the palace. I was super excited because it is situated at the highest spot in town and people at the hostel had told us that the view from up there was unbelievably breathtaking. The weather was beautiful. It was warmer than the previous days. We packed our bags with lots of water bottles and snacks and we decided to walk there since we didn’t want to spend any more money on a taxi. The day was simply gorgeous, so we wanted to get some fresh air, and look at the beautiful trees while talking and walking. When we looked at Google Maps to see how long it would take us to get there, we almost gave up on going because it showed us that it was about one and a half-hour walk up the hill. We knew that we would certainly find beautiful landscapes and views along the way, but the question was: would all that walking be worth it?

It was indeed. The road leading out to the palace provided some of the prettiest views around. We talked about everything. We opened up our hearts to each other and just shared our biggest fears, failures, expectations, and some of our deepest secrets. I got to finally tell her about my semester abroad, and our conversation just felt amazing. We also remembered the moments we lived together when we were kids. We both had performed to thousands of people before, and it felt good to talk about us and to hear a different side to the experience I had also gotten the chance to live. We quoted songs by our favorite bands, told jokes no one understands. We just talked and took in the view. Although the walk was feeling great on that sunny and bright day, it also felt tiring. We were already at a certain part of the hill that giving up wouldn’t be an option because we were far from the hostel. You know when you start to feel tired and you want to give up? That’s exactly how we were feeling. We had walked for over an hour, and somehow we still had one more hour to go. That didn’t feel good. We were very tired. There was nothing but trees and cars around us. We wanted to make a quick stop if we found any small restaurant, but there was none.

That was the moment when she asked me if I had ever hitchhiked on any of my travels before. I said no. I also asked her if she had done it. She also said no. We laughed and kept walking. We were literally the only people walking there for all that time. However, when we reached a very high spot of the hill where we could see a cliff, we saw someone standing and staring at us. That person wasn’t moving and going anywhere and he looked very scary. We were so scared at that point. Unfortunately, one sad reality about Brazil, and every other country, is that it can get a bit too dangerous depending on where you are. We thought that guy was standing there and that he was ready to do something evil to us. Although we were scared, we couldn’t stop laughing. “Why did we decide to go on this walk. I knew it would turn out to be a nightmare” Sabrina said. We couldn’t think fast. We were afraid that the guy was going to try to steal anything from us, but what we were super scared of was the fact that he was standing exactly where it was such a narrow little path which was right between the busy road where cars were driving up and down and the cliff. If we tried to walk on the road we would for sure be hit by a car. And if we tried to walk a bit closer to the edge, we would one hundred percent fall off the cliff. It was super scary. I thought of calling 911 and waiting for them to get there to save us even though nothing had happened. We were just scared supposing the guy was going to do something. It was the weirdest thing. It seemed like the guy saw us, but at the same time, he was ignoring us. He wasn’t moving and that was what made us think that he was waiting for us to get closer to him so that he could do something. As we got closer to him, we noticed he was very dirty, and he had the longest nails I’ve ever seen in my life. They somehow looked like tiger’s nails. His hair was messy, his shirt and shorts were ripped, he was barefoot, and he didn’t smell good. After we fearfully took some baby steps, he started walking so fast towards us. He stared at us and we froze. I thought I was going to die. That’s when I screamed and told Sabrina to run for her life. We had run past him and we stopped so that we could take some rest. We were shaking and afraid. What if he came towards us again? Then, I remember that we had saved one of the taxi drivers’ numbers on our phone and we were willing to call him to pick us up and take us either back to the hostel or the palace. But we weren’t willing to keep walking because we were not only exhausted but extremely afraid that that guy was going to come back since we saw that he was still standing in the same place.

It was as if God had heard our prayers and decided to send our guardian angel to rescue us because at the very moment we looked back, we saw a bus driving up towards us. We started to cheer and to get super excited for the bus was going towards the palace. The funniest thing is that we were both jumping, screaming, hugging each other, and celebrating as if we had won the lottery. We were both sweaty as hell and drained. When the bus got closer, we requested it to stop. However, we noticed that the driver wasn’t slowing down. So we got on our knees and begged for the driver to stop. We knew we weren’t standing at a regular bus stop, but we were in the middle of the road. So he did stop. The driver stopped and opened the door. As soon as he opened the door we told him that we were super grateful that he had stopped for us. Then he said he only stopped because we were kneeling in the middle of the road and that he got super worried. He wanted to know if everything was ok. We told him what happened and that we were trying to get to the palace, but he said that the bus was out of service and that he was driving to the bus terminal. We asked him if he could give us a ride to the palace, but he said no. He closed the door and drove off. Sabrina just looked at me and said: “what now?”. I said that we had no other choice but just keep on walking. So that’s what we did. We played songs on our phones and kept walking and talking. Sooner than we expected, we reached the palace.

The palace was situated in a place free of stress. It was so peaceful up there. Sabrina and I couldn’t talk because all we could do was to appreciate the unbelievably wonderful beauty which surrounded us. The view was fascinating and the trees were full of life and spirit. It was as if nature found there was untouched by man. It was pure and breathtaking. The palace from the outside was captivating. We could never have imagined that we would find such a charming palace in the state of Sao Paulo, Brazil. We took a deep breath and proudly said to each other: “We made it”. Then, we walked to the gate and saw a big sign that read: “We won’t be open to any visitor from December 31st to January 2nd”. Do you remember what day we were there? It was January first. So we could not go inside. As soon as we read the sign we couldn’t stop laughing. Were we disappointed? Yes, of course, we were. We should have checked the hours of operation on the internet before we left the hostel. But, were we satisfied, happy, and grateful that we had gone on this adventure? ONE HUNDRED PERCENT YES! Campos is the highest city in Brazil, and the palace is located at the highest spot in Campos. So, the view was unbelievably unforgettable. It was totally worth being there.

We clearly weren’t willing to walk all the way back to the hostel. So we decided to hitchhike. It was our first time doing it as travelers. We stood on the edge of the sidewalk and stretched out our arms trying to get a free ride from any passing vehicle. We didn’t have to try for a very long time. After a couple of attempts, a driver who was in a honda civic stopped and said: “hop in you guys”. They were a young couple who owned a restaurant on the same street as our hostel. What a coincidence. We told them who we were and what had happened on that day, and we all laughed together remembering this fun adventure. They invited us to eat at their restaurant for free, and we so thankfully accepted the offer.

When we arrived at the hostel we had another deep meaningful conversation about how life is mostly about the climb and the least about being at the peak of the mountain. We couldn’t accomplish what we had planned, but we ended up living a story that was way better than we had expected it to be. If we had rented a car, we wouldn’t have seen the beautiful landscapes along the way. If we had looked up on the internet if the palace was open to visitors, we wouldn’t have been able to enjoy the view from up high where the palace was located. We wouldn’t have met this lovely couple, and this article would certainly not exist.

Thank you so much for reading my story today. I hope you enjoyed it!

This was the first story of a four week series of life-changing travel stories. Don’t forget to follow me on Medium so that you can get notified the next time my next story is published.

Don’t forget to check out my other articles. I hope my words inspire you.

Do you have any funny travel story to share? Have you ever hitchhiked before?

I’d love to hear from you!

Thank you once again! See you next time!

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