People take photos as they walk along a hiking trail -part of a projected 8,000-kilometer trail across Brazil. AFP
Luiz Pedreira walks with other hikers beneath the Atlantic Forest's thick canopy in Brazil, where an 8,000-kilometre (5,000-mile) trail stretching the full length of the country is being opened up.
"If you don't know something, you don't value it.
He says he hopes that the creation of the trail, one of the world's longest, will raise awareness about the fragility of the forest — long devastated by loggers and farmers, and now facing a renewed threat under President Jair Bolsonaro.
"If you don't know something, you don't value it," says Pedreira.
Inspired by long-distance tracks such as Canada's 24,000-kilometer Great Trail, the project will connect paths from the southern town of Chui on Brazil's border with Uruguay, to Oiapoque on its northern frontier with French Guiana.
The result will be a continuous coastal corridor for humans and animals.
Work is already under way on the trail, which has the backing of Brazil's environment and tourism ministries, but it could take years to complete.
Ranked by WWF as the second most diverse ecosystem on the planet after the Amazon, the Atlantic Forest — or Mata Atlantica in Portuguese — is teeming with thousands of plant and animal species.
When the Portuguese first arrived in Brazil in the early 16th century, the forest covered more than 1.3 million square kilometers (500,000 square miles) — an area roughly twice the size of France.
View from Mirante da Freira, a belvedere on the way of a hiking trail. AFP
Since then, however, nearly 90 percent of it has disappeared — destroyed over centuries to make way for coffee plantations, sugar cane fields, mining, cattle grazing or cities.
Much of the Atlantic Forest that envelops Rio was felled for coffee plantations in the 19th century, says Horacio Ragucci, president of the Brazilian Excursionist Center, as he leads a group along a dirt path made by slaves.
Brazil's authorities hope the long-distance track will draw more foreign travellers to the country — already a tourist hotspot — to generate much-needed revenue and jobs.
"While the US receives 307 million visitors to its parks every year, earning $17 billion, Brazil receives just over 10 million visitors and makes two billion reais ($500 million)," former tourism minister Vinicius Lummertz has lamented.
A woman walks along a hiking trail. AFP
"This data makes no sense — we need to take action."
"If I could do it every week, I would," says Andreza Albuquerque, as she and a group of hikers take a break during their walk, their sweaty backs to the trees as they gaze over the sprawling city and Atlantic Ocean below.
"When Monday comes around, you start work with a totally different energy."
People take photos at Mirante da Freira belvedere. AFP
Nearly 200 years ago, British naturalist Charles Darwin expressed similar sentiments after visiting the Atlantic Forest for the first time.
"Delight itself, however, is a weak term to express the feelings of a naturalist who, for the first time, has wandered by himself in a Brazilian forest," Darwin wrote in his diary in 1832.
Lahure says he supports the idea of a trans-Brazil trail, though he worries the forest could one day attract too many nature lovers.
"We have a city of six million people," Lahure says, referring to Rio.
"If everyone comes to Tijuca forest, it will be finished."
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