Chapada Diamantina is like “a kingdom behind thirty-nine lands” in Russian fairy tales. You need to cross mountain ranges, walk turbulent rivers, overcome tiredness of rocky ascends and leave behind many kilometers of plateau, burnt by ruthless sun.
The reward for that will be an oasis deep into shadowy valley that lays among centuries old giants, unreachable and severe like ancient wise men. Life streams there in tranquility and no hurry, filled with simple and natural joys: singing of birds, gentle chatter of creeks and whispering of wind in high tree tops of wise forest.
There we went one summer day, to Vale do Pati.
The dusty road brings us from a tiny town Guine (that is on the south-west border of Chapada) to the base of a mountain range. There we leave the car and start ascent.
It’s morning, and the first climb is easy. Soon we observe a huge plateau in front of us. Behind this vast space – the valley of incredible beauty. But we can only guess about it now, keeping in sight whimsical rocks far away.
Here we go for the next 1.5 hours – across shallow rivers, among low bushes and sea of grass, trying to keep our feet away from mud pools that have appeared after the rain. The water in streams doesn’t reach higher than our ancles, and it pleasantly chills our hot feet.
Finally, we reach the edge. Last steps towards the abyss – and Vale do Pati lays right under our tired feet. From the top like on a map we can see all trails that cross the valley. On the left of it there’s a church (Igrejinha) with camping nearby.
But we plan to go further – deeper to the valley, where in solemnity of wild nature lives Dona Rachel, Wilson, Dona Le and some other very few locals.
Before we get there we need to go down. Straight from a place we stand there’s a path down the grand rock. Or better say – a steep. It’s not hiking anymore, but rock climbing. We descend from stone to stone, trying to keep safe our knees. And entertain ourselves with idea that on way back we need to climb this mountain up.
The next hour we walk by a dusty road (the next day, when we’ll go back this dust will turn into thick layer of mud) into the depth of the forest that is crossed by a river. There’s plenty of waterfalls around, and, probably, this stream gives birth to some of them.
Finally, there’s a white house among trees – Casa de Dona Le. In a backyard a guy is cutting wood. A cock hisses on us, staying in fronts of his hens. Kittens stare at strangers from behind of a huge pot.
We pass Dona Le and go further, passing lazy burros – a mix of a horse with a donkeys.
These animals are slow but resistant and strong and used by locals to bring supplies from Guine. They choose long way, around the range. It takes them 3 hours to pass the route that would take a pedestrian 2 days.
There’s many people in hospitable house of Dona Rachel (almost all locals recieve guests): mostly Brazilians who have escaped frenzy of Carnaval but also Spanish travelers. Photos on walls are from gratefull guests. Some of them return here to the magnificent valley again and again. Hope, I will too – one day.
Our new friend’s name was Jilson. Common business introduced us to each other. Crisa’s been looking for a land to buy, and we got several addresses in Chapada to check.
About the fact that Julson sells his land we learnt from a fence of his house. So we stopped to have a look. After some words about business and household in Chapada, he invited us for a cup of home-made juice. And then, learning about our escape from Carnaval, offered to take us to the wild spot of Montanha Estrela (Star Mountain). Surrounded by private lands from one side and by valley of the national park – from the other, its untouched nature is disturbed only by random cows and sheperds who from time to time ascent to check their charges.
Jilson shows us his huge land full of fruit trees and palms. Two young dogs- viralatas (from portuguese: vira – turn, lata – can = dogs that turn cans on a street) Dolita and Junior happily follow us, from time to time speeding up to lead the procession.
The top of a mountain is a plataux, down – endless forest, bush and rocks. Here, on one of few meadows we set our tent. Few meters down air is ringing with song of water. Narrow mountain spring finds here the way out, creating a waterfall. Wild and virgin, it exists only for us…
Sun goes down.
Soon we discover that Junior stays with us, instead of following his host on the way down. Naive puppy mournfully cry and tries to find the trail by himself. But every time turn back to us, distrusting his intuition and memory.
We create a kitchen on rocks of the waterfall. Make fire and cook our simple meals – pasta with cheese – on it. Junior gets his share. “You become responsible forever, for what you have tamed”, – wrote Antoine de Saint-Exupery. And we agree with him.
The sunset hid behind the neighbor mountain but still gifted us several magnificent colors. In its dying light rainbow in the waterfall shines even brighter. In this bath, where the stream falls from a protruding stone. Now I with full right can say that I stepped on a rainbow.
Night falls, and the sky sparkles with miriads of stars. This mountain is called “Estrela” not by occasion. On dark canvas Milky way unroll as a parade carpet. And so many stars that my head spans.
We try to find the Southern Cross, but only several guesses are born: there’re so many stars here that hard to define borders of canstellations.
The night is filled with the sounds of concert. I make a walk along the stream to find performers. Here’s one – a little frog, sitting on a branch, he would easily fit my fist. Despise tiny size, he sings so loud, swelling the white bubble of his throut.
Near the stream there’s another frog – the size of a doll. After my surprised exclamation she jumps in water and disappear in the dark under the stone.
In the morning we discover that Junior is still with us. The whole night he tried to find the way down, but, not sure in his memory and his nose, had returned back.
– Ah you, caçador! (hunter)
We go down to bring the dog home. But this time Junior…decides to stay. He lays on the earth and all attempts to wake him up donn’t lead to anything. So we take him on hands. With the puppy like a baby in our arms we leave. I am happy:
To be in Brazil in February and not to feel Carnaval – impossible. In different ways.
How I experienced the Carnaval 2012 and what I think about it – in this post.
This is how it started…
Two weeks before the Carnaval the Civil police of Salvador claimed a strike. While policemen stayed at home, waiting for the government to claim bigger salary and additional payments, thieves and bandits went on roads, having almost unlimited possibilities to get some profit. Without claiming anything.
Salvador still had Policia Militar – Military police. But these guys, who all the time carry heavy guns in state of readiness, are not so numerous, and definitely not enough to provide safety for citizens in all parts of the city.
As long as police was absent, busses were attacted and people robbed on place. Most of districts of Salvador, not very safe in peaceful time too, became extremely dangerous. Bandits from poor areas went to the beaches, creating mass assaults. By the way, that’s not a rare thing even when the Police is present.
We heard that thieves went in groups to shopping centres and dragged everything that was under their hand.
I could hardly believe that.
Anyway, in 4 days after the strike started, we went to Shopping Barra. Suddenly people started to run and cry:
– Arrestao! (Assault!)
We ran a bit too. But near the escalator stopped and waited for action. But nothing happened. People continued to escape Shopping, others stayed, discussing vividly what happened. Or, better say, what they think, happened.
That evening we spent in a heavy traffic jam near the Shopping centre…
After that a joke was born:
– Lets go to a supermarket and shout: “Arrestao!” All people will run away and the whole store will be only for us.
Not funny unfortunately. News claimed that there were more than 130 people killed in days of strike.
These events led to cancellations of tours and flights to the Carnaval. Even locals hurried up to leave Salvador (and not only those who hate Carnaval that is big percentage).
Anyway, the strike came to the end and the Carnaval couldn’t but come too.
How it went…
The Carnaval in Salvador is more about music, as in Rio more about show. Main feature is trialeticos – huge cargo cars that carry bands through streets of the city. They are also called “blocos”. The most popular are of Timbalada, Olodum, Daniela Mercury, Ivete.
Not only artists participate in show here. People can buy tickets to get inside the block. There are two ways:
to walk behing the trialetico car. Stuff holds the rope to mark the territory of the block. Inside it is much safer and more space than in frenzy of the street.
to go on top of another trialetico that carries guests. This includes free drinks, much space and access to the bathroom.
Another variant to watch Carnaval in safer place – camarote – huge tribunes on sides of the roads. VIP-zone there also include free drinks. Moreover, they have bathrooms available.
All trialetics pass in front of camarotes that are built all around the city: Campo Grande, Barra. Ondina.
Through friends we got tickets to both: camarote and block of Chimbalada. Gathered in the evening in the house to have some beers and adjust T-shirts.
Inside block everyone wears T-shirts of the same design. This is our ticket. And the way for the stuff to define us and let us in and out the rope and the car whenever we want.
The difficulty is that all T-shirts are of the same size and pretty awful design. For me as Russian is hard to imagine that any girl could wish to show up on a party in a clumsy and ridiculous T-shirt. But it’s “must wear” and cost much money (as a ticket). So girls and guys cut them and tie them in different ways to look more fashionable.
Chimbalada had a crazy colourful T-shirt with eye-popped fish on it, Camarote Central – just green.
After all preparations were finshed we rushed out to the quay of Barra, where the party passed.
Well, that was completely different Salvador. Many people walking in the middle of streets, some of roads closed for cars, those that are not – stuck in traffic jams.
Soon we crossed with many people in T-shirts of the same colour. Our block is close! We entered the quay and passed beneath the rope that many young people carried, separating block from the street.
From the top of the car we saw a big crowd of our block that went by foot in front of trialetico. The pavements of the road were not so crowded – it was just Thursday, the first day of Carnaval and officially not a day-off as Monday and Tuesday.
On main days, Rafael told, there’re so many people on the sides of the road that it’s impossible to move. Then it’s better to choose the right position – on crossings of big streets or squares. Then there’s a space to step apart, when the block comes and squeezes the crowd on a street.
During the Carnaval you can be easily robbed. Or kissed. Both is not very pleasant. While me and Lari were passing through the crowd, got many creepy suggestions. And dirty offer is the least annoying thing that can happen.
Close to Ondina we left our block, gave our t-shirts to random pedestrians and rushed to the camarote Central. This part I already don’t remember very well : )
What can I say about carnaval – loud, messy, dirty and drunk. That’s it. Definitely not “must visit”. Don’t believe travel magazines.
So…after 2 days of recovering health we left to Chapada Diamantina, amazing national park on the west of Bahia. By the way, this time there was almost no solitude, the surroundings were full of “Carnaval refugees” like we were, mostly – locals.
To be fair, I need to say that there’re many people who love Carnaval, espesially in Bahia. For those who love parties without borders and non-stop, Salvador in the middle of February is a right place. ]
For me one day of Carnaval was more than enough. Probably, for the rest of my life : )
Some posts about magnificent Chapada are already here:
Dark… And silent. This silence is ringing in ears and compressing body. Artificial silence for a human but at the same time – the most natural one.
We’re sitting on dusty floor in the cave Torrinha, with our spotlight off. We try to feel ourselves a part of endless darkness. Imagine how we would live not knowing what is light.
And we have almost forgotten it: the sun and clear blue sky, sparkling of drops in the morning and fires of sunset. But suddenly a beam of light crosses our resting legs. It’s a touristic group with a guide. The walls of the cave are lit brightly now – they carry kerosene lamps. They wear helmets.
The guide seems confused in view of us, sitting on a wayside.
– Where is your guide?
– We don’t have one. Just decided to have a quick look around.
We all know that the exit is pretty far. Finally, the guide decides not to take responsibility for reckless visitors, and leave with his tourists in opposite direction, taking away bright light of kerosene lamps.
Again darkness swallowed us…
We enter the tiny hole in a rocky wall, from where the group came. Without them we would, probably, never find this way, so hidden it is among huge rocks filling the corridor.
We start to worry. The spotlight that we bought was charged. But how long will it last? We have no idea.
We try a lighter and photocamera that we have with us. Photocamera is almost useless. And it’s hard to imagine way back just with a fire of tiny lighter.
We enter a huge hall with figure rocks in the middle. It’s much bigger than all dimentions we have already passed. The most ineresting part starts!
But we decide to go back, not relying on our weak Chinese spotlight. Before we make decision we turn it off and try to walk in full darkness.
No, it’s not possible. We will be lost in these endless corridors…
Make “a trophy photo” of fancy rock – and go back.
Hardly found the narrow hole that just passed 15 minutes ago. Of course, in excitement of revelation noone cared to remember the spot.
But here we are – far away the spot of light appeares, and we sigh with relief. Day is beautiful after enternal darkness.
On the exit a guy from information center meets us. He said, he is on his way to search us in depths of Torrinha.
Lemon-yellow butterflies fly across our way. They are not in time to dodge the speeding car and hit the glass, poor kamikadze.
We drive to the center of the national park Chapada Diamantina to see one of its natural wonders. It takes us 1,5 hours. Finally, we are on place on the bottom of a huge slope. We are glad to get out of the stuffy car and start ascend.
Despite the rock that is pretty steep, we go up fast. On way outrun several touristic groups. I enjoy this fact silently – hate to trudge in a crowd.
On every step we catch shots of stunning beauty: picturesque rocks and hills, separated by valleys covered with scare greenery.
In almost an hour we reach the top but it’s just beginning. In front of us – kilometers of walk through the plateau. The only person who we meet is a vender. In the middle of nowhere he offers his “bebidas geladas” – cool drinks to exhausted after ascend tourists. I feel a bit pity about him – sitting there, fanned by winds, burnt by sun, alone, greeting rarely passing hikers.
In an hour I listen to natural sounds thoroughly, in hope to hear the sound of falling water.
Soon the wind brings to us sound of voices. Looks like we are close. Here’s the river that creates the waterfall, narrow stream descending to an abyss.
We are on the edge. Under our feet – grand valley, canion of Valle de Capao. Rocks like monstrous skyscrapers raise on both sides of it. Above the valley trembles a little peace of rainbow.
Flow of Cachoeira daFumaça – Waterfall of Smoke – or disappeares far underneath, or, taken by sudden wind, raises in miriads of microscopic bubbles.
The height of the rock – 353 meters, and before discovery of Cachoeira da Araca in Amazon Smoke waterwall was believed the highest in Brazil. Hikers, who have come to admire the natural wonder, with fear reach the edge to look down.Far-far underneath there’s a tiny lake. Probably, it becomes bigger in rainy season. But now nothing disturbs its calm surface. The stream of the river is so weak that can’t reach the earth, falling into billions of drops.
Curious tourists from time to time try to climb higher on a rock, ignoring the tablet: “Nao transito” – “Don’t pass”. Responsible guides from time to time ask them out of there, explaining politely that someone not so phisically fit and fearless can fall down from the height.
But one prohibited spot I can’t but not visit – the place where the river turns into waterfall. I saw two reckless men, standing on a very edge in a cloud of water dust. To dive into magic stream of Cachoeira that, against laws of nature, flows from earth to the sky, I go too.
Staying on an edge, we all imagine: what will be if we step forward. Will fall down like a stone or haver above the earth taken by wind? Despite the fact we all studied physics at school, we dream. But not dare to make the ultimate step.
Towards the top of Morro (Hill) Pai Inacio leads natural staircase, formed by huge stones. Climbing up, I regret that don’t remember names of minerals that are tread by my feet. They present a huge range of colors – from tender pink to raven black. I wrote about Soviet geologists for two years – should remember something…
But memory is so selective.
Surroundings are just stunning – valleys look like shots of Miyadzaki cartoons. And I look as its heroine, persistently ascending a huge single rock. Far away there’re others like sisters and brothers, built by enormous plasts of yellow soil.
Before I reach plain platform of the top, I observe the road I arrived. A couple of kilometers of dust road – typical for Chapada Diamantina. Can’t say it’s a pleasure to go through it. But for national park this’s much better than asphalt.
Wind starts its song of the height. I stop to listen. Here on top of Pai Inacio it brings news from all over the world. It chants and wispers, and lures to follow its whips.
I don’t. Or I could repeat sad story of Father Inacio, whose name holds the hill. The missionary had been bringing “God’s word” to indigenous people of Bahia – this was his way to civilize and educate new world. But Portuguese troops, who invaded later to Bahia, had different methods – massacres.
As a protest to this, Father Inacio jumped from the rock that we climb now.
About this legend reminds a huge cross on the top of Pai Inacio – in honor of merciful and reckless priest. Wind here is even more powerful. His gasps are so strong that can easily through me down.
Tho, looking on a valley from the height, I feel that I can not fall but fly with the wind. Maybe, Inacio thought the same…
Trail to Pai Incio is closed after 17-00, so it’s impossible to watch the sunset from the legendary place where wind talks. It doesn’t make me sad – there’re many slops around))
Cloudy. It’s been raining at night cats and dogs. We were glad that the previous evening had covered the tent. Dream was awesome : )
We’re in Chapada Diamantina, national park that occupies 1500 square meters of the state Bahia.
“Chapada means a region of steep cliffs, usually at the edge of a plateau. Diamantina refers to the diamonds found there in the mid-19th century”, says Wikipedia.
Chapada is a place for reunion with nature, to restore (or find) peace in soul and forget about problems of big city. And my next posts will be devoted to this amazing park.
22 meters – is it much or not? Depends on what we’re talking about, right?
If we speak about Poco do Diabolo (Lagoon of Devil) and 22-meters- high, I guess, that will be too much. Don’t worry I didn’t jump from it.
But Crisa did : ) 20 years ago.
This time we turned on common sense and jumped from a rock much smaller.
The lagoon is created by river Mucuguzinho. It runs from mountainous part and that’s why has vivid temper. Summer sun dries it a bit, and waters loose its abundance. So we were able to walk on its stones.
To get to the lagoon, we passed a couple of hundred meters of the river. This is a kingdom of lizards. They are like gems, sparkle on the sun with their colourful skin: azul blue, emerald green, desert brown (that reminded me about gekkons, who lived on my terrace in Namibia).
We crossed numerous waterfalls. In spring (September – October) they are so mighty that would make our walk impossible.
The “softness” of local nature, despite daily rain, gave us chance to climb the waterfall that falls to Poco do Diabolo. Now the stream occupies only a half of a riverbed. The waterfall hit me but its force wasn’t enough to push me down.
That also could be impossible in spring. In time, when nature is awaken from winter trance, Poco do Diabolo really deserves its name.