Chapada Diamantina – Trekking in the wild Nordeste pt. 1

The promise of truly spectacular scenery and hiking opportunities made us disembarque the bus in Lençois at 5 in the morning. The only ones awake in this sleepy village are we and some locals having a better Saturday night than we just had. When they too decide to call it a night this leaves us and some impatient roosters in the distance.

After a nap on one of the benches lining the town square and some breakfast, finally, the first place opens at 7.30, we try to find an affordable bed with reliable wifi to finish our first blog about Jeri. Bargaining hard proves very useful here. Too bad we have to abandon the idea of a brand new, private, ensuite room we could have because the wifi is out and “it will for sure be up again this afternoon. Ok.. tomorrow at the latest.” Right!? So in the end we return to our first choice: the tiny but lovely and welcoming Odara Hostel. The rest of the village is just as atmospheric. Cobblestone streets lined with brightly colored houses, restaurants and shops full of artisanal products. With vegetarian and vegan options explicitly being advertised everywhere, Stefanie is already a fan after our first stroll around. This is clearly not mainstream Brazil. And we both really enjoy it. We spend most of the time hanging around our hostel and the village cafés eating crêpes, editing photos or blogposts and preparing our coming days in the national park. What we intended to be just a day, quickly turns into three relaxing days in Lençois. While preparing our hikes, we notice that locals don’t really want people to go into the park on their own. But as guided hikes are so expensive here and our GPS apps show the same and even more trails than the map we bought, we persist and go on with our plans. Wednesday morning, 7 am, and off we go for 3 days of hiking – We’ll soon post some practical details on the hikes for those looking for information.

 

Starting from Lençois we have to follow a steep dirt road for the first 6 km. After a boring first effort we get lucky and a local pulls over to ask if he should give us a ride up the hill. Already drenched in our own sweat – it’s barely 8 am – we gladly accept the offer. There is little to be found about treks in this part of the park so we don’t really know what to expect. And when we catch a first glimpse of the steep cliffs among which we’ll be walking both of us simultaneously utter an amazed “oooh!!”. The driver laughs and some minutes later he signals that we have arrived at his destination. Time to get sweaty again! We easily find the trail just a few 100 meters down the road. This should lead us all the way to Morro do Pai Inacio for the postcard view of Chapada Diamantina national park. Who needs an expensive guide anyway?! Confident as Hannes is in his own and especially his iPhone’s navigational skills, he is still a bit nervous. It’s the first time that we are heading into Brazilian nature on our own and there are some things that we’re not used to taking into account: poisonous snakes, mountain lions and creepy spiders, just to name a few. But armed with hiking poles and boots we hit the trail and hope for the best. Navigating doesn’t seem to be a problem: there’s a clearly visible trail and all junctions we come across are clearly indicated on our maps. Apart from colorful flowers and hundreds of lizards, there’s little to be noticed in the bushes so far. One sound, a mysteriously low hum, we haven’t been able to identify yet. Suddenly we hear the buzzing hum again. This time our eyes almost instantly lock on to the little orchestrator of the sound: a humming bird, a tiny, shiny green feather blanket flashing from flower to flower. The first of many of these beautiful creatures we will encounter in the coming days.

 

After passing through a narrow gorge – the kind where you could imagine a mountain lion watching down on you from the top right before jumping you from the back – we’re being treated to a majestic view on the valley through which we will be trekking. In the distance we can spot our goal for the day: Morro do Pai Inacio. Around noon we already reach the road on the other side of the valley. Here we spend some time next to a river with natural pools to cook a hearty lunch – even dry polenta with some spices tastes great after a long hike – and relax in the hammock. As we relaxed a bit too long we really have to hurry to get to the top of Pai Inacio in time for the golden hour. Luckily the lovely Flavia saw what we were up to when she saw us hitchhiking in the shadow of the colossal mountain plateau. Until then we didn’t have much luck yet with the soy trucks raging by but then she stopped to pick us up. The few English and Portuguese words in our mutual vocabulary are enough to make us understand how crazy in love she is with the view from the top. Flavia takes us all the way to the bottom of the final climb and together we hike the final 15 minutes to the top. And oh boy, was she right about that view… 360 degrees of pure natural beauty bathing in the warm hues of a setting sun. What a reward for a first day of hiking, this is exactly what we’re here for!

 

It’s dark by the time we come down from the top and we’re pretty exhausted from the day: 14 km with full packs was more than enough to start with. As we didn’t see any nice places for camping in the wild before, we gladly accept a spot in the garden of the pousada close by. Rested and energized we are immediately pointed in the right direction by the owners the next morning. Today we hike towards Aguas Claras and later all the way to the village of Capão. We’ll not hike the full 25 km in one day and we’ll see along the way if we find a nice place to camp. The morning is cloudy and cool so we take advantage and cover as much ground as possible before lunch. We reach the waterfalls and pools of Aguas Claras right in time for a refreshing dip! By now the sun is out and temperatures soon reach in the 30s. This place feels like paradise: gorgeous waterfalls feeding a natural swimming pool with pure and cool water set in a lush green oasis with the Morro dos Cristais as backdrop. We’re not in a hurry to get to Capão so decide to spend the rest of the day here. That way we have the place basically to ourselves before and after the guided day trippers from Capão join us for a dip in the pool. Only one other couple shares the same idea. We trade some tips and ideas about the park and they soon confirm the need to be careful. When they were trying to camp under an overhanging rock at the top of the Morrão peak the night before, a two-meter-rattlesnake kept them from their sleep…

 

Secretly hoping he would also spot a snake – preferably during the day though – Hannes wasn’t really planning on sleeping much that night for a different reason. The remote location and dramatic scenery provide the perfect setting for shooting some amazing night skies. Unfortunately tonight the moon is soaking up all celestial attention and by the time it sets clouds start forming to prepare the usual morning drizzle around 5 am… Better luck next time. Being awake anyway, we start the day early, treasuring the cool, grey skies rather than cursing them. We have a quick noodle breakfast Stefanie isn’t much of a morning eater so we eat whatever she can stomach – filter water for the trek and off we go. The first two hours of the day were still beautiful but then the trail turns into a gravel road outside the national park’s borders and the sun begins to weigh again. Hoping for another ride from a local, we’re not as fortunate this time and we have to walk the 5 km into town. Beaten up by heat and sore feet the sour mood turns cheerful again when we find ourselves in one of the local bars with a delicious – and entirely artisanal – vegetarian burger and ice cold beer! For those who thought Lençois was an alternative piece of Brazil, Capão is hippie level Ninja!

Want to read more? Here’s part two!


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