Chapada Diamantina – Trekking in the wild Nordeste pt. 2

In our previous blogpost we talked about spending several days in Chapada Diamantina before walking into Capão in Friday.

Capão is a true delight. When we walk into town on Friday afternoon the village is preparing for the annual Capão Jazz Festival this weekend. It’s busier than usual but still there are nothing but good vibes and mellow chakras around… The little village boasts some delicious and cheap eateries and many accommodations will make you believe you’re in a spiritual sanctuary in the Himalayas rather than the Brazilian Nordeste… That evening we feast on vegetarian pizza sold per slice at the female-run Al Capãone – see what they did there? – pizzeria. We take a stroll over the artisans fair and grab a beer to watch the next performance at the Jazz Festival. The artists are a mix of both local talents, who play jazz, blues or hard rock, and international jazz acts. We were about to say “internationally renowned” but we wouldn’t know. Jazz is not really our thing… but the blues is outstanding!

Initially, we intended to stay just for a day, go to the Fumaça waterfalls and then trek further into the National Park. Earlier this week, however, we received important news from back home. We were planning to buy a car in South America to have all freedom we want in Patagonia. It so happened to be that Hannes’ parents might be buying a new car very soon. This means their van could become available and they asked if we would want to ship it to Argentina. BAM… we were stupefied, both of us. We have travelled with this van in Europe before and know it would be perfect for the trip. So before we do anything else, we clear our schedule and look for some wifi to research the whole operation of shipping the car to South America. We’re super excited about this and can’t wait to tour Patagonia with this blue buddy! #Vanlife here we come… On Sunday we finally to head up to the Fumaça waterfall. During the 7 km one-way hike we gain almost 500m in elevation from the village to the top of the waterfall where it plunges 350m into a gorge. Going up there without our heavy backpacks is a welcome change. All hummingbirds seem to have a dislike for tele lenses unfortunately. Every time Hannes takes out his – monstrously large – lens for capturing one in close-up, they disappear for the next half hour… After 2 hours we arrive at the river that plunges into the deep further on. Well… river… a little stream would be more accurate this time of year. Carefully we make our way to one of the viewpoints on the cliffs 400m above the bottom of the gorge. And there we get to see why this is one of the most remarkable places in the national park. Water, wind and sunlight create a spectacular play of nature: A strong wind blows up from the deep gorge and hits the waterfall while it plunges over the edge of the cliff. It nebulizes the water and defies gravity by carrying large droplets of water back up. When these float up in slow motion they are illuminated in playful waves by rays of sunlight. Even with hardly any water, the sight is simply magical. We return to Capão and treat ourselves to some more veggi delights and a well-deserved beer. The crowds and festival stage have vanished but the town square is still alive with locals celebrating life: a spontaneous Capoeira circle forms, a group of women dances ecstatic to furious djembe rhythms and a reggae band prepares to play the night away and pretend tomorrow is not Monday.

Not that we have to go to work, but still we get up early on Monday to start our four-day-trek through the Vale do Pati. We enjoy an Indian breakfast at our camping Lakshmi and hit the road. Indeed…road. Again there’s about 6 km of dirt road through the Capão valley separating us from the actual trailhead. We should’ve checked for a moto taxi. But heck, 2 hours and 2 litres of sweat later we make it to Bomba. Here the road ends and turns into the trail leading to the Gerais dos Vieira and on to Vale do Pati. We still have 9 km and 400 height meters to cover to our campground so we decide to skip the Purificação waterfall, a 2-km-detour. The ascend from Capão valley is extremely hot and we didn’t come across many streams yet to fill up on water, our number one concern in these hot circumstances. But luckily the map shows some blue lines up ahead. A little stream that is not on our map already brings relief but we don’t fill up completely, expecting a larger river to come up. Well, when you’re hiking and you come across clean water, be greedy! The “big river” turns out to be a tiny, muddy stream covered in plants. Looking at the water we are extremely happy that we bought ourselves a decent filter! We don’t know if we’ll have water for the full day to come so we take as much as possible. It’s dark by the time we have pitched our tent and we can finally have some dinner: crackers and tea it is. At that moment Stefanie thinks she is going crazy. Is she hallucinating from a full day in the sun? At times she sees tiny white spots in the pitch black forrest around us. But then also Hannes notices something. More and more lights flash up in the dark. Fireflies! Hundreds of them. All around us these brightly glowing creatures are dancing in the dark. Witnessing this for the first time is truly extraordinary. There we are in a dark forest. All alone. But not alone at all! We notice that again in the middle of the night. Hannes jumps up from his mattress when he hears something stepping right next to the tent. Luckily it’s eating grass though. And when we hear the unidentified thing gallop away, we remember the wild horses we saw near the campsite. Good, we live to tell the tale, back to sleep.

After a splash in the pool the next morning – this makes this shack in the woods sound like a five star hotel – it’s time for another strenuous climb. From the Gerais dos Vieira valley we have to get up a 200m high cliff to continue the trek to Vale do Pati. There is another option through the valley, but Hannes thinks it’ll be less scenic so forgets to mention this to Stefanie… The day is hot and we progress slowly. But the views are more than worth the effort – Hannes at least thinks so. Vale do Pati is a gorgeous valley set between steep sandstone peaks where a local community operates several lodges around the many natural attractions. So you don’t have to carry your home on your back to visit all these caves, waterfalls and mountain tops. But these places are not the cheapest – you can’t blame them as all supplies are brought in by horse or donkey – and we thus opt for pitching our tent and cooking lentils. The plan for today was to get to the foot of Morro do Castello, so we could summit the top at first light tomorrow to then continue further down the valley in the afternoon. But plans… reality… Aah, we admit, we caved for an ice cold Coca Cola and a delicious dinner at the first and only pousada we come across today. The remaining 3 km to Morro do Castello we’ll do tomorrow morning!

What we thought would be an easy hour walking next to the Rio Funis turns out to be an exhausting 3-hour-struggle through jungle and river to finally reach our destination. The trail squirms through dense fern beds, runs over the spider-infested river bedrock and plunges down in the jungle next to the many impressive Funis waterfalls. Navigating the trek has been a walk in the park so far. But this is one stretch where we might feel more at ease guided by a local who knows what’s coming. The video of a Jararaca – a very common venomous pit viper in Brazil – that another hiker showed us the night before keep us very attentive when clambering over trees and boulders to get down a waterfall. And thus, quite a bit later than planned, we reach the trail that heads up Morro do Castello. It’s already very hot and Stefanie decides not to join. So Hannes leaves everything but water, camera, flashlight and some crackers behind and races to the top. Luckily he remembered the flashlight! To reach the top you must go through a cave. The view 400m above the surroundings is more than worth it. But there’s not too much time to enjoy it as we need to move on if we want to reach Andarai, our final destination, tomorrow. We barely make it before dark to the planned campground at another lodge. But then there’s another issue. By overstaying in Capão we almost burned through our cash already. We try to explain we don’t have money left for dinner and will cook ourselves. Our host gets the message and full of pity brings us a massive plate of food from the buffet while we’re cooking powdered union soup. A bit embarrassed by the situation we accept the plate and dig in! Rice, beans and pasta have never been so delicious…

One last tough day and we’re back in civilisation. All the way up, out of the valley. And all the way down, to Andarai village. The last kilometres feel like an eternity. Luckily we have all day. Our bus should leave Andarai at 10 pm. So when we walk into town – some might call it stumbling – around 5 we have all the time to shower of 4 days of smell in the local gas station. What a feeling… Reborn and refueled – we spend our last cash on a buffet meal – we head to the bus. Only to find out the bus leaves at 5 in the morning! A night in the bus station it is… Even though our preparation isn’t worth bragging about, we’re pretty proud of our first hikes this trip. It did cost us blood, sweat and tears – literally – but we totalled more than 100 km in 10 days. Ready for more…

3 thoughts on “Chapada Diamantina – Trekking in the wild Nordeste pt. 2

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