Saturday, January 21, 2012

2012, 9th - 19th January: Lençois, Bahia, Brazil

2012, 9th - 19th January: Lençois, Bahia, Brazil

For a full complement of photos, follow this link to the set in my Flickr account:

Lençois is a small town around 6 hours west of Salvador in the state of Bahia. It is located next to the Chapada Diamantina National Park. Chapada means ´elevated plateau´ and diamantina means diamonds. The town and others in the area grew up in the days of diamond mining which started in the region in the 19th century and ended (I believe) 30 or 40 years ago. The main attraction of the area are the numerous plateaus, mountains, valleys, canyons, rivers, waterfalls and caves.

The rock in the area was formed from marine sediment. This is evident in the sides of the mountains and canyons by the layer upon layer of rock (formed from layer upon layer of sediment layed down many years ago). Tectonic activity later pushed the whole area upwards, causing the rock to crack. These cracks were then subject to erosion over millions of years which formed the numerous mountains, valleys and canyons.

I was glad to experience this area of Brazil because before visiting the country, I perceived that the only features on offer were jungles, cities and beaches - I happily stood corrected.

I lost a few days at the beginning of my stay here while I had to rest after catching a mild virus. Other ´off´ days were spent waiting for treks to be available and catching up on these blog entries, photo uploading and arranging the logistics of my onward travel northwards in Brazil as well as the next country (Venezuela).

 Four Day Trek in Chapada Diamantina National Park
13th - 16th January

I made the four day trek with a local guide (Puma) and a British traveller (Drew). We walked in the Chapada Diamantina national park - bivouacing as well as staying in simple pousadas located in the valleys of the park. The park is well protected, with no roads at all within its borders.

The water in the rivers and pools throughout the park is a coloured brown from the organic matter it contains (plant and soil). However, it tasted reasonable and drinking it did me no harm.

Day 1

Starting near to the town of Guiné, we climbed Aleixo Hill onto the plateau Gerais do Rio Preto. During the walk across the plateua Puma pointed out orchids and other fauna. We spent the night under a rock overhang at Toca do Gaviáo. A very friendly group of Portuguese hikers were there and they spoke excellent English, so we spent a sociable evening sharing the shelter of the rock overhang, with Puma making a great meal on a fire.

Many of the plateaus in the park are at a resonable elevation (800 metres or more), so it was surprisingly a little chilly under the biviouc even though the time was during a Brazilian summer. The cool nightime temperatures also brought in a light mist.

Day 2

After setting off along the plateau it was not long until we reached a spectacular sight - the point where the Cachoeirão waterfall plunges into the Vale (valley) do Cachoeirão (which is canyon like in shape). Due to dry weather however, the waterfall was tiny (almost non-existent). The view was fantastic with a sheer drop to the base below and a grand vista up the length of the canyon. As well as a great flat viewing point to sit on (part of the river bed when it is in full flow), there was also a pointed section of rock jutting out over the vast drop where the brave could sit - right over the canyon. I had a go which made for spectular photos.

View of Vale do Cachoeirão from the Cachoeirão Waterfall

Tim Sitting Above Vale do Cachoeirão

A hot walk in the afternoon sun brought us to the edge of another valley which had commanding views to Castle Hill (Morro do Castelo) on the other side. The hill (a small mountain really) got it´s name from the turret-like rocky outcrops that surround it´s long flat summit. A steep descent into the valley followed and evening rain produced some picturesque rainbows. After getting wet it was a welcome relief to be able to spend a night in some rustic pousada accommodation at Prefeitura. In the posusadas they cook on wood-fired stoves, and our guide Puma produced another fine meal.

Morro do Castelo in the Distance

Day 3

Our day´s walking involved a rainy start, but by the time we reached pousada Casa do Linda, the rain had stopped and in the Brazilian summer heat it does not take long to dry. We were able to leave our packs at the pousada (where we would sleep that night) before heading up the Vale do Cachoeirão (which we looked down on from above on Day 2). On the way up the valley we followed the path of the river, so the whole way was scrambling across boulders large and small. The river was at a low level, but not so low as to spoil our fun in a fantastic natural swimming pool with a refreshing waterfall at one end. After jumping in I was surprised to find somethings biting me - these turned out to be little fish having a harmless nibble.

Our onward boulder walk became more tricky as the surfaces became more mossy towards the more shaded head of the valley, but the sight at the end was well worth it. The head of the valley is a vast canyon with shear sides more than 200 metres high arranged in a semi-circular shape. The geological history of the area was evident again as the innumerable layers of sedimentary rock were clearly visible. The viewing point and the pointed rock where I had sat the day before could just be made out at the top of the cliff faces. During the return to the pousada, the (really annoying) large biting horseflies were out, but fortunately they went to bed early.

The Foot of Vale do Cachoeirão Below the Location of the Cachoeirão Waterfall
(Waterfall Present When it is Wet)

The night was almost cloudless and we were presented with a beautiful starry night sky (no light pollution to spoil it). Orion´s belt was clearly visible. The white points of light above our heads were complemented by many flashing green ones close to ground level thanks to the activities of numerous fire flies.

Day 4

Puma set us a fast pace despite the fact it was a very hot and humid morning - this was so that we would have time to visit a cave on the way home. We climbed out of valley and up the hill Ladeira do Império which gave great views of much of the route from the previous two days (Vale do Cachoeirão and Morro do Castelo). The descent to the town Andarai (where we were collected by car) took us through Serra do Baiano where evidence of many years of diamond mining was on show. The ground was covered in large chunks of rock that had been extracted by the miners. The pieces were made up of soft sedimantary rock that was full throughout with hard stones. The miners sought diamonds in these stones.

View of Vale do Cachoeirão & Morro do Castelo

We made a diversion on the drive home to visit the cave ´Poco Azul´ which is a small cave filled with crystal clear water where you can snorkel. The conditions in the cave give the water a rich blue (Azul) colour.

One Day Trek to the Fumaça Waterfall
18th January

I joined a guided group to make this easy-going trek to the Fumaça waterfall, which is the highest in the national park. The walk started from an isolated small town called Capão which is well known for it´s laid back atmosphere (reportedly it is a ´hippy hang out´).

The climb to the plateau gave us good views of Morro Morrão (Big Hill) the other side of the valley. At the other side of the plateau (elevation approximately 1200 metres) we reached the Fumaça waterfall. Unfortunately the dry weather meant that the river feeding it was little more than a trickle such that if the wind blew, the water did not reach the valley below but formed upward spray instead. Nevertheless, the view was impressive as the drop made by the waterfall is approximately 400 metres.

The Fumaça Waterfall

On the drive home from Capão we stopped off at one of the area´s many points for swimming (a pool at the foot of a small waterfall).

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