parque nacional da chapada diamantina

My last night in Salvador a few of us girls went to catch a Capoeira show in one of the schools. I have never seen anything like it, so graceful and so rhythmic. There were about 20 guys and girls including some of them paying the drums and a strange elongated bow-like instrument and they would take it in turns to tag each other in and then fight/dance for a few minutes before another pair came up. Plus a lot of the guys were incredibly gorgeous with the most amazing bodies, well we know because they took their tops of half way through, Eileen and I didn’t know quite where to look!

Despite the lure of the half naked capoeira guys and a strong temptation to go to one of the beginner classes, the next day I decided to head out to Lencois instead and the Chapada Diamantina National Park. I arrived mid afternoon to find myself in a small town of cobbled streets, brightly coloured buildings surrounded by thick lush green forests and plains. Lencois is one of the old mining towns from the days when Portuguese explorers found deposits of Diamonds in the area that are thought to have been formed millions of years ago near present-day Namibia. The diamond boom didn’t last long and now the town and those around the park survive off Eco-tourism running tours in and around the park.

Monkeys, ChapadaYesterday I had arranged to go on one of the standard tours to various sights around the park without really paying much attention to what I was going to see. I have this terrible habit of managing to give people the impression that my portuguese is actually a lot better than it is. The problem is I can usually ask all the questions but I rarely understand the responses! I ended up in this exact sitatution and feeling too tired to go over it until I understood I resorted to my default, “sim, sim, esta bem!” The result was, I was pleasantly surprised by the variety of places we in fact ended up visiting during the day.

Our group was myself, our guide Pedro who kept insisting he was Pedro and not saint Pedro when we quizzed him on whether the weather would stay sunny all day, Birger, a guy from Germany with a habit of taking some of the funniest photos, and a lovely couple from Recife in Brazil called Cris and Cris! Cris spoke really good English so was an absolute saint and translated all the things that went over Birger and my heads during the day. We started off visiting a waterfall called Poco do Diablo, the Devil´s pool. The organic matter and pollen that are blown into the water lend it a deep clear red brown colour as it flows over the rapids and finally into a deep pool where the boys went rock diving. On the way down I spotted a tiny movement in the trees and excitedly started pointing and yelling “look, a monkey” clearly thinking how sharp eyed I’d been to spot it. As it turned out there are about six these small grey monkeys that live above the path and are so tame they will even let you feed them bread and fruit. So not such an amazing find then, but they were still very cute.

Gruta AzulAfter the waterfalls we visited a labyrinth of tiny caves in a place called Gruta Fumaca where the ceilings were dripping with hundreds of needle like stalactites and large stalagmites grew up to form large columns from the ground. One we crawled into was less that five feet high so we all had to sit down in the centre to look around. Our guide decided it would be very relaxing and peaceful to turn the oil lamp burner out for a minute to enjoy the darkness and silence for a minute. It was so black that opening and closing my eyes made no difference and it was strangely peaceful until eventually my stomach betrayed me with a huge rubbling growl and everyone started laughing! Next stop was the Gruta Azul which is a small pool at the entrance to a cave that has this amazing intensely blue, turquoise colour and it is so clear that you can’t see where the water begins and the air ends. When a few small fish swam past it actually looked like they were swimming thorough the air!

Morro do Pai Inacio

The final Gruta, we decided to pay extra and go cave snorkelling which was unbelievably cool. Putting aside the facts that I am slightly claustrophobic and generally speaking don’t like swimming in dark water, it seemed like too good an experience to miss. We got life jackets, flippers and snorkels and slid into the pleasantly cool water at the opening of the cave. With torches we followed the guide further in, shining our lights on the bottom which was incredibly clear and catching the odd catfish scurrying out of view. We stopped to look at the rock formations on the ceilings and under the water, swirls of creamy coloured rock and tiny stalactites. The final cave was over 14 metres deep but you could still see the bottom. Shining my torch past a gap between two rocks I saw pair upon pair of tiny red eyes looking back at me, for a spilt second I nearly panicked, convinced a multi-eyed mythical beast was waiting to devour innocent tourists, until I realised it was just the fish hiding from our beams of lights in the rocks! We finally emerged into the first cave and swam through the shoals of white and black fish near the entrance, spotted catfish swam over the sandy bottom and wide-leafed plants grew near the edge of the lake like a green, silver forest, really beautiful.

Our final visit was to climb up to a peak called the Morro Do Pai Inacio half and hour before sunset to see the amazing views stretching over the valley which is filled with these huge sweeping slopes leading up to rocky outcrops with green plateaus on top. Nothing that I ever expected to see in Brazil and really spectacular, I don’t think this country will ever cease to surprise and amaze me! Birger and IWe spent ages up on the peak taking some really silly photos, including Pedro sitting on our feet so we could lean out over the edge and take a photo to look like we were flying over the valley! This one was one of my favourites because I look so ridiculously short compared to Birger who is pretty tall, must be a German thing. We all got back and went for food and drinks, they have some really good restaurants here and Cris introduced us to a really dangerous Brazilian saying saideira (which is definitely the wrong spelling) but it means one more drink and of course you keep saying it over and over again throughout the evening. It’s not just the English that are a nation of piss heads…

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