Mucugê and the Old Diamond Mines

The Beaten Track

Our trip to Mucugê on the 9th was short and fairly straight forwards, only a couple of hours, including a slight detour to a place called Poço Azul. We got there but decided not to visit the actual ‘attraction’ as it seemed rather commercialised; entry fee for a 30 minute swim and the presence of a tourist coach. We pushed on to Mucugê, found our pousada, had dinner and then to bed for an early start on the following morning.

Mucugê was where the first diamonds were found and the area became a centre for mining and prospecting, before Lençóis became the main trading centre.   Unlike in Lençóis there is great evidence of actual mining here. ‘Garimpo‘ is Portugese for ‘mine‘ and miner’s were ‘Garimpeiros

Very stylised version of a miner’s ‘cabin’ housing the museum

Our first excursions in Mucugê on the following day were to two of these mining areas.   The first mines appear to have been small, fairly shallow affairs exploiting specific diamond deposits in the sandstone conglomerate rocks; the skill of the Garimpeiro was in identifying these.   The rock was dug out, crushed and washed to extract the diamonds and one of these mines had been turned into a small mining museum, the Museu do Garimpo, displaying old mining tools and some early diamond cutting and polishing machines.

19th century diamond cutting and polishing machine

The museum also included the ruins of an old miner’s shelter which was a very primative affair using  dry stone walls to enclose an area beneath a rock overhang.    The museum highlighted that much of the labour used in the mining was slave labour, slavery not being abolished in Brasil until 1888, and that the majority of diamonds exported during the latter part of the 19th century went to ports in the UK.  It was further emphasised that none of the profits from the diamond trade remained in Brasil but went back to Portugal.

Sempre Vida

Our second stop was another ‘trail’ starting at a visitor centre for the Projeto Sempre Vida, an ecology project aimed at preserving an endangered plant species called Sempre Vida, or Always Alive. The flowers appear to be dried out but even when cut and coloured with vegetable dye react to moisture in the air and never actually ‘die’ as other cut flowers do.   One of the displays had been gathered in the 1970s and was still in perfect condition.   When diamond mining came to an end these plants became a vital economic substitute and vast quantities were gathered and exported for decorations.  But as they are very slow to reproduce and grow they  were cropped almost to extinction and are now protected.  

The trail was ‘self guided’ and led, via another mine building, to the rivers and two sets of water falls, Piabinha and Tiburtino.  It was only about 1.5 km long, and although relatively easy walking it involved two sections requiring the crossing of rocky river beds above the falls and so we were very glad that Ermida decided to stay in the visitors centre and make friends with the staff.

For the majority of the way we were walking through tall vegetation and small trees which gave little view of the surrounding countryside.  Even without the views three were still things to see, the flowers, massive termite mounds like a scene from Alien and huge woodworm nests hanging in trees.

The first of the waterfalls was the Cachoeira da Piabinha.   Water levels are really low at the moment and so this was a small stream really but the river bed was impressive, great lines of eroded rock standing up like rows of books on end with the coffee brown water running between them, leaving fantastic reflections on the water.

First sight of Cachoeira do Piabinha
Cachoeira do Piabinha
Cachoeira do Piabinha

The second waterfall, the Cachoeira do Tiburtino on the Rio Cumbuca, was much larger and led into a magnificent canyon, carved through the rocks,this time revealing horizontal layers,  a testimony to the volume and power of the water which had once flowed through here although at the moment the river is a mere trickle at one side of the falls.   Chris and Anisia took a dip but Valeria and I clambered further down stream to admire the scenery.

Cachoeira Tiburtino, a shadow of its form self
Looking down the Rio Cumbuca
Cumbuca Gorge, with Valeria for scale

 

And boy was it to be admired.  Magnificent,  breathtaking, awesome ….. add any superlative you wish.  The slabs of sandstone over hanging the valley floor were huge and multi coloured and I could have stood there for hours trying to take it all in.

The walk back is always a slight disappointment after visiting these amazing sights but even returning the way you came you find new things to see, or ones you’ve already seen from a different perspective.

 

Lençóis

Square outside the Coronel’s mansion

Our base for the last 4 days has been Lençóis. Originally it was a mining town and the centre for the diamond trade for the area. It propsered and the buildings all have the distinctive Colonial appearance seen elsewhere on our travels in the North East.   It was built on the mountain side on the Serrano River valley and many of its streets are very steep.   The majority are also very narrow and in the evening in the centre of town are mainly taken over by restaurant tables.   Many of the shops sell local craft works and the place has a distinctly ‘hippy’ vibe.

Our Pousada,  Pouso da Trilha was a relatively basic place with few frills but had a very tranquil and relaxing atmosphere.   It was on the west side of the town close to the centre and within minutes of stepping out in the evening we were tripping over restaurant tables, there was certainly no shortage of places to eat or drink, and the food was all really good.  It took a while to get here but it was worth the effort.

A little history. One of the streets is called Rua das Pedras, or Road of Stones, and at first glance you could be mistaken for thinking the name referred to the cobbles which pave most of the streets. The cobbles, however, were laid in the 1970s to stop the streets washing away in the rain and the name is far older.  Rua das Pedras used to be the place miners, fresh back from prospecting and with pockets full of diamonds, would go for entertainment and in paying for it would leave most of their ‘stones‘ behind in Rua das Pedras!

Lençóis is a lively, colourful place and has bags of character and charm. Quite apart from the proximity to the magnificent scenery it is a nice place just to wander round.  Although a tourist destination it did not have a particularly tourist feel.   All in all a very enjoyable destination.

 

Rio Mucugêzinho and Ribeirão de Baixo

From Morro do Pai Inacio it was just a short drive to the trail alongside the Rio Mucugêzinho, a picturesque river valley with waterfalls, and after our climb up Pai Inacio the swim was appreciated.

Rio Muugezinho

The trail lead down stream along the banks and bed of the river which was a jumble of massive boulders through which the clear but coffee brown water made its way.

The end of this particular trail was  the Poço do Diabo or Devil’s Well,, a 25 metre high waterfall which then ran off into the gorge called the Garganta do Diablo, the Devil’s Throat.

Poço de Diablo
Garganta de Diablo, or Devil’s Throat

It was lovely to clamber among the rocks with just the noise of the water to be heard.  But it was very hot, especially on the exposed rocks, so the dip in the water was really refreshing.

We then drove back to Lençóis and picked up Dona Ermida and headed straight back out to drive to Ribeirão de Baixo, rough translation of Lower River, about 3 km along a dirt track outside Lençóis.

The track to Ribeirão de Baixo

Valeria and Ermida
Junior rides shotgun

This last excursion was pleasant, but by comparison a little bit of a let down.  Being so close to town it was in effect the local swimming pool and so was rather crowded with local youngsters and the odd family or two.  All good natured and noisy and I think we’ve just been spoilt already.

For this visit there were 6 of us and only 5 seats so our guide Junior sat in the back and shouted directions through the window to Anisia.  We were happy to get back for our dinner after what had been a pretty busy at day in Lencois.

Tomorrow we’re off to Mucugê.

 

Morro do Pai Inacio

Wednesday was busy. Morro do Pai Inacio and the Rio Mucugêzinho in the morning followed by a swim at Riberāo de Baixo,  outside Lençóis in the afternoon.

The Morro do Pai Inacio is one of the sources of picture postcard views of Chapada Diamantina and it is obvious why; from the top you can see everything. In every direction you have amazing views. The trail up to the summit from the car park was about 300 metres and was steep but not overly challenging; hot obviously but that made the light breeze at the summit even more pleasant. Again, words can’t describe the views and you could sit there for hours just looking.

Morro de Pai Inacio
Park entrance
View of the trail up
Junior, Anisia, Chris and Valeria

 

Only half way up !

The summit.

Having reached the summit, Junior told us the tale of Pai Inacio,  which he freely admitted was made up by the guides.  The short version is as follows. The beautiful daughter of the Coronel from Lençóis fell in love with Inaçio, one of the slaves in her father’s diamond mine. You can piece the rest together so we’ll skip to the end when Inacio is tracked to the top of the mountain that now bears his name. Inacio,  for some reason carrying and umbrella, told the Coronel he’d rather give himself to the hands of nature, than into the hands of the Coronel, and promptly jumped. At this point Junior did the same! Some what unexpected but a good way to deliver a punch line.  As Junior has told this tale a few times it was obvious there was a ledge below and it ran around part of the summit so he could come up behind us, so demonstrating how Inaçio,  escaped the Coronel, stole a horse, got the girl, and the diamonds. Fun story but we’re no wiser as to who Father Inacio actually was!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even on the trail up when you can’t see above the bushes the scenery is amazing.  The photos can only hint at the scale and beauty of the place and it was well worth the trek.

Our next stop was to be a short drive away and another trail along the Rio Mucugézinho, but that will have to be the next post.

 

 

Ribeirao do Meio

On Tuesday we took our second excursion, a ‘self guided’ walk to Ribeirão do Meio, just out side town. Junior had given us directions and we had Google Maps …… what could go wrong ?

Leaving Lençóis. …. next sign we saw was ‘Slow – School’ !!!!

We managed to find our way to the edge of town and then promptly got lost. We weren’t alone though, a group of French girls armed with a paper map were equally lost and so we asked our way.  We were only a little off course.

The walk was fairly easy, which was good as Ermida was with us, and most of it was through woodland with few views as such.   There was a ‘bar’ halfway there for a coconut water and the actual water fall itself was more of a water slide. It was a really pleasant walk and the pools at the far end were lovely.

Coconut Shack
Ribeirão do Meio

Area of outstanding natural beauty.

Rio Serrano

The Chapada Diamantina area is full of trails through the area’s amazing scenery and we had decided to walk three of these.   The problem with writing this blog is that the pictures can’t do the scenery justice, and the challenge is to decide which photos to omit.

So, on Monday we took a guided hike along the Rio Serrano trail.   Our guide, Junior, had been recommended to Anisia by a friend of hers and it was a good recommendation, Junior only speaks Portugese but was a lively, informative and attentive guide and booking direct the prices were exceptionally good.

Rio Serrano valley

The Rio Serrano is just outside of Lençóis and the trail we were to follow is about 3 kilometers long, of which only the first 500 m were flat. The rocks forming the river bed are primarily sandstone conglomerates and erode into fantastic shapes and in places are worn almost mirror smooth.

Rock pool on the valley floor

The word ‘Lençóis‘ means ‘bed sheets‘. The valley floor was once covered with the tents and shelters of the prospectors which made it look like the valley was covered in bed clothes, hence the name of the town.

Salão de Ariea
Salão de Areia

From here the trail lead through the Salão de Areia, or Sand Salon. This is a large area of caves and fallen rocks carved out by the river and the floor covered in a deep carpet of sand.  But the name comes from the fact that local craft workers collect coloured sands from the rocks to make the bottled sand sculptures sold in souvenir shops,   The rocks themselves are conglomerates with larger stones embedded in what is still sand when scrapped out.   The range of colours from this small area is quite amazing.

Range of coloured sands – ‘Do not mix’

Leaving the Salão we followed the river further upwards and then came to our first swimming stop at Poço Halley; ‘Poço’ means ‘well’. This became a regular feature of these hikes and in the 35 degree heat a cool dip was always quite welcome.

Poço Halley

The water here is clear but very brown, like weak coffee.

And then we began to climb out of the valley with D Ermida leading!

Dona Ermida at 78 years old ……..

Junior, when he found out Ermida’s age became convinced that she is in actual fact one of the last of the Cangaceiras who used to roam these hills, maybe a relation to Maria Bonita. The thought of my mother-in-law armed with a rifle and a machete gave me an instinctive moment of panic, until I remembered that Dona Ermida is quite sweet and we get along really well.

Cachoeira Primavera
Erida takes point ….
It was probably only a climb of a hundred metres, but a personal best for Dona Ermida

The river valley, pools and the waterfalls were just beautiful and finally reaching the top of the valley side gave fantastic views across the area; the scenery is just vast and the views are awesome.

Chapada Diamantina

Chapada Diamantina is a mountainous region in the middle of Bahia State and to call it an area of out standing naural beauty doesn’t really do it justice.  We based ourselves in Lençóis on the east side of the park for fours days before moving on to Mucuge, a town a couple of hours further south.

The area, being in the hard to access ‘interior’ was largely unknown until 1710 when gold was discovered.  The gold rush as such only lasted for about a hundred years and by the early part of the 19th century the population of the region declined with the gold reserves. However, in 1844, things changed when diamonds were discovered. (Makes you wonder how the gold prospectors missed them!) Anyway in 1844 a prospector and mule train operator found two large diamonds in his mules pasture on the Mucuge River, and over the next few days he picked up over 100 carats worth of stones.  The secret of the location didn’t last obviously and overnight prospectors were filling their hats with diamonds!  The population returned and everything was good until diamonds were discovered in South Africa and diamond prices dropped like a stone.

Lençóis was the hub of the diamond export trade and in its heyday even had a French embassy. Now the entire area is a National Park, created in 1985, and many of the towns have national monument status. Tourism is now the major business of the area, and you can see why; the scenery is amazing …. It is easy to run out of superlatives to describe the scenery, so i’ll just stop at amazing.

(I took most of this information from  ‘Chapada Diamantina’, a book by Rodrigo Galvão. )

The road to Lencois

We set off from Piranhas at 7.30 on Sunday morning for a 700 plus kilometre trip to Lençóis in the Chapada Diamantina National Park in Bahia.  We estimated this would take about 12 hours and so I decided I’d try to take a couple of photos each hour to illustrate the journey. It gets dark at just after 6 pm and we arrived in Lencois at 7pm.

0740. Leaving Pousada O Canto, Piranhas.
0800. Heading north on AL-220 near Olho d’Água do Casado. AL.
0830. Heading west on BR-423 towards Paulo Afonso.
0840. Crossing the Paulo Afonso dam, entering Bahia State.
0900. South bound on BR-110
0930. South bound on the BR-110
1030. South on BR-110.
1140. South at Ribeiro do Pombal junction with BR-410
1200. Heading west on BR-410 approaching Tocano
1230. Tucano service station.
1330. South on BR-116 towards Serrinha.
1400. Heading north on xxxxxx in Serrinha, BA
1430. South on BR-116 at Santa Bárbara
1500. South on BR-116 at Feira de Santa
1530. Heading north west on BA-052
1600. West on BA-052 near Ipira, BA
1630. West on the BA-052
1710. Heading south west on BA-223 in Alto Vermellio (means High Red)
1730. West on BA-242 near Itabiraba, BA
1800. West on BA-242 near Boa Vista do Turpin
1920. Arrived at Pouso da Trillia, Lençóis.

Entremontes and the Xingo Canyons

Breakfast with a view

For Saturday Valeria booked two boat trips, one down river to the town of Entremontes and the other to the Xingo canyons on the reservoir above the dam. She managed to negotiate us a group discount, there being 5 of us, and we got our own boat for both trips.

Our guide to Entremontes, Breno, (contact +557988799727) was a really obliging, informative guy and picked us up from the beach we’d been swimming from on the night before.

The São Francisco River

The town of Entremontes is about 15 km down river from Piranhas and according to Breno the river is well below it’s peak flow. The advantage is that the bigger rocks are visible.  The eddies and over falls between them betray the presence of submerged rocks and the really trick bits are marked with plastic bottles obviously anchored to the bits to avoid, either that or fishing nets.

Our first brief stop was at the Restaurante Angico, the start point of a walking tour to the Gruta do Angico where Lampião and Maria Bonita, 9 other Cangaceiros and one soldier died in an ambush by the Police on Lampiao’s band.  We would have to have waited 50 minutes for the next tour so headed off again for Entremontes.

The river bank at Entremontes

Entremontes was a fishing village but falling river levels put paid to that and, although they still fish, lace work is the main product. I am not sure of the origins of the village but it appears to have been more important than Piranhas originally and was big enough for the Emperor Pedro II to visit and stay over night in 1856 when touring the state. Before he arrived the place was known by a name that translates into something like Warehouse or Storehouse. Pedro observed that the village was surrounded by mountains and Entremontes would be a far better name – and, of course, it was, which is obviously why Emperors get the big bucks!

Igreja da Nossa Senora Conceição

The village is part of a conservation area with many of the buildings being ‘listed’ and are, for the most part, restored and brightly painted.   The church is a rather tired but picturesque building over looking the centre of town and, almost uniquely, is actually being actively renovated – now!  There were actually guys re roofing the church while we were there! The inside was a mess, fallen masonry, roof tiles and birds nests but there was actual restoration work actually in progress – a real first in my experience!

Apart from the Emperor, the other visitor of note was good old Lampião.  He stayed in Entremontes for one night but it would appear service wasn’t up to his expectations as he came back and wrecked the place.

Lampião has been transformed into a bit of a folk hero, he and his wife, Maria Bonita, adorn numerous souvenirs.  The guide to the village, by the name of Cicero, was all dressed up as a Cangaceiro in an outfit of grey overalls (although they generally wore leather to protect against the bush) ammunition belts, machete and water bottle, the traditional ‘bicorn hat’ and “a shot gun loaded with history”.   Ciscero knew a lot about Lampião and used to guide the tour to the Gruta do Angico where Lampião met his end. There is a Youtube video of the tour, but is not of good quality and is unfortunately only in Portuguese.

Beach on the São Francisco River
The ‘road’ to Praia Dulce

On the way back we stopped off at the Restaurant Angico for a beer and a swim before returning to Piranhas for lunch and then setting off for the trip to the Xingo Canyons.. The drive there was ‘interesting’; Google maps does have its limitations and although the track we needed was shown, Google didn’t realise that was where we needed to go.   Having said that, offline Google Maps is brilliant,  we’ve used it everywhere and it seldom let’s us down.

The excursion itself was a little bit of a let down to be honest; the scenery was nice as we cruised across the reservoir and through the canyons although the guide wasn’t overly informative – but the RYA Instuctor in me approved of his boat handling. Our first stop was a swimming session, which was refreshing but hardly necesssry and then we headed off for a smaller, shallow bay which was just deep enough for the boat. Once moored to a sunken tree we got out of the boat and waded / swam for a while.  That little ‘canyon’ was lovely and was the high point of the afternoon.

The centre of Piranhas at night.

Returning from Xingo we had dinner in Piranhas and on the way back to the Pousada I stopped off in the museum housed in the old railway station.  Only cost me R$2, about 50p, and so I couldn’t really complain when they were chasing me out at closing time, I have to take my time reading the information and only got about half way round. Interesting little place with lots about the Cangaceiros. I didn’t realise how recent this all was; Lampião was shot in 1938 but it wasn’t until 1940 that the last Cangaceiro band was captured. Apparently the last surviving member of Lampiao’s band is in her 90s and lives in São Paulo.

And then it was early to bed as we had an early start ahead of our 700 km trek to Chapada Diamantina in Bahia.

 

Piranhas

Town gates, Piranhas.

We arrived in Piranhas in the early the afternoon of Friday, 3rd February and spent the rest of the afternoon and evening in town arranging excursions for the following day.  Once we’d settled into our Pousada we went out to find a late lunch.  So while we’re having lunch I’ll give you the history bit.

Piranhas was founded in 1891 and originally named Floriano Peixoto after one of the army leaders who founded the first Brazilian Republic and later became President. It was also known as Porto de Piranhas because that was the main catch of the local fishermen. The architectural style is described as ‘late Empire of the North East style’ but it has echos of the buildings in São Fransisco do Sul and in Ilhabela, both well away from the North East. It was also a the terminus for a state railway, and the old railway station is one of the most impressive buildings in town.

Clock Tower square opposite the old station
Clock Tower

In the 1930s the town was attacked on several occasions by bands of Cangaceiros, bandits,  who plagued the boarders between the States. One in particular was lead by a local folk hero, or villain, going by the ‘nom de guerre’ of Lampião. This means lamp and allegedly referred to his prowess with a lever action rifle; he could fire so fast it looked as if he was holding a lamp!  Anisia, remembers a school trip to the region to learn about Lampiao and on return the students were asked “Lampião,  hero or villain”. The answer to that lay in whether he liked you or not!   Read the link for more on Lampião and Maria Bonita, it is very interesting.

Piranhas itself is a quiet, pretty little town and our Pousada, the Pousada O Canto, is a restored original building located at the far eastern end of town in a very pleasant spot over looking the river.

Sunset dip in Piranhas …..

It is only a few minutes walk to the river and after our late lunch and a wander around town we went back to the Pousada and down to the river to have a refreshing sunset dip.

Sunset over the Rio São Francisco

And while we are on the subject of piranhas; I am convinced they share a common ancestor with mosquitos. Scientifically a bee can’t fly and on similar grunds I am  amazed that mosquitos can either. They only have little tiny wings and there is no way they can generate enough lift to get their bloody teeth off the floor!  We almost bathe in citronella repellent but I think it is more of a marinade!  You can almost hear them drooling at the thought of ‘Lemon Gringo”!

 

 

Sailing south ….

%d bloggers like this: