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‘
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.