On our second day in Mucugê, Saturday the 11th, we hired a guide to take us along the trail to Cachoeira das Andorinhas, or Swallow Falls. This was a 7 km hike across pretty rough ground and only Chris, Anisia, Valeria and I went, driving to the start of the trail which had been somewhat washed away last year during heavy down pours. Our guide, Cassiano, was the grandson of a diamond miner and his cousin, a photographer, still works one of the few permitted active mines; these are all worked by hand as machinery is no longer permitted.
The first part of the trail was up the valley side, possibly 200 metres, before we set off along a generally down hill track passing through long abandoned piles of mining spoil, now heavily over grown. We passed small dams and rock built water channels designed to divert water to the various mines which were large holes or some times trenches in the ground.
The landscape itself was pretty featureless but, again, simply vast. What really struck me was the variety of flora, which flowers in earnest in April or May time. Then the landscape must look quite different.
This particular plant (on the left) is typially very tough, tendrils clinging to cracks in the rock to support it as it grows, it is very common and, most importantly for the miners, the stem is hollow. Apparently they used to cut into the stem and hide their diamonds inside the plant. The trick would be to remember which one and clinging to which rock!
The other plant of direct use to the miners was this cactus. The hairy growth on the left side of this one only appears on the western face of the plant.
So with Cassiano’s botany lesson over we clambered on towards the Cachoeira. As we scrambled along, another thing that struck me about the landscape was how inaccessible it was without tracks. With the bush frequently head height it is difficult to make out features, like ravines before you get to them. The small ones are all now ‘tourist friendly’ and ‘bridged’ with rocks rammed into them, but as virgin territory it must have taken days to make any headway at all.
And then quite suddenly, the vegetation cleared and we came to the canyon wall above the Cachoeira das Andorinhas. Even with the river a mere trickle of its usual self it was a beautiful sight.
The way down, another 100 meters, was through a boulder strewn cleft in the valley wall, and half way down was a mine entrance, about a metre square, apparently with a 3 metre gallery inside. Looking back at where you’ve come from is a good way to remember your route back, but it is not always encouraging to see your route back; we would have to face this climb at the start of the hike back!! Once at the bottom it was boots off to cross the river using a guide rope to guard against slippery stones, then a short scramble to the falls.
The water was cool and deliciously refreshing after our exertions and after a swim and a snack we set off again for a ‘walk’ upstream a short way alongside some not so rapid rapids to some more, much smaller falls. The water here was much warmer than below the main waterfall, being slower and shallower it was amazing how the rocks warmed it.
The return journey, although over the same ground as the outward leg, was just as interesting. Unless your head is on a 360 degree swivel you always find something you missed on the way out, like a snake perhaps. Well Cassiano spotted it. Can you make it out? It took us a few moments.
Honest, it is there.
The body looks like a extra branch of the shrub and the head is under the leaf in the circle, it has a yellow mouth. We have no idea what it was, but Cassiano wanted to treat it with caution, so we gave it a wide berth and as we did so I was very happy my choice of clothes for these trips included big boots and long trousers; I generally felt over dressed, although today, not so much. The rest of the hike back was uneventful, as far as we know, and it then back to town for beer and medals.
Another great and memorable day tramping around the beautiful Chapada Diamantina.