Tag Archives: Brasil

Tiradentes and the Inconfidência Mineira

Joaquim José da Silva Xavier, also known as Tiradentes, was the leader of Brazil’s first rebellion, the Inconfidência Mineira, against Portugal. The rebellion failed but Tiradentes has become recognised as a national hero and martyr to the cause.

He was born into a poor farming family near São João del Rey in 1746.  Our Tiradentes guide told us he was baptised in São José,  current day Tiradentes, although it is possible he was born in São José and baptised in São João as both claim his birth and baptism.

When his parents died in 1757 he moved to Vila Rica to live with his god-father, a Dental Surgeon. Lacking formal education he worked as a cattle driver and miner before studying dentistry. Again, our guide told us he studied his dentistry in Tiradnets, rather than Vila Rica, in a building now housing the Museu Padre Toledo. (Closed for Carnival)    The word Tiradentes means Tooth Puller and was a derogatory term for dentists; Xavier was given this name at his trial.

Museu Padre Toledo
Alferes Joaquim José da Silva Xavier

At twenty one Xavier joined the Minas Gerais Dragoons, being appointed as an Alferes or Second Lieutenant.  He was engaged in patrolling the Estrada Real network supervising the flow of gold and precious minerals to the coast. The Estrada Real was also referred to as the ‘Open Vein’ as the colony haemorrhaged it’s wealth via the road. And as wealth flowed out imports travelled in the other direction.

Of the gold mined in Minas Gerais the Crown took 20% in tax. The Church took a further 10% and most of that was likely removed to Portugal or Rome. The majority of the remaining 70% was necessarily spent on imports.   In order to ensure the colony remained dependent on Portugal the Crown banned manufacturing and much farming.

Additionally, as the gold began to run out and tax revenues dropped the Crown assumed theft and corruption was the cause and continued to demand an annual tax levy of 150 tons of gold. This was to be collected from the populace if the gold revenue was not sufficient.

Xavier, not being of noble or priviledged birth, was never destined to rise through the officer ranks and would seem to have spent some 20 years patrolling the Estrada Real enforcing this system. Visiting the coast he would have become familiar with news from America and Europe and the growing independence movements abroad. America declared it’s Independence in 1776 and the French revolution would follow in 1789.

The causes of the Colony’s  discontent were obvious and with revolution sweeping America and Europe it easy to see how the idea could take root in Brazil. The Inconfidência Mineira, the Miner’s Revolt, was born. Xavier wasn’t alone. His co conspirators were senior members of the army, his own Colonel was amongst them, as were local business men and clerics. The problem for the conspirators appears to have been that they had as many agendas as revolutionaries.

The revolt was planned for the day of the tax collection, or Derrama, in February 1789, figuring support would be better amongst the people.   According to our guide the Museu Padre Toledo building was used to plan the rebellion.   But Xavier was betrayed by one of his group who alerted the Govenor to the insurrection with predictable results. The Derrama was cancelled, the conspirators were arrested and the conspiracy collapsed. The informer was rewarded with an entirely appropriate lifting of his tax obligation.

Our guide told us Xavier was incarcerated in a place called the Island of Snakes during the trial.  This took three years to complete and the testimony and transcripts are preseved in the Museu da Inconfidência in Ouro Preto.  By the end of the trial Xavier had confessed all and stated that he was solely responsible for the rebellion. He and his co – conspirators we sentenced to death, although the others had their sentences commuted to ‘degradation’.

In 21 April 1792 Joaquim José da Silva Xavier, now known as Tiradentes, was hung, drawn an quartered in Rio de Janeiro. His head was mounted outside his house in Ouro Preto until it was demolished and the remaining body parts were sent around the state as a warning. Just for good measure his children and grandchildren were disinherited.

During the Napoleonic Wars the Portuguese Royal family moved to Brazil for their health. Upon Napoleon’s defeat the family returned and the King left his son, Pedro, in charge. That worked well because in 1822 Pedro declared himself Emperor of an independent Brazil.

The Empire lasted until the Republic was founded in 1889 when Tiradentes was finally elevated to the status of national hero. The town of São José was renamed in his honour and 21 April was declared a National Holiday.

In the 1930s a national monument to Tiradentes and the Inconfidência Mineira was established in the Museu da Inconfidência. The remains of the leaders were reinterred in the museum in front of a memorial to Tiradentes himself.
The symbol of the Inconfidência was a green triangle surrounded by the words “Libertas – Quae Será – Tamen”, Latin for ‘Liberty even if late’.   The colour of the triangle is now red but it forms the insignia of the State of Minas Gerais.

Tiradentes, Minas Gerais

Tiradentes is a small town and Historic Monument on the Estrada Real in Minas Gerais. It occupies an important place in the history of Brasil.

The town began life in 1702 as a mining camp called Santo Antônio do Rio das Mortes.    Later it become known as Arraial Velho to differentiate it from the nearby mining camp Arraial Novo do Rio das Mortes, now the town of São João del Rey. In 1718 when the camp became established as a village it adopted the name of São José in honour of the future King of Portugal. At the end of the 19th century it was given the name of Tiradentes to honour Joaquim José da Silva Xavier.

Rio Direta
Rio Direta
View from Matriz de Santo Antônio
View from Matriz de Santo Antônio

The town is only small, the old town, a Heritage Site, is clustered around only a half dozen streets and you can walk around it in under 2 hours, if the museums were open it would take somewhat longer, or all day for me! Every building is in fine shape and the effect is similar to Mucuge but with narrower streets and people! It is a lovely town and during Carneval most traffic is banned from the old streets so during the day they are pedestrianised and you could imagine being in the town in its heyday.

Tiradentes is also very tourist orientated but not in an ‘in your face’ manner. Most of the shops in and around the main street are souvenir type places, bars or restaurants. Prices tended to be ‘tourist orientated’ too but we still picked up some fantastic gifts.

After a brief wander on Monday we took a guided tour around town in a horse drawn buggy, very touristy but that was what they had.

São João Evangelista
São João Evangelista

The church of São João Evangelista was built between 1760 and 1800 as the gold began to run out and, by comparison to other gold town churches, is rather poor. This church is right next door to the Museu Padre Toledo and over looks the statue of Tiradentes.

The Chafariz de São José
The Chafariz de São José

The Chafariz de São José was the main water supply for the town and the fountain had three cisterns. Water entered into the main cistern at the front for drinking water, before overflowing into the drinking trough for animals which then overflowed into the final cistern for washing.  These last two cisterns were at the back of the main one and a wall was built between them to keep the animals out of the laundry.

Nossa Senhora de Rosário
Nossa Senhora de Rosário
Interior of Nossa Senhora de Rosário
Interior of Nossa Senhora de Rosário

The church of Nossa Senhora de Rosário was the slaves church. As the congregation was at work during the day they built it at night. The gold for ornamentation was smuggled in by the slaves in their hair and mixed with mud and clay caked on their mules, washed off and recovered later. Opposite this church is the town prison, with separate accommodation for slaves, located so that the inmates could hear Mass.

Martiz de Santo Antonio
Martiz de Santo Antonio

The Matriz de Santo Antônio is the church with the 4th largest amount of gold within it in Brazil. Built between 1710 and 1810 it was built of clay bricks, wattle and daub on stone foundations. The magnificent gold decorations were made by coating cedar wood carvings with clay and whale oil which acted as a glue for the gold dust ornamentation. Cedar was chosen as it is resistant to woodworm. Apparently many of the craftsmen were from the Portuguese colony in Macau and the decorative influences are wide including pagan, Greek and Arabic. The result is spectacular but again, no photos allowed.

Carneval was in full swing during our stay, the last night being Tuesday.  Arriving on Monday we watched a couple of the Bloco parades which although not overly impressive were very lively. Each procession had a group of drummers pounding out what I am assured was a Samba beat and progressed very slowly, probably due to the cobbles, to the main ‘square’ where there was a large sound stage.

Monday night was far busier than Tuesday because everyone was heading home on Tuesday, a Public Holiday, ready for work on Wednesday. For us Tuesday was the better night as it was not quite so packed in town and one of the parades passed along the Rua Direta, right outside the door to our Pousada, which coincidentally had a bar right next door! The parade had a generally ‘Roman’ theme, which was very liberally interpreted, so much so that He Man was there, and I can report that Elvis is alive and well and living in Tiradentes.

Much smaller than the events in Ouro Preto the entire atmosphere was far more family orientated. On Monday I only saw one police car, and a shop keeper told us that there hasn’t been a crime to investigate, or a serious injury for the hospital to treat in over a year. Bit of a difference to the other end of the Estrada Real, where in Rio they haven’t had a crime free day, ever!

Tiradentes was great. History at every turn, friendly people, fantastic food and more Cachaça than you can shake an off licence at!

Estrada Real or The Royal Road

Our drive from Ouro Preto to Tiradentes took us along a section of the Estrada Real. On the way we stopped off at Congonhas, another colonial era mining town and religious centre.

Poster of the Estrada Real network found in a petrol station

The Estrada Real forms an integral part of the history of Minas Gerais and Brazilian independence. Construction of the road began at the very end of the 17th century and it ran from the coast at Paraty, north of São Paulo to a place called Diamantina in the north of Minas.  It passed through a number of mining centres, including Tiradentes and Ouro Preto. This section of the road is also known as the Caminho Velho, or Old Road, as a newer section was subsequently built between Ouro Preto and Rio de Janeiro, which was shorter.
These roads were heavily controlled by the Crown and patrolled by the military to prevent smuggling and ensure taxes were paid. As minerals travelled to the coast, imported goods travelled in the opposite direction, all transported by mules. In order to ensure the colonies in Brazil remained entirely dependent on Portugal the authorities forbade manufacturing and the growing of crops. This situation, together with taxation was the background to the Inconfidência Minera.


One of the towns on the Estrada Real was Congonhas, or Congonhas do Campo. This is the home to the Santuário do Bom Jesus do Matosinhos which was a centre for mining and for pilgrimage.   Every

Santuário do Bom Jesus do Matosinhos
View between the 6 chapels leading up to the church
One of Aleijadinho’s statues of the disciples

September since 1770 a festival has been held in celebration of Bom Jesus do Matosinhos.

Unfortunately the town was mostly closed when we visited, the church included. From the information boards it is apparent that the church was built between 1799 and 1875 and was designed by Aleijadinho.  The statues of the 12 Apostles at the entrance are supposed to be some of his finest works.

The other building of significance is the Romaria. This was built to house pilgrims in 1922 and was in use until 1966. It has recently been extensively renovated.

Views of the Romaria

Leaving Congonhas it was lunch time, and rather than eat at a dubious looking place in town we stopped at a petrol station with a restaurant on site. And what a choice. The Restaurante Profetas was great, for a transport cafe! The food was all being cooked an a traditional Fogão a Lenha with the meat being cooked on a separate grill. We didn’t want much to eat unfortunately so ordered pork and sausage sandwiches. The problem with these was our mouths only open 2 inches; these sandwiches were enormous. We have to pass this way again on our way back to Belo Horizonte ……..

After lunch we set off again and were soon passing Entre Rios. The important thing about Entre Rios is that Tom and Monica have a house there and part of Monica’s family live there. We sent her a photo of the sign to Entre Rios and she sent us a video of their collapsed barn and snow in Torcy! We would have dropped in and said ‘Hi’ but Brazilian hospitality being what it is we would probably have seen us staying there rather than getting to Tiradentes!

We arrived in Tiradentes at 2.30 pm, found the Pousada Laurito, dropped off our bags and set off to have a look around town.

Rua Direita, Tiradentes

Ouro Preto

We have had two, unfortunately wet, days in Ouro Preto which boasts the largest number of original Colonial style buildings in Brazil.

Ouro Preto

Ouro Preto, which translates to Black Gold, dates back to the 17th century when gold was discovered in the area, lots and lots of gold; so much so that the town was originally called Vila Rica, or Rich Town.  The gold from the area supported both Brasil and Portugal, and paid off Portugal’s Napoleonic War debt to Great Britain.

Mine passage

The mountain sides were literally a warren of mines. These were worked by slaves whose working and living conditions were grim; apparently few survived past the age of 30. Not all slaves worked the mines, others were luckier in that they worked as ‘domestic slaves’ and slaves could earn their freedom.  They also had their own separate churches although freed slaves had different ones and it must have been a great relief to them to know their souls were in such safe hands and in such opulent surroundings!

Santa Efigenia. Church for household slaves
Nossa Senhora Rosário. Church for freed slaves.
Church of Nossa Senhora das Mercês e Misericórdia
Nossa Senhora do Pilar

You can’t take photographs inside the churches but they are beautifully decorated with tons, literally, of gold leaf adorning the carvings and sculptures.  The ceiling murals were painted with pigments made locally.   The sides of most were decorated with magnificent altars to various saints, and once that Saint’s following increased sufficiently they would go and build a chuch for the Saint.    The quantities of gold consumed by the churches, there are 22 in Ouro Preto, were huge; 10% of the gold from the mines went to the Church,

This 10% was in addition to the 20% tax levied by the Portuguese crown, and the much of the remaining 70% seems to have been shipped off to Portugal, little remaining locally to benefit the people.   It was this state of affairs which sowed the seeds of rebellion which I cover later in the post on Tiradentes.

Ouro Preto as a town can best be described as ‘steep’. The only flat bits are between the change from up to down hill, or vice versa.  Some streets have inclines of perhaps 40 degrees!

The city was originally the state capital from 1720 to 1879 when government functions moved to the new town of Belo Horizonte.  In its prime Ouro Preto and was the biggest city in the Americas; in 1750 there were 80,000 residents when New York only had 40,000.    And with wealth came art and culture and the city even developed it’s own building style, Barroco Mineiro, as practiced by the local sculptor and architect Aleijadinho, this is a nick name referring to his hunch-back.  The best example of his work is apparently the Church of Francis of Assissi. Apparently Aleijadinho took inspiration from the military in his architecture, giving the facade watch towers, huge representations of grenades each side of the sword like cross and cannon barrels for water spouts.

Praça de Tiradentes, with the Museum of the Inconfidência is the background
Praça de Tiradentes

All the buildings in the old town are original and quite substantially built; there was no shortage of stone to build with.   The Colonial style was fairly familiar but the paint work was far more standardised!  The two museums we visited were really excellent, the Inconfidência Museum was only let down by the English translations on the displays, the Portugese was easier to follow! The other, in the crypt to the Nossa Senhora do Pilar, held some beautiful church paraphernailia, again really well presented.

The weather didn’t help showing off the town to its best and, for me, I could have done without Carnaval; the presence of the banners, sound stages, crowds and food stalls meant you couldn’t appreciate the architecture! Bah humbug.  The town has a population of 70,000 which easily doubles for Carnaval and it is also a University town. Students plus Street Parties multiplied by massive quantities of beer to the power of cachaça equals very large Police presence.  It was all very good natured but then the Police did have some of the biggest batons I have ever seen.

A bit more history. This year is the 150th anniversary of Carneval in Ouro Preto. The first one was held in 1876 and Bloco ‘Ze Pereira do Clib dos Lacaios’ claims to be the first Bloco,  or suburb to hold a procession.  The original processions were mounted by Africans, and were satirical in nature.  Whether these Africans were slaves or free is not clear, there still being 12 years to go before Brasil abolished slavery.  Compared to the spectaculars in Rio and elsewhere these events are much less impressive but are far more authentic.

The processions were all lively with each team trying to out do the drums of the other.   Many were themed, although the satirical element wasn’t obvious, so  Bloco de Mato (‘Mato’ being ‘Woods’) carried tree branches, but why Bloco de Bandalheiras had chamber pots on their heads and loo roll on their belts we have no idea – other than that their name means ‘unruliness‘.

Ouro Preto is an impressive city, steeped in the history of Brasil’s Independence.   Despite the rain was  well worth the visit. Tomorrow we are off to Tiradentes, the birth place of the leader of that first rebellion.


Off to Ouro Preto, Minas Gerais

Our time in Brasil is drawing to a close and our last excursion is to Ouro Preto and Tiradentes, both in the state of Minas Gerais.

We set off on Friday morning, the 24th, on the now well used bus route to Garulhas Airport, bound for Belo Horizonte, capital of Minas Gerais.  We landed at 4, had picked up the hire car by 5 and  Google Maps told us it was about 120 km and just under 2 hours to get to Ouro Preto.

Leaving the airport we hit heavy traffic immediately which didn’t really improve for the whole journey.  At one point, about half way there we ran into a tail back of traffic and crawled along in it for about 5km and 30 minutes,.   We wondered if this was perhaps  the tail back for Ouro Preto – it is a popular destination after all! However, mercifully it wasn’t!

We figured it was more likely to be a massive pile up in the bends up ahead – road works would be unlikely!    The road was littered with Police sponsored road signs warning drivers not to overtake, reinforcing the central double yellow lines.  However, the drivers actually doing the overtaking couldn’t see the warning signs for all the cars in the tail back.  In nose to tail traffic they had to just hope they cold push in before the oncoming traffic arrived!     The probability of a collision looked increasingly likely.

However, it turned out to be the Policia Federal Rodoviária manning a road check at one of their road side posts.   Ironic in view of all the dangerous driving in the queue to get there!   Normally you have to slow to 40 kph and negotiate two massive speed humps as you pass an empty site, or one full of police cars and the odd policeman wandering around.   So it was good to see these guys actually doing some road policing, because boy it is seriously needed!

Once past the bottle neck, normal chaos resumed, but our hopes of arriving in day light were now well passed and it was about 8pm when we got to the Flats Ouro Preto where we’d booked to stay.  We dropped our bags and got a cab into the ‘old town’ and found a restaurant close to the church of St Francis of Assisi.


Bolsa Official de Cafe (Official Coffee Exchange), Santos

The Official Coffee Exchange

The Bolsa Official de Café, or Coffee Exchange, is a magnificent building built to showcase the wealth and influence of coffee trade.   The Exchange was inaugurated in 1922 as part of the celebrations for the centenary of Brasil’s Independence.  It continued in use until its functions were transfered to São Paulo in the 1950s when the building gradually fell into disrepair.

By 1996 the tower was nearing collapse with the rest of the building not far behind.   The State stepped in and with the support of private enterprise the building was saved.   It became home to the Coffee Museum in 1998 and was declared a Heritage Site in 2009.

Before we visited, Valeria’s niece Mel, had told me about a coffee which is made from bird droppings.  It is very exclusive and very expensive so obviously I had to try it.  It is called Jacu Coffee.     The Jacu bird is an endangered species and suddenly took a liking to organically grown coffee on a plantation in Espirito Santo state.  And not just any of the ‘cherries’ either, the Jacu only went for the ripest ones that even experienced coffer pickers couldn’t identify.

Long story short, the plantation owner discovered that Indonesian growers had a similar problem with cats and had found that the beans could be recycled from the cat shit and produced fine coffee. So the plantation workers in Espirito Santo were issued with ‘pooper scoopers’ and Jacu Coffee was born.  Obviously it is eye-wateringly expensive as once the droppings are collected each bean has to be individually, lovingly cleaned by hand before it can be used.  Sounds like a marketing strategy to me, but it is obviously working so I gave it a go.

Now, I have had some shit coffee in my time, but I have to say this was the best, strong, flavoursome, slightly acidic and it didn’t seem to leave the aftertaste other coffees do.  It was nice, I have tried it, but I think that at R$22, that is about £6, for an espresso that will be my only taste of Jacu Coffee.  No coffee is worth that amount of money, but, box ticked, and where better to tick it?

Trading Floor of the Ex hange

The actual building is huge and located close to the railway station where the coffee arrived and opposite the, now derelict, dockside warehouses from where it was exported.   The major feature is the Trading Floor,  an impressive stone floored ‘arena’ enclosed by a ring of Brasilwood seats for the brokers and traders.  These seats on the Exchange were massively expensive, apparently costing as much as a house, and were passed down from father to son, but the profits to be made were obviously worth the cost.

Behind the Floor is a huge mural by Benedito Calixto, a famed artist from Santos, which depicts Bras Cubas founding Santos in front of the church he built, the Holy House of Mercy.   Calixto also created the stained glass  ceiling above the Floor which gives a very stylised representation of the three periods of Brasilian history from Colonial, through Imperial to the Republic.

The central ‘Colonial’ pane shows, amongst other things, flames on the waters which apparently was a trick the settlers used to scare the Indians.  They used cachaça, the clear sugar cane alcohol, to make it look like they had the power to make water burn!   His depiction of the period of Imperial abundance, from 1822 to 1889, shows the various crops grown in Brasil.   It has been noted that he only depicts European streotypes, completely omitting any reference to the slavery that existed throughout this entire period and which under pinned this prosperity. The third pane represents the industrial development of the Republic up to the centenary of Brasil’s Independence.

The building is impressive, more so because it has actually been preserved.  The Coffee Museum itself is also very interesting and I could have spent far longer there than we had.  The displays cover the entire history of coffee from its origins in Ethiopia to its arrival in Brasil and the relevance of the coffee trade to the political, social and economic life of the country.  That is in addition to an in depth exhibition on how coffee is actually grown and made. They have English and Spanish translations of the main features which was welcome, but half the fun is trying to understand the Portugese! Well worth the R$6 entry fee and after the museum I didn’r even begrudge the R$ 22 coffee!

Pumpkin, Chrisinho and Tickle

I’ll explain the title in reverse order.

“Olha Valerie, meu nom e T I C K L E, tá bom?”

Tickle‘.  You may recall Chris and Anisia have a small white parrot called Tico? Well actually, they don’t, the parrot is in fact called ‘Tickle‘.  With a Brasilian accent ‘le‘ on the end of a word sounds very like an ‘o‘, so  it is an easy mistake to make, and, hands up, it was Valeria who told me how to spell his name …….. after all, who calls a South American parrot Tickle?

Apparently Tickle did try to tell Valeria,  but who knew??

Chrisinho‘. The endings of words in Portugese imply meaning, more so than in English, so words ending with ‘āo’ indicate something big and when ‘inho’ is used it is as a diminutive, or as a term of endearment. Chrisāo would be ‘Big Chris’ and Chrisinho would be ‘Little Chris’.  Ages ago Chris hinted to Anisia he’d like to be Chrisão, so obviously, ever since he has been Chrisinho.

Pumpkin‘.  Chrisinho and Anisia, being farmers, tend to wake with the sun and so were generally early to bed; most evenings 9.30 seemed to be bed time.  And so, of course, I asked Anisia what happens at 9.30, “do you turn into a pumpkin?”

On a more serious note, we owe Chris and Anisia a massive, massive thank you. From the moment they picked us up from the airport to the moment they dropped us off again they were fantastic hosts and wonderful company.  It is no understatement to say that without them we’d not have done half of the things we did or seen even a fraction of the amazing things we have seen.   In the 10 days between leaving and returning to Aracaju we covered almost 1800 km, driving in the order of 12 hours a day on the long runs.  On Brazilian roads and dirt tracks that was only really practicable in a 4×4 with two drivers.    But credit where credit is due on  the subject of roads, those in Bahia were consistently the best we’ve seen here in Brazil; the driving not so much but the roads were great!

Sunset over Bahia

And so as we bid farewell to Chris and Anisia and take with us some amazing memories only made possible by such a wonderful couple. Thank You really doesn’t cover it.

Good mornig Aracaju



Sunday 12th was our final day not only in Mucugê but also in the Chapada Diamantina. Our amazing visit to this beautiful place was coming to an end.   And so it was perhaps appropriate to spend it in quiet reflection in one of the quietest, and one of the brightest towns, I have ever visited.

Main street at lunch time on Sunday

Mucugê is a fairly large place but at most times of day you can play spot the resident and keep count on the fingers of one hand.  About the only time the 5 of us were out numbered by locals is when we passed the football ground on Sunday morning!  It was quite amazing, more so having just come from lively Lençóis!

Our Pousada, Pousada de Mucugê, was quite a large place and full, yet after breakfast everyone was gone, out exploring the area, but where they went in the evening was a mystery.

The old part of town itself is a monument and is well preserved, is clean and tidy. It is also wonderfully colourful; there are flowering trees and plants everywhere.  No two buildings share the same colour paint and even paints on the same building clash!  In the sunshine it can be painfully bright!   It is as if the local paint shop they only stocks odd left overs.  You make your selection based on available quantity rather than colour!

“Do you have any colours that match?” the painter asks. “No” says the shop keeper. “Excellent” says the painter. “I’ll take the lot!” The result is wonderfully vibrant.

The streets themselves are all cobbled although there are an array of styles and ‘textures’. These range from relatively level stone ‘brick work’ (the Portugese word for this is the tongue-twister ‘paralelepipedo‘) to a version using large, flatish rocks, which should only really be driven on in a 4×4, and even then, slowly.    Add in road repairs and the apparent absence of speed limits is understandable and yet they still build speed humps!

And it was quiet, did I mention that?

We took a stroll around town on Sunday and found ourselves at the Byzantine Cemetery.   This is an impressive collection of white-washed mausoleums, and you’d expect it to be the quietest place in town; but with the five of us and two people from the circus that was pitched opposite, it was the liveliest!

There is a museum in town, but we never found it open ……..

We ate out each afternoon and evening and in exploring the local restaurants we did find a real gem. Restaurante de Dona Nena. Dona Nena is a lovely old and chatty lady who runs a pousada and a ‘kilo’ restaurant.

The food is all cooked in the traditonal style on a massive wood burning range called a Fogão a  Lenha and you help yourself straight from the pans on the Fogão.  The food was absolutely delicious.  On our second visit we were greeted like long lost friends and made so welcome that I had to remind Valeria to weigh her plate! She was so busy chatting she forgot; it was just like having dinner with friends.    Ermida asked if she could have a mango to take away (she does like her mangoes) and she ended up leaving with a bag full, D Nena adding more as we actually left.   Luckily we only ate there twice, otherwise we’d have had a serious weight gain issue.

Mucugê is a charming and colourful place to visit, although during our visit, it was a bit like staying in a massive open air museum.  We obviously weren’t the only people in town, there were shops and restaurants open, and people using them,  but most of the time it did feel like town was deserted. Quiet can be good, I like quiet, but perhaps this was a little too much of a good thing.

Cachoeira das Andoninhas

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 dark green line on the valley floor is the river Mucugê.

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.

Spoil from mechanical mining

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.

Crossing above the cachoeira

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.


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.