Tag Archives: Chapada Diamantina

Mucugê

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

 

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. )