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.
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 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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”!
Chris and Anisia picked us up this morning, Friday, 3rd February, and drove us to theirs for breakfast. Valeria had some quality time with Tico and we met Chris and Anisia’s son, Otavio; he has been busy for the last few days doing his entry tests for a year of Officer training in the Army.
At about 10 am we set off for Xingo, or more accurately the town of Piranhas in Algoas state on the São Francisco river just south of the Xingo Dam. Three hundred and twenty odd kilometres into the interior of Brasil, but unlike our trip to Cornélio Procópio the scenery was far less green and lush. No thick Atlantic Forest and rolling green hills. We are 2500 km further north in the North East region where they are suffering a drought as opposed to the torrential rain and floods in São Paulo.
Leaving Aracaju and the Sergipé river valley the terrain became progressively drier as we drove north. Between the few larger towns the road is flanked by tiny, dusty villages and although relatively flat and undulating, the countryside is vast, breathtaking in scale sometimes and a photo from a moving car simply can’t capture it.
And with little warning, other than a slight greening of the landscape we were descending towards the São Francisco river and approaching our destination.
We reached Piranhas at about 2 pm and found our way through the narrow streets to the Pousada O Canto, dropping our bags off before going for a wander through Piranhas to find lunch.
Due to pressures of time, we are so busy seeing places and things, I have no time to blog about them, so I have left Piranhas itself for another post.