Chapada Diamantina is where I didn’t find any diamonds

01 May – 08 May 2014

My bus pulled into a town called Lençois in the Chapada Diamantina National Park at 430am in the morning and ignoring the touts of the mototaxis and horse carriages, I headed off on foot towards the cheapest accommodation in what is ordinarily a very expensive tourist town.

At 430am, Lencois is a very quiet tourist town. Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

At 430am, Lencois is a very quiet tourist town.
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

Arriving at my accommodation site, I dumped my stuff into a tent (the cheapest option – tents provided!) and tried to catch some shut eye before starting my day of exploration. Unfortunately, the rooster that lived on the campsite had other ideas and stood right next to my tent, crowing incessantly. I finally gave up trying to sleep and headed out to get myself some breakfast before hitting the town to find a good deal on a tour of the national park. I managed to get myself a decent package, paying only R$50 (roughly SGD 25) for a 6 hour tour that included some of the highlights around Chapada Diamantina – Morro do Pai Inacio,

Morro da Pai Inacio, so named for the slave to ran away from his masters and took refuge on this particular mountain Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

Morro da Pai Inacio, so named for the slave to ran away from his masters and took refuge on this particular mountain
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

View from the top - amazing Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

View from the top – amazing
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

I like pretty (weird) flower! Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

I like pretty (weird) flower!
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

and guided trek through Serrano

Serrano is a popular place for locals and tourists alike to escape the scorching heat Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

Serrano is a popular place for locals and tourists alike to escape the scorching heat while enjoying gorgeous views
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

Beautiful natural rock formations Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

Beautiful natural rock formations along the trek
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

stopping at various waterfalls

The water that runs in these rivers is so rich in iron that it is not clear, but a reddish brown colour instead Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

The water that runs in these rivers is so rich in iron that it is not clear, but a reddish brown colour instead
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

Lovely little pools that would be perfect to swim in...if they weren't freezing cold Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

Lovely little pools that would be perfect to swim in…if they weren’t freezing cold
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

Nice little waterfall, and Rebecca and Katie, my tour friends! Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

Nice little waterfall, and Rebecca and Katie, my tour friends!
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

to swim along the way.

We didn't do so much swimming as getting soaked. Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

We didn’t do so much swimming as getting soaked.
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

It was a fun day for the most part (except for the moment at the end of the trek when I discovered that I had dropped my wallet somewhere along the way) and two of the girls I met, Katie and Rebecca, invited me to have pizza with them that evening, so it was a nice end to a good day.

Team Trek-Serrano! Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

Team Trek-Serrano!
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

The next morning, I set off to the information desk to find out more about treks I could do on my own and found one that seemed perfect for a day trip – trek to a waterfall called Sossego. The woman at the info counter tried to dissuade me from going on my own, but I headed out undeterred, armed with water and food supplies for the day.

Great day for a hike! Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

Great day for a hike!
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

It turned out to be a very memorable hike which I was very proud of being able to do on my own.

Follow the river - very useful piece of advice when trying to find a waterfall ;) Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

Follow the river – very useful piece of advice when trying to find a waterfall 😉
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

I did wander off the path a little but by asking random people I met on the way,

I would never have figured out I had to wade through the river to cross over to the other side and then back again to get to the waterfall on my own Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

I would never have figured out I had to wade through the river to cross over to the other side and then back again to get to the waterfall on my own
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

 

And following trail markers! Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

And following trail markers!
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

I finally made it to the Cachoeira Do Sossego . And guess who I should meet there but Katie and Rebecca!

Finally at the waterfall! Not as impressive as I would have imagined, but the journey more than made up for it Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

Finally at the waterfall! Not as impressive as I would have imagined, but the journey more than made up for it
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

They had hired a guide to bring them there and were quite surprised (as was their guide) that I had done the hike by myself.

My water bottle was empty by the time I got there, so I decided to fill my bottle with a trickle from a stream upriver. The iron supplement didn't hurt either heh. Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

My water bottle was empty by the time I got there, so I decided to fill my bottle with a trickle from a stream upriver. The iron supplement didn’t hurt either heh.
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

 

A good place for a well deserved rest Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

A good place for a well deserved rest
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

On the way back I tagged along with them and we even stopped at Riberão do Meio

A good place to hang by the river to escape the heat Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

A good place to hang by the river to escape the heat
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

for a whiz down the toboggan there.

Sunset at the toboggan Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

Sunset at the toboggan
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

That evening, I met a Spanish couple at my hostel who very kindly gave me some information about other places to visit in Chapada, so off I went the next day to Vale do Capão.

I headed first into Palmeiras on a bus, before catching a little minivan to Vale do Capão, a town known for having a really relaxed atmosphere and for attracting hippies.

Attracting hippies and tree huggers. I hugged this tree because it was beautiful. Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

Attracting hippies and tree huggers. I hugged this tree because it was beautiful.
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

When I arrived, it was immediately evident that Capão is a hippie haven, but I felt strangely at ease and comfortable there.

Perhaps because even Indian Elephant Gods go camping there. Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

Perhaps because even Indian Elephant Gods go camping there.
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

I plonked my stuff down at Camping Seu Dai, a place with a reputation for great views and a chilled out owner before wandering around the tiny town for a bit. I had a delicious Pastel de Palmito de Jaca, a fried pastry filled with some sort of jackfruit filling, and chatted for a bit with some of the locals before heading back to the campsite to join the people who were cooking, chatting, singing and making music till the wee hours of the night.

I wanted to see Cachoeira da Fumaça, the tallest waterfall in Brazil (380m) the next day, a waterfall so tall that during the dry season, it doesn’t even reach the pool below, being blown away as mist by the winds instead, hence its name, “Smoker”. The trailhead starts some distance away from the town, but I was lucky enough to hitch a ride from a truck that was heading that way, saving me a good half hour of walking in the hot sun.

Beautiful day for hiking! Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

Great view of Morro do Pai Inacio in the distance
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

I left my name at the ranger post, politely refused the guide they offered (assured by my successful solo trek to Sossego, no doubt) and headed off on the clearly marked trail. It was a straight trek up for twenty minutes and up on the plateau was where trouble started.

View from the trouble-starting plateau Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

View from the trouble-starting plateau
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

The plateau was covered in sparse vegetation, which unfortunately for me, meant that after a while of walking, everything suddenly started looking like a trail to follow. I could see random hikers in the distance though, so I followed in their general direction, only to find that what I thought was the trail, disappeared into prickly thorn bushes or ended abruptly at wide crevasses I could not cross. I realized, with no small amount of dread, that I had been lead astray by what I now term…pee trails. Trails people make when they go off into the bush to take a leak, but over time, start resembling a real trail.

I found this cool beetle at the end of a pee-trail Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

I found this cool beetle at the end of a pee-trail
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

I managed to retrace my tracks to the original trail, and tried again…only to find myself in the middle of nowhere again.

In the middle of nowhere, with no trail whatsoever to follow so....I took a selfie. Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

In the middle of nowhere, with no trail whatsoever to follow so….I took a selfie.
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

It was getting quite close to the time limit I had set myself (on solo hikes, I always set myself a time limit to reach my destination, failing which I would turn back and head to safety for fear of being lost in the wilderness at night) but I managed to find the original trail I was on. I was feeling quite disappointed at not having reached my destination and was heading back down the trail when I met two hikers heading to Fumaça! What luck! I sheepishly told them I couldn’t find the rest of the trail and they very happily let me tag along (one of them was a professional guide). Yay me! Following them on the trail, I could not figure out how I had gotten so lost but eventually put it down to the universe teaching me a lesson about being cocky. Lesson learnt, universe! Well, we eventually made it to the waterfall and while the waterfall itself wasn’t too impressive,

That tiny trickle of water is the waterfall. Not what I expected at all. Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

That tiny trickle of water is the waterfall. Not what I expected at all.
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

there were some stunning views from there, which I appreciated very much.

Very impressive view of the National Park Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

Very impressive view of the National Park
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

Woohooooooo! Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

Woohooooooo!
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

My companions walking down to the edge of the waterfall Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

My companions walking down to the edge of the waterfall
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

Really not much of a waterfall Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

Really not much of a waterfall
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

Hard to imagine the little pool there is 380m down Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

Hard to imagine the little pool there is 380m down
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

I headed back with my newfound friends after a while, and spent the evening with the hippie gang (odd mishmash of Brazilians, Argentinians, Venezuelans and one Swedish guy, amongst others) at the campsite.

One of the great things about Vale do Capão is that it is very close to lots of the waterfalls and rivers that run through Chapada Diamantina, so the next day it was off to two different waterfalls – first, Cachoeira da Angelica, and further along the trail, Cachoeira da Purificacão. A Venezuelan girl I met at the campsite, Diliana, wanted to check out the waterfalls too, so we headed out together after picking up some supplies.

lalala Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

The river we were supposed to be following
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

It was a pleasant walk, but after a while, the trail kinda…disappeared. It seemed to head to the river…and then disappeared. This stumped us a little, but we decided to head across the river and found the path again! Onwards we went, wandering through the jungle, and…the path disappeared into the river again.

And there were these little rock piles which are usually set as trail markers, but also seemed to be mocking us :/ Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

And there were these little rock piles which are usually set as trail markers, but also seemed to be mocking us :/
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

This time, we felt less sure, especially since nobody we had spoken to about this trail had mentioned that river crossings were involved! Diliana wanted to head back, but I decided to continue onwards, and some distance away, found a waterfall!

What we thought was Cachoeira Purificacão Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

What we thought was Cachoeira Purificacão
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

 

Well, at that point, we stopped for a swim and decided that this waterfall we had found was the Cachoeira da Purificacão and the other pathetic excuse for a waterfall was Cachoeira da Angelica.

Waterfall but just barely Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

Waterfall but just barely
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

Really, they should put up some signposts or something. We eventually decided to head back

But not before wandering around a little first Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

But not before wandering around a little first
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

 

Diliana my trekking companion! Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

Diliana my trekking companion!
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

and once back in town, we asked the guys we had asked for directions earlier in the day to confirm if the waterfall we found was Cachoeira da Purificacão.They did, and we felt quite satisfied with ourselves and our hike. I went to bed quite early that night, exhausted after all the hiking I had been doing the past few days.

The next morning was an incredibly wet one, with rain pouring down for hours on end. I chilled out at the campsite with the others who were similarly rained in, but at about midday, the rain finally stopped so off I went again, this time on a very easy walk to Riachinho along the road.

Long but easy walk to Riachinho Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

Long but easy walk to Riachinho
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

It was a rather long walk, but I met another guy who was heading there as well, so it turned out to be a pleasant walk during which we even encountered a gorgeous (but probably extremely dangerous) snake. Random googling says it’s probably a Brazilian Coral snake, a poisonous variety of snake whose bite can cause respiratory failure within hours. Good thing we didn’t step on him by accident.

Happily slithering across the road - Mr. Snake Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

Happily slithering across the road – Mr. Snake
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

Dude (I forgot his name) was also kind enough to show me his photos of the REAL Cachoeira da Purificacão, after hearing about my adventure the previous day. Apparently, the waterfall we had reached was Cachoeira da Angelica. -_- well, I guess I had to save some waterfalls for a return trip to Chapada Diamantina. Riachinho was nice enough, quiet and less freezing cold than the rest of the other waterfalls,

Quiet Riachinho Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

Quiet Riachinho
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

so I had a nice afternoon swimming

My private infinity pool Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

My private infinity pool
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

and exploring a little bit

We discovered the river flowed on to another set of waterfalls Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

We discovered the river flowed on to another set of waterfalls
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

Not really much space to hang out there though Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

Not really much space to hang out there though
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

before heading back to the campsite for another evening of quiet conversation and music.

The next day was a completely wet one, which thwarted any vague plans I may have had (I didn’t), but I spent the afternoon dealing with my bank, trying to get them to send me a replacement credit card for the card I cancelled earlier that year when I lost my wallet in Chile. I tried to get my sister to settle the details of sending the card by courier service to the Singapore embassy in Brasilia so that I could pick it up, but the bank refused to work on her instruction, despite my written request via my secured iBanking account and insisted that I call in to confirm the details myself. I couldn’t even use Skype to call them because Vale do Capão has very limited internet access, so in the end, I had to make several *very expensive* phone calls and yell at several different people before I could get everything sorted. Moral of the story – banks are awful, and if you happen to have to deal with them from faraway lands, sucks to be you. Also, I don’t understand why banks boast of being global institutions if they have no dealings with their branches in the various countries and consider themselves essentially separate entities. /end rant

All too soon, it was time to say my goodbyes to my hippie (and some not-so hippie) friends and spend an entire day in transit

In transit in Seabra, a small town in the middle of a very long road Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

In transit in Seabra, a small town in the middle of a very long road
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

– before arriving in Brasilia, capital of Brazil!

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