Friday, February 13, 2015

A New Year Begins with a New Adventure: Trekking Brazil

After a quick day at one of the seven wonders of the world, the waterfalls at Foz de Iguazu, I welcomed the New Year with my good friend and room mate on the beach of Copacabana in Rio de Janiero with two million other festive faces.  Dressed in white to usher peace and prosperity into the New Year, people packed onto the beach for free concerts, steaming street foods and an incredible fireworks display at midnight. But Rio's natural beauty, urban excitement and bronzed beach bodies couldn't hold us for long, our adventure was destined for the interior of Bahia State, over 36 hours of bus rides, to a National Park called Chapada Diamantina.

Before arriving, Chapada Diamantina seemed mysertious and wild from the lack of information online and in travel guides.  After the last ride of the long trip in a rusty old van along a curvy one lane dirt road, I was surprised to find ourselves in a small hippy community full of good vibes, Hare Krishna folks, organic and vegan foods and beautiful views of the surrounding wilderness pervaded the small town of Valle do Capao.  It felt like a little island of culture all to its own, and there was certainly not a shortage of helpful happy people tucked away in this mountain refuge.

We enjoyed the atmosphere, went on two day hikes to nearby waterfalls (one of which is the highest in Brazil where the water falls so far it dissipates into a plume of "smoke") and staged our trip into the park.  Armed with a map, the essentials for survival and enough hubris to think that we didn't need to contract a guide, we set off at 6:00 am on what would turn into an 11 hour day to make it into our destination, Valle do Paty.

The first night in the shared camp or posada, people smiled with amazement that two girls made it into the valley without getting lost on the way.  We didn't pay much attention to the comments because our legs were jelly and our bellies were growling.  After setting up camp and taking care of our immediate needs I walked away from the camp in the dark where I could see the faint glow of  thousands of lightning bugs.  I sat by myself on a hill in the dark, overlooking what I knew was the wilderness we were going explore, surrounded by magical flickers of neon green light.  The clouds started to brighten and the moon began to appear between two rocky mountain tops, a wedge of light illuminated the valley and I delighted in the spectacular of the natural light show.

The next morning it was clear that we were going to have a rough time finding all of the waterfalls, caves and trails that the park had to offer.  Not a single trail was marked and the trail on our map was more of a friendly suggestion than an accurate guide.  Fortunately, we meet a young married couple who invited us along on their day trip to the first waterfall.  Creek crossings, bouldering along the river and narrow jungle pathways took us past a series of waterfalls that we would have never found on our own.  We swam in the pool under the largest waterfall and basked in the incredible scenery. We had a great time getting to know the couple; the wife was Brazilian and the husband French. They had met years ago, but their marriage was delayed by two sizable barriers that they eventually overcame, an ocean and a language.

During our entire Brazilian adventure I was continuously grateful for serendipitous meetings with the right people at the right times.  The couple invited us to go along with them on the hike through the park, as we had a similar circuit mapped out and a similar timeline.  They saved us with great company and knowledge of the trails and we returned the favor by sharing food, our camp stove and our company.  We camped under cliff ledges, hung our heads over incredible canyon overlooks, swam under waterfalls, awed at the vermilion green and red tint of the rivers and creeks and were astounded by the various micro climates that shifted between dessert, cloud forest, jungle, mossy fern groves and palm forests. We literally climbed a rocky mountain face, called the castle, and then bouldered through a cave to the other side of it where the view of the valley where we trekked through for 6 days took our breath away.

The last night sitting under the unbelievable blanket of stars after just barely finding our camp spot before dark I felt a little tinge of sadness because the adventure was about to end.  Valle do Paty definitely pushed our limits but it was a chance to experience natural beauty unique to its remote niche on this planet.  The next day we were on a bus by dusk, headed to the nearest coastal city, Salvador, and from there I hopped a plane back home to Paraguay.  It was time to get back to work, but to take the images, experiences and inspiration from this fantastic escape along with me.