Jericoacoara

From Salvador we flew into Fortaleza and caught a bus to the chilled-out beach town of Jericoacoara, known throughout Brazil simply as Jeri. The windy town lies on the Atlantic Ocean, surrounded by dunes. The sandy roads make a four wheel drive vehicle necessary, of which there are plenty in the area!

We had a lovely private apartment at the German-run Casa Coco Verde, where we spent the week hanging out, cooking and being merry with other backpackers. We very much enjoyed a week long mini-vacation within our big vacation!

Jeri is well-known the world over for watersports, mainly kitesurfing, but also has plenty of other fun outdoor activities. We hiked across dunes for hours to reach a beautiful blue lagoon, took a ride in a dune buggy along the beach, watched the Sunset from the ‘Por de Sol’ (Sunset) Dune, and rode horses along the rocky coastline. All the while returning for a delicious bowl of Açaí with granola and banana! A truly lovely place!

Hike! Vale do Pati

The landscape surrounding the national park is rocky and arid; the most fertile farming land is in the Valley of Pati, nestled in a valley deep within a series of canyons. During the mining boom, the valley was settled by farmers who provided most of the food stuffs for the growing diamond mining population. Because of its rather inaccessible location — from the nearest town 12km on foot or donkey, as there are no roads here — the community of a dozen families still live a lifestyle similar to a hundred years ago.

We started our four day hike to Pati with a gradual climb out of the Valley of Capão onto a high plain. This plain extends for a good 20km until the steep descent into Pati. The long valley consists of a deep canyon with four extensions that jut out in every direction. The houses, many of which provide housing for hikers, are spread out throughout the valley and it can take a full days hike to make it from one side to the other.

We spent our first night halfway through the plain in a shelter simply called “Rancho” — a lovely space between goiaba, orange and lemon trees crawling with monkeys (and snakes…!). By the next night we found ourselves in a toca (rock shelter) on top of the valley with a beautiful view into the canyon (near the waterfall called Cachoeirão). On our third day our actual tour of Pati commenced: we descended into the valley and camped a small, somewhat abandoned compound called Ruinha (meaning “little road” — this used be the main street of the valley back when there were over 1000 residents!). We hiked around the start of the valley and visited some of the families in the area. As we cooked our vegetarian bolognese with ingredients from the local store, we were reminded that everything we ate that night had either been produced in the immediate vicinity or carried in by pack mules!

Vale do Capão

After our intense four day hike from Lencois, we spent a week relaxing and recovering in Capao. The small, spread out town is nestled in a fertile valley and has become home to a growing community of foreigners and Brazilians looking for an alternative lifestyle with an emphasis on nature and health. Most of our days there revolved around food and enjoying the creative organic and vegetarian cuisine we had been missing so much during our months in Brazil. Our favorite dishes: whole wheat crust pizza from the street with delectable green smoothies, grilled eggplant covered in rucola pesto served with whole wheat chapati.

 

Hike! Lençois – Capão

After a couple days of poking around the quaint and pleasant town of Lençois — the principal access point into the Chapada Diamantina National Park — we wandered off into the woods for a four-day adventure of rocks, roots and waterfalls.

Thanks to other GPS-enthusiasts out there in the vast internet we had some trails to help guide us. We woke up to rain on the Sunday of our departure and, after about an hour on the trail, already took a detour! We made ourselves a cup of coffee under a stone shelter and Nick had a go at the Riberão do Meio natural rock slide (!). His words: “probably the most fun thing I’ve ever done in nature.”

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Our day continued over the Veneno Mountain, a half-marsh-half-moonscape and back down into jungly stream crossings, eventually dumping us into the large Capivara River Valley which would more or less guide us the rest of the way. Another valley, the Palmital River Valley, joined from the North, and that’s where we found our campsite for the night.

 

A note about the coca-cola brown water: within the park there’s a specific plant that, acting as an organic tea ingredient, keeps all of the river water brown in color. It’s all perfectly safe to drink and a couple weeks later it even seemed strange to be drinking clear water from the tap again!

The second day we made little head way in lots of time! The GPS reception was poor deep in the river canyons and we made slow progress trying to rock hop upstream and cross the river several times against a strong current. It was a fun day, though, and we arrived at the <i>toca</i> — a cave used as a natural shelter previously by miners and now by hikers — just in time for a quick swim before sunset. Unfortunately the camping spaces were crowded, the other folks around not terribly kind, and we very literally slept between a rock and a hard place!

Our third day was a beautiful day hike through a thick jungle along a dried riverbed to reach the bottom of one of the tallest and most magnificient waterfalls in Brazil. The day was full of slinging from tree branches and hopping over streams and huge boulders. After managing our way through a larger-than-life rock garden, we reached the illustrious bottom of the Fumaça waterfall. Fumaça, meaning smoke, accurately describes the effect of the 400+m water drop, where wind resistance meets gravity and continually breaks up the water particles, ending in the visual effect of smoke. The view out of the slender, tall canyon to the top is simply dizzying and the immensity of the fall makes you feel tiny.

After a night of much more pleasant company and an outstanding campspot, the next day’s task was to climb out of the Capivara River Valley and up to the plain above. The trail was stupendous and challenging, and once again we were happy to have climbing experience as we scrambled up huge rocks and out of the valley. The reward was a break at the <i>top</i> of the Fumaça falls, where a flat rock jutting out into the abyss allowed the opportunity to have a vertigo-challenging view straight down to the bottom of the falls. The rest of the hike across the plain and down into the delightful Vale do Capão, was pretty uneventful but awfully tiring in the hot sun!

Chapada Diamantina

A seven-hour bus ride from Salvador took us to Lençois, jumping-off point to explore the Chapada Diamantina National Park. Loosely translated into “diamond highlands,” the Chapada Diamantina was scene of a huge diamond boom and subsequent bust, leaving with it grandiose tales of diamond-filled riverbeds in the hills and a huge network of miners’ trails to explore. The nature is stupendous here: river-filled canyons and stunning rock formations are around every corner.

Having almost three weeks to explore it all, we spent the first couple of days poking around Lençois to swimming holes and waterfalls in the area. Note the rock conglomerations everywhere, smoothed over by thousands of years of, among other abrasives, diamonds!

 

o Nordeste: Salvador

We finally made the jump from Belo Horizonte to the North of Brazil, to the colorful and vibrant city of Salvador. Brazil’s first capital, the city has a glorious colonial past and served for many years as Brazil’s largest port, exporting everything from diamonds to sugar cane while importing nothing other than the hundreds of thousands of slaves used to drive the entire raw good trade. The cultural difference between here and the South of Brazil is huge! Here’s a map to show you the jump:


View Belo to Salvador in a larger map

The inner city has fallen into grandiose decay, while the rest of city suffers from intense urban sprawl. The UNESCO site of the Pelourinho district in the center (literally meaning “little whipping post” in reference to slave punishment), with obvious thanks to the UNESCO status and money, is well-maintained, with  colorfully-painted colonial facades and the main tourist district. Live music is rampant in the Pelourinho and we stumbled across several lively drum corps practicing on the cobblestone streets as well as free concerts. Finally, the live music we have been craving!

 

Santuário do Caraça

Off nestled in the impressive Caraça mountain range, the former monastery and boarding school of Caraça was an experience. A 25km road takes you off of the main highway and brings you through lush forests to the cluster of buildings at the base of a mountain. Here there’s wonderful nature to take advantage of — there are a plethora of well-trodden trails starting on the main grounds, most of them leading the impressive waterfalls and swimming holes.

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The evenings at Caraça, however, hold quite a special attraction in store for visitors, the hora do lobo — the hour of the wolf! More ritualistic than it perhaps sounds, one of the priests has trained the wild maned wolves of the area to come up the church steps and eat from a plate of meat scraps he sets out, almost every evening. It’s quite an event!

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It works like this: After supper in the impressive dining hall, visitors gather outside near the church steps around a plate of meat scraps as the evening mass starts. Everyone keeps quiet as they can, enjoying the cool evening and the stars above, and waits.

After missing a brief appearance the night before, we got lucky on our second night, when a pair of these majestic creatures silently trodded up the stairs and spent a quarter-hour chomping on the bones in the chicken scraps. It’s amazing that the large crowd (some 20 people this night), awe-struck by the audacity of these animals, doesn’t frighten them. But it doesn’t seem to, and they spend their time cycling between chomping through meat and bones and keeping lookout down the church steps. Quite an experience!!

 

Ouro Preto

The region around Belo was rich in tradition and lots of things to see.

We’ve mentioned the Estrada Real before, the “royal street” of the gold back to the shore and off to Portugal. In this gold rush era, Ouro Preto was the focal point. One amazing fact from our guide book: as Ouro Preto’s population reached 100,000 in the 18th century, New York City had 50,000 residents while Rio de Janeiro had only 20,000.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Ouro Preto hosts marvelous baroque architecture from a period of Brazil under Portuguese rule. Set into the green rolling Minas hills, it’s perfectly well-preserved.

Belo Horizonte

Belo Horizonte, the capital of Minas Gerais, is a town of 3+ million and said to be the third-largest in Brazil (though it’s practically a tie with other towns like Salvador and Recife).

We had fabulous hosts, Max and Vivian, and stayed with Max’s mother Ana in the Lourdes district. Turns out this is right where you want to stay in Belo!  Though the name “beautiful horizon” originally referred to the beauty of the surrounding hills, it now holds quite true with its modern skyline at sunset:

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We instantly took a liking to Belo… it’s a vibrant city keen on the arts and has an obvious emphasis on quality of life. We were, of course spoiled by our location — wide avenues with lush greenery accompanied us between lovely cafés, bars and music shops.

Our hosts, who were even moving apartments while we were there (!), were fantastic and wasted no time in showing us the culinary delights of their city and helping us plan our time in the region. Thanks Max and Vivian!!

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Feijão, Angu e Couve

Subtext: Food on the Farm

Our time on the farm was a grand introduction to the comida mineira, the typical [miner's] food of Minas Gerais. The staples, which we had at many meals, are Feijão (beans), Angu (a polenta-like dish made either of manioc or corn flour), and Couve (kale). This combo should cover the bases for a complete meal, as the feijão offers protein, the cale vitamins and the angu your carbs (rice and another veggie, Chuchu, are often in accompaniment). The combination is great and ubiquitous across Minas and typically served in panelas da pedra da sabão, soapstone pots. The pot pictured here is full of rice and next to a big slab of the typical cheese in Minas, aptly named queijo mineiro, which to us tasted like a milder, harder Feta (it was good and even better for dessert with Goiabada!).

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When we weren’t eating comida mineira with our hosts, we had plenty of time and an incredible selection of fresh veggies — many new to us! — to do our own experimenting! All we had to do was walk into our backyard and collect our ingredients from the big organic garden.

The things we had from the near-by city were: granola, coffee, rice, noodles, sugar, salt, oil, butter, cheese, and tomato sauce. After two weeks, we only had a tiny bag of trash and a huge compost pile!

Everything was seasonal, and since it is the middle of autumn here in Brasil, we had a lot of greens and roots to choose from, including: a variety of lettuce, cabbage, potatoes, yams, manioc, pumpkin, carrots, okra, chayote, ginger and of course onions and garlic. We could pick limes from the tree out back and gather a few more ingredients from the “harvesting house” up the hill, including apples and oranges. Milk we got in a bucket straight from the cows, and yoghurt from Euler who prepares a large collection in jars every week.

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Lunch!

Among other things we threw together iron-pan eggplant pizza,pumpkin soup with manioc fries, creamy kale pasta, and an apple pie. We perfected cooking our own Feijão in the pressure cooker and often ate an egg with lunch. It was a time of good eatin’!

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Pan Eggplant Pizza… another use for our flour!

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Kale Pasta

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Pumpkin Soup, Manioc Fries, and Salad (all from the garden!)

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Apple Pie with flour from the farm!

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Last-day Garden Soup 0

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Last-day Garden Soup 1