Lencois – Chapada Diamantina

Posted: June 17, 2011 in Brazil

Reading my trusty lonely planet on the Real Expresso bus out to Lencois it says,

Lençóis is the prettiest of the old diamond-mining towns in the Chapada Diamantina, a mountainous wooded oasis in the dusty sertão. While the town itself has charming cobbled streets and brightly painted 19th-century buildings, which are framed against lush green hills, the surrounding areas are the real attraction. Caves, waterfalls, idyllic rivers and panoramic plateaus set the stage for some fantastic adventures, with the town of Lençóis serving as a base for treks into the surrounding Parque Nacional da Chapada Diamantina and for sights outside the park.

I am very excited about visit the Chapada Diamantina mountain area, which is often likened to the Grand Canyon (USA) and Blue Mountains (Australia)

I left at 4pm and was due in 10.30pm that night, although from my experience of  driving on Brazils many ´auto-estradas´ it can be vehicular carnage! Although officially there are two lanes (one in each direction), buses, lorries, cars and motorbikes race at break neck speed nose to tail, using excessively heavy breaking at the last minute (only when absolutely necessary to avoid certain contact with man or machine) and then choosing to over take where ever and when ever they see fit (often flouting double yellow lines, oncoming traffik or slow moving pedestrians or men on mules!)

I am always too hot, as many of you know, so was thrilled that the bus had a superb air conditioning system. Unfortunately it was stuck on full power for the journey, much to the shivering indignation of fellow passengers.

After I dinner break I actually witness an intercity express coach overtaking a lorry, using most the opposite lane forcing oncoming lorries to swerve onto the side of the road which for all intentions is a dirt verge, kicking up a dust storm in their wake with furious hand gestures and horn honking… all this at 65-70mph. Throw into this a few high revving 50\125cc scooters in the mix and you have the picture! We were in the coach following and my driver seemed more interested in making conversation with the blonde rather vacant looking ´coach hostess´ who had not done an awful lot since smiling blankly at me and ripping a stub off my ticket on boarding the bus. She had spent over two hours applying lipstick and fluffing her hair in the mirror.

As I watched the miles race by and sun set from out the window I remember how much I love road travel over flying. Yes you can fly in a tenth of the time, but you do miss so much off life and nature when sat at 50,000 feet.

Miles travelled today 260 miles

Arrived safe and sound in ten minutes early, photo below is from the morning after.

I decided to do a tour of the surrounding area so I asked several tour/sight seeing operators and most offered a day out for 100/130 R$ which is about 40/55 pounds. As I am a bit of a bargain hunter I noticed that there were several young lads sat round on motorbikes not doing much. They normally act as a taxi service for people wanting to get around the town quickly and cheaply, as there are many steep cobbled streets in the centre. I figured they could potentially offer me a far better rate, as a 125cc bike has a far better mpg than a mini bus.

Undaunted by my lack of basic Portuguese I approached a group of them and entered into negotiation. I had a flier from  ‘eco mini bus tours’ to explain what I wanted to see and asked them for there first offer, which came back at 90 R$. Obviously they underestimated my stubborn nature and expert use of indifference so I rolled my eyes, wagged my finger and said ‘non.’ I let them chat for a while in portuguese and one came back with a better offer of 80R$. I laughed and signalled 50R$ with my hands. This put two of them off and they walked away leaving three potential riders. One said 80R$ followed by ‘this my best price mate’ in broken english.  I gestured my disapproval and decided to call their bluff and looked dispondant and sat down in a nearby cafe and ordered a fanta.

10 minuted later one approached me and offered to do the trip for 60R$ and saying, ‘I offer you 60 so you don’t cry now.’ I can assure you I was not crying so can only imagine it was his attempt at humour or a local saying whose meaning was lost in translation. I nodded with non-commital approval and thought the deal was done. He had a phone call and wandered off. Immediately after one of the others came over and said, ‘you my friend so I do you for 60.’ Hmmm anyway I explained to an English speaking friend of his I had already done a deal for 60 and was obliged to go with the first guy. He seemed a bit desperate and thought for a while and said, ‘ok I do 55…’ Deal done, shock hands and everything!

I thought his lack of English and my lack of Portuguese would lead to an interesting day out anyway!

The outline of the day as follows,

Rio (River ) Mucugezinho flowing out the nearby muntains, a “escorregadeira” natural bed of the river, with several natural pools, culminating in a well of deep, dark waters.

Poço do Diabo, (Devil’s pool) downstream of “escorregadeira” the river is a broad and deep well dug into sandstone and conglomerate. I waterfall drops 50m to the pool for those who brave the cold water and take the plunge.

Gruta da Lapa Doce, one of the largest quartz caves in South America and second largest in Brazil. Formed from rocks and conglomeratic sandstone (the others are of limestone formation) by an underground river.  It is 1200m long, 10m wide and 60m high!

Gruta da Pratina a blue lagoon where you can swim with fish and micro whelks.

Gruta Azul a cave next to lagoon which has crystal blue water which you can kayak and snorkle in.

Morro do Pai Inácio, a climb to the summit takes about 30 minutes as there is an access road taking you most the way up, leading to a 360 ° view of the mountains in the region, 250 meters high and 1,120 meters above sea level, the views of  Pai Inácio valley at sunset are stunning.

In all about 150 miles travelling in and around Chapada Diamintina

  1. What an amazing day…

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