The last several days have been perhaps the most memorable of the trip thus far. The excursion began late on Wednesday night when we headed out to the town of Lencois which is several hours west of Salvador by bus. Our bus left the city at 11:30pm and arrived in Lençóis at 5:30am. At the sacrifice of a good sleep we saved ourselves the cost of accomodation for a night. Without a plan or reservation we set out to see what the town had to offer us. Lençóis attracts tourists because it´s the starting point for treking in the national park of Chapada Diamantina which was our destination.
Finding a guide was easier than one might have thought. As we were leaving the bus terminal a man came up to us and asked if we had a guide. After a little bit of discussion, we agreed to hire him. We explored the town a little bit while our guide went to buy supplies for the trip. We agreed on a three day trek that would take us ultimately to both the top and bottom of Cachoeira da Fumaça, the smoking waterfall. It´s of of Brazil´s highest waterfalls but since there is not a huge flow of water the water becomes mist before reaching the bottom thus earning its name.
Finally we set out on the trek. We hiked for a little while, long enough to get hot and sweaty when we came across a stream flowing down a steep but smooth rocky incline. At the bottom was a small pool. Following our guide´s example, we ditched our packs at the top and used the rocks as a natural waterslide before landing in the cool pool below. It was good fun and a refreshing break before we headed up a hill. The next part of the hike was a long, steep climb but at the end we were rewarded with spectacular views of the surrounding countryside. Not like the Brazil of my imagination, the area was somewhat reminiscent of Greece or Italy with the dry rocky terrain and short trees and scrub. The valleys were more verdant and after a rest at the top of the mountain we descended into the valley.
I guess I can´t complain too much about being tired though. Most, actually all except Luis and myself, of the other tourist came to Lençois with big treking backpacks filled with lots of supplies. Luis and I had ditched our big packs at a friend´s house in São Paulo taking only one small pack each. In Lençóis we had downsized further consoladating our stuff into one pack and leaving the other. In this way we took turns carrying the one small backpack, the guide´s big pack with the food and having a break from carrying anything at all. I think at first our guide was nervous when he saw how we planned to trek, one small pack and me only in sandals but once we hit the trail and offered to take turns with his pack it went well. As to my sandals, he was wearing flip flops and couldn´t really make too many complaints.
At the end of the day we arrived at the first camp, close to a small pool that was attractively filled by a waterfall. We swam, ate lunch and I watched and photographed a small green snake that I had almost stepped on. Later with nothing but time on my hands I lay down beside the pool and the snake for a nap. When I went to sleep there were only the three of us there by the pool, myself, Luis and the guide. So you can imagine my surprise to wake up to several other people swimming, two of them young women who were swimming and sunbathing topless. A while later everyone clustered together to look at another snake that the guide had noticed. That could have been the realization of my greatest fantasy as a 13 year old, snakes, a jungle trek and topless women, in that order.
That night we had a delicious dinner while being seranaded by the croaking of frogs. I always loved animals growing up and really I haven´t grown up yet. I have a beard so I can fake it, but really I´m still just a big kid. I grabbed the flashlight and searched the rocks to catch a glimpse of some more Brazilian wildlife. Eventually I found the frog which I guess was somewhat rewarding. A little while later in the evening I heard another frog and couldn´t resist trying to find it as well. Part of me was reluctant though.
So often when I engage in childish whimsy something happens to make me regret giving in to the inner child. I had a sudden vision of me tripping and falling and breaking the flashlight. It wasn´t hard to imagine the guides laughing at the foolish gringo breaking his flashlight on the first night because he was looking for frogs. I ignored these pessimistic thoughts and shined the light down to where I heard the frog croaking. I didn´t fall and break the flashlight, something worse happened.
As soon as I turned on the light I saw a flash of moment on the outskirts of the beam of light. I tried to use the light to track whatever creature was there but it was so fast that I could only catch glimpses of it as it scurried from the light into the darkness. The images I could see though weren´t pleasant. I was sure that I had seen one of these things before on the X Files. Eventually the insect gave up trying to run and instead became totally motionless so I was able to study it closely. I It was some sort of big insect with far too many legs to be benevolent. It was just the sort of animal that I instinctively knew loved warm dark places, specifically the inside of sleeping bags.
We didn´t bring a tent and so I realized my chances weren´t good. I decided to place my bed feet towards the cavern where the insect lived, and to zip tight the zipper. It was my hope that these minimal precautions would be enough to keep my bed from being infested. I later set up my bed in the flatest, softest place available. It was marginally flat but by no means soft. There weren´t a lot of rocks there, the whole area was one large rock. My matteress didn´t offer much protection. It was probably an eighth of an inch thick when it was first made in 1976 but now it offered no more comfort than a layer of two ply toilet paper. I then crawled into my sleeping bag and realize that the zipper was broken and I was entirely at the mercy of that thing.
Eventually I managed to think happy thoughts and drift off into the land of nod. Ten minutes later I woke up my back terribly sore. I roled over onto my side, and marginally more comfortable I fell back to sleep. A while later I woke up, now my side complaining and I had to roll back over onto my back to fall asleep again. I repeated this cycle several times. Every time I woke up I would be aching. I would open my eyes praying that it would be light but more often than not I would open my eyes, see the stars, curse the rock I was sleeping on, roll over and fall back to sleep. When morning came I was glad to get up, though it was likely before seven am. The trip is all about new experiences.
That day was an easy hike of about an hour where we left our back packs and continued on to the base of the waterfall, another two hours or so. It was incredibly beautiful there, and to add to my happiness another pool was there where we could cool down and swim. We spent a few hours there and then hiked back to where our bags were to set up camp.
That night I found a spot where there was a thing layer of sand over the rocks. It wasn´t much but I had learned to be grateful. Later that evening, after dinner, the guides excitedly shouted, "Aranha, aranha!" which I had the misfortune of understanding. "Spider, spider!" I couldn´t resist and headed over to see a huge tarantula. As if there weren´t already enough creepy things to crawl into my bed.
When I set up my bed I realized that in fact my zipper did work, there was a second zipper that opened the other way that I hadn´t seen in the dark. I crawled into my bed grateful for the added protection against insects, snakes, and now spiders. After ten seconds I was roasting and flinging my covers off I took my chances. That night was impossibly, a worse sleep than the night before. I don´t know why, but I woke up twice as many times. I didn´t suffer anything worse than a few mosquito bites though.
We left camp early that day to trek to the top of the waterfall. It was a long fairly steep climb but once again the view from the top made it worthwhile. Eventually we reached the top of the falls. It was crowded with people, many who do a shorter day hike from a different town to reach the falls. A man had set up a little store selling drinks. I somewhat eagerly, somewhat anxiously made my way to the edge of the cliff. Crawling on my stomache the last couple feet I peaked my head over the edge.
Miles below I could see small pond where only yesterday I had swam. The height was incredible. My stomache did tricks as I tried not to think about how far of a fall it was to the bottom. Later from a different vantage point I realized that I hadn´t been lying on a solid cliff, but actually a rock that jutted out from the edge of the cliff. This is likely where the Warner Brothers went when they wrote the Wile E. Coyote cartoons.
We left the top of the mountain and headed back to another town where we caught a car back to Lençóis. I learned that day that guitar legend Jimmy Page owns two houses in Lençóis and on the walk down I sang Led Zeppelin songs and hoped for a chance meeting. In never happened though. We spent a little time exploring, a little time visiting and then had dinner. After dinner we caught the 11:30 bus back to Salvador where I am now, very tired and very smelly but very content. In a few hours we fly to Rio where I can make more memories to share with you, my dedicated reader. (I love you Mom!) Until then, tchau!