The alarm goes off at 5 am! Time to get up and get ready to hike through Vale do Pati in Chapada Diamantina, a beautiful national park in Bahia, Brazil.
We pack what’s left of our gear, take a quick shower and bring our stuff, that we are not going to take on this trip, to the house where the Danish are staying. These things will stay there for 3 days, while we hike through Vale do Pati. Actually that’s a pretty scary idea when you consider that these things are all we have and we should be able to live on this for a year.
Oh well, everyone is saying that this happens on a regular basis and it is safe to leave things behind in Brazil. Our host even told us yesterday: “You can leave your wallet on the table and put the money on top of it, your phone right next to it and also your tablet, they will not take any of it, but if you leave drugs anywhere, it’s gone!”
We notice that the Western culture has really invaded our lives, and that Western civilisation isn’t as hospitable anymore, as we say it is. Us Westeners no longer see the good in people, we are very suspicious and also we don’t do anything for each other unless we can get money out of it in some way, or we can take advantage somehow. I hope it’s not too late for us, and that we can still change our way of thinking al together, that would make life so much easier and more pleasant. Of course you always have to be careful, but culture here is still much more relaxed than in the Netherlands. Everything is possible, everything is fine, everyone helps each other out en you pay at the end. “Fist we have fun, then we pay”. A trust based community, I really wish we had the same.
So time to let go of our Western thoughts…
We put down our bags in a corner of the living room (where anyone can just walk in), close the door behind us and walk towards the road. This is the start of our trip; 3 days in a beautiful national park with waterfalls and deep valleys, we are very excited!
Off to Vale do Pati
The first day will be the toughest of them all, as we cover a distance of 23 horizontal kilometres, so that’s without all the climbs and descends. The biggest part should be flat though, according to our information source, but there are also tough parts. That’s why we leave early and leave a big part of the road behind us before the hottest part of the day. We might reach the accommodation for our first night in the early afternoon.
The first part on the road is easy, our backpacks are not too heavy, the sun rises, but cannot really reach us yet and we’re having a nice time with the four of us.
Luckily we have a good connection with the Danish (Peter and Matilde) and we have lots to talk about. Times flies and that’s always a good thing when you’re crossing long, flat pieces of land. The first part goes very fast and the landscape keeps changing. Gradually we go up and the view just keeps getting better and better, without us even noticing the climb. The clouds keep blocking the sun, so it’s still not too hot to hike. Of course we are warm enough already, with al the stuff we need to drag with us.
Peter and Matilde decided to spend the night in the little villages we pass along the way. In each of these villages you can buy a total package with a bed, diner and breakfast for 110 Real each. Not too expensive, but since we are on a tight budget to be able to travel for a year, we decide to bring our tent and camping gear and only buy food in the villages.
That saves us some money, disadvantage is that we carry a lot more stuff than Peter and Matilde. Especially the tent is big and quite heavy, although we invested in a high quality, lightweight, 3 person tent. The third person being our 2 backpacks that we would like to store dry as well. It still takes a lot of space and weighs about 3 kilos. This combined with our clothes, other camping gear and about 6 litres of water, is making the backpacks quite heavy. Especially Milou’s, because she’s carrying the tent.
The track has some tough parts
It’s 10 am and we’re walking on top of one of the many plateaus (flat mountain peak), which are very characteristic in this park. The sun finally won from the clouds and is intense and hot. Time to put some more sunscreen on our bodies and drink plenty of water. The last part up was quite steep, so we’re all feeling very warm at this point. Milou’s starting to get a headache, which is most inconvenient for her because we still have a long way to go, our backpacks aren’t getting any lighter and the sun seems to be in our faces for a while. We’re happy with every cloud that blocks out the sun for a few seconds.
Around 11 am we reach the point from where we can finally gradually walk downhill. That’s a relief! In my mind I can’t help myself for thinking that we are on our way to view point, and that these are normally high up some mountain. Hopefully we won’t go down too far, because that also means a bigger climb after.
About an hour later we reach a river an check if this is a good place to have some food, we’ve build up quite the appetite with all this walking. We’re looking for a place in the shade, which doesn’t seem to be here. There’s one place, but that’s already taken by the mosquitoes… We would like to eat but the mosquitoes can find their own food.
We take a look at the map and the environment and see that we should reach an almost vertical ascent soon, which we have to climb to get to the next plateau. That’s very disappointing! We quickly discuss the situation and decide to get rid of this steep part and eat at the top. You don’t want to have your lunch break when all you can think about is the horror that’s in front of you.
The climb is very difficult for us with our heavy backpacks, while Peter and Matilde seem to fly up this mountain. Milou is having a very hard time, every step she takes her head feels like it’s about to explode. With some breaks, pep talks and a single tear we are almost at the top, where Peter comes walking down towards up to help Milou with her bag. That’s most welcome and highly appreciated!
Time to swap items
Lunch is nice and the view is breath taking, but especially the rest is very welcome at this moment, so the pain killers can do their job. After lunch I check if I can change some things around in our backpacks. After some puzzling I manage to fit the tent and sleeping bag in my backpack, and give Milou the light sleeping mats. I stuff as many small but heavy things in my bag as I possibly can and I think all together this should save Milou about 5 kilos in weight. My backpack is just as heavy as it was with all the stuff we left behind, but hey, complaining is only for the weak.
We take our bags and follow the path on the plateau. It’s still 9 kilometres to the view point, and then a few more to the first village. On our right we see a giant area with mountains in the back, and on our left a steep wall with a deep valley behind it.
Some food did us all some good, and we start the last part fresh, with new energy. Let’s hope we’re lucky and don’t have to come down from this plateau, so it stays flat until the view point. That would be a relief for all of us and would make Milou very happy, although it seems like the pain killers manages to suppress the headache.
Reaching the viewpoint
After 2 hours of walking in the burning heat, we all are pretty much done. Steps are getting smaller and our feet scream for some rest. Luckily I can still enjoy the view but Milou doesn’t even care about that anymore, all she sees is her feet, focused on the right places to put them so she won’t trip. The view point is getting very close, and from that point we should be able to see the end of day one, the first village.
One hour later we finally reach the view point, and indeed, it’s a very nice spot for some photos and to enjoy the view. The pain in our feet seems to be forgotten for a little while, and we even get to enjoy a slight breeze, so the heath is a little bit more bearable. We take a look at the map and see which route we should take into the valley, and to which village we should go.
The first one seems really close, about 1,5 kilometres from here. The second one is about 3 kilometres out, but from there it should be easier to leave our bags tomorrow and have an easy walk to the waterfall and a cave in a mountain peak. Anyway, before we make that choice we first have to climb down this mountain. The path to the first village seems way longer than 1,5 kilometres. I find out that this long path goes around the mountain, and it’s 4 kilometres longer than the path on the map. All we want is to take off our shoes as soon as possible and give our feet some air and space.
The alternative should be the better option, but it’s a very steep downhill climb on a narrow path full of rocks and stones. Matilde and I go to explore this path, before we take all our stuff and find out that halfway down, the path is blocked. Although I already know that for Milou and me, this is the only option, because we are not going to add another 4 kilometres to this day. With our heavy backpack and sore feet, at this point we’re walking about 3 kilometres an hour. There’s only one hour of daylight left, so the steep path really is our only option to reach the village before sunset.
We take the narrow path down. Milou is not very happy, but I convince her that despite the difficult parts it should be possible to get down with help from each other. I think the people from the village (which only has about 4 houses) made this path so they don’t have to walk 4 kilometres extra, every time they have to go to a bigger village for supplies.
Our first campsite in Vale do Pati
De descent in general goes very well and I’m very proud of Milou that she’s doing this with her painful feet and her big backpack. When we finally get down, Peter and Matilde have been waiting for us for a while. They tell us they would like to go to the second village after all, because they just found a note saying that the next village won’t serve any food today.
Milou and I discuss but don’t need much time to decide that we’ll go to the first village. We’ve got some food left and we really don’t want to walk any more than necessary today. Also we wouldn’t want to walk in the dark. We say goodbye to Peter and Matilde for now, and arrange to see each other tomorrow in the second village, where they will stay two nights.
Once at the village, we find out why they don’t serve food today. There’s a big party going on for two couples who got marries many years ago. It’s not a party like we know it with dance music and boose, but there’s people reading to the others, stories and songs sound through the entire village. People here are so involved in each others lives. One man speaks English and he tells me that we can join if we like and sing along, but if you only speak 3 words of Portuguese, I think there’s no fun in that. After a cold, but really nice shower, we pull back into our tent for the night. We are very tired after this long day, so we cook some soup in our boiler, eat our last sandwiches and then it’s off to bed so we’ll be fit tomorrow.
A day full of waterfalls
The next morning we get up at 7 am, this is quite late for a hiking day but we only have a short walk planned. It’s 1,5 kilometre to the waterfall, and 1,5 more to the next village. We told Peter and Matilde we expect to be there around midday, and that we can go see the cave all together in the afternoon, which is about 3 kilometres from that village. This should leave us with more than enough time to have a nice swim in the waterfall.
Once we are on the road, it’s a little bit harder than we expected. Our map says we should follow the path through the river, but this path is very hard to find without a guide. We are wondering if we are even on the path, so I decide to leave Milou with the bags and go explore the surroundings, to see if I can find the right path. All the paths I can find don’t look like there have been many people walking on them lately, which very much gives me the idea that we’re on the wrong track. According to the man in the village, it should only be 30 minutes to the waterfall, and we’ve already been walking for 1,5 hours. The map shows we are still far away.
I go back to the river and see where this would take us. Luckily it hasn’t been raining much lately, so there’s not much water in the river and I can easily walk through it with my waterproof shoes. After about 1 kilometre, I finally see something that looks like a path on the river bank, so I go back to Milou and we decide to follow the river towards this path. Milou is in her flipflops today, because she has 2 enormous blisters on both her feet. She tried her hiking shoes this morning but despite the blister band aids, it hurts too much to be able to walk. Luckily the cold water helps a little bit, we’ll just walk very slowly today.
We reach the path, but quickly see that it’s not the easiest way, definitely not in flipflops. Further through the river isn’t an option, because that would leave us on top of the waterfall with no way to get down. We just have to get this hard part over with. On the way we find a banana tree, and I can’t help myself for trying to get a banana. And it worked! Ok, it took me a while and they are far from ripe, but I got 2 very small, organic bananas, woohoo! We take them with us, hopefully they will ripen and be just as sweet as all the other tiny bananas we had here. So different from the ones at home!
Swimming in the waterfall
After 2 hours we finally reach the waterfall! It’s enormous and has lot’s of water falling, despite the low water levels in the river. The waterfall drops into a small, deep lake where we can swim. I take off my shirt and decide to keep my pants on for a change. That might be very nice and cool for the rest of the walk. After a nice swim and some food we get ready for the last part of the way to the village. I decide to go to the give early next morning, so Milou can get some more rest for her feet. Luckily this last part is less difficult because it’s easy terrain, but Milou’s having a very hard time, her feet don’t want to walk any further.
Reaching the second village in Vale do Pati
After about 2 hours we reach the village. Along the way 2 guys told us that this village is closed for the week end, and this even seems to be true, unfortunately. I walk in anyway, with Milou hobbling behind me. Hopefully they pity us and let us stay anyway. Unfortunately the lady doesn’t speak English and she’s not trying too either. She just seems fed up with another couple coming here although there’s a clear sigh (in Portuguese) saying that they are closed every week end.
So it’s another 800 meters to the next village. Milou tries to get her last strength from her toes, but even there seems to be nothing left. It takes us half an hour to reach the next village, where they also don’t speak English so it will be difficult to explain that we would just like some food and that we brought our own tent for sleeping. The woman is very nice and takes us straight to our bedroom where she instantly starts making our bed. Oh well, we think we deserve so we decide to just take it as it comes and take the full package.
When looking for our money we notice that there is barely enough to pay for everything,. Now we end up with 3 Real left, which means we will have to leave the park tomorrow. Of course we can also go camping in the wild, but we don’t have any food left as well.
After having paid we take another cold shower and lie down for a bit. We have no idea if someone will call us for dinner or how this works so I walk into the kitchen every now and then. One time I took my camera to make a picture of the 2 old ladies making dinner but she says I am not allowed to. So I leave the kitchen and come back with my GoPro. It’s small enough to fit inside my hand, so they don’t see it and I still get my picture.
The next time I go to the kitchen to see how dinner is coming along the door is shut so I guess they got fed up with my barging in all the time. A large group of French arrives in the village after about an hour and shortly after that we are being called for dinner, guess they were just waiting for that group then.
The food looks really gorgeous and tastes at least as good. Our first traditional Brazilian meal, wonderful! It is very colourful and fresh and varies from fruit to cake to meat and bean dishes.
After dinner we talk a bit to the guide of the French group about how to get to the cave tomorrow morning and if I will not miss breakfast by doing so. The guide tells us that I should be back at 10 if I leave at 5 and that he will ask the lady to save some breakfast for us until that time. She isn’t really pleased with our plan but after a breif discussion she gives in. Off to bed it is then for us, it is already 22:30 and tomorrow will be an early start with a tough track ahead.
Off to see the cave
I get up at 05:00 and get ready to go. Luckily I had already packed my bag yesterday so I don’t need that much time to get ready. I leave the village at 05:20 and it’s just getting light. Sadly enough it also rains slightly but not enough for me to put on my rain clothes. I rather have the cool drops of rain on my face and clothes than sweating underneath my rain clothes.
The track is difficult and steep but a delight to do so in the early morning. Add to that that I really enjoy doing this, which makes it a lot easier. The biggest part is through the forest, followed by a part on some rocks, which looks like a waterfall without water. Somewhere I take a wrong turn, but luckily I notice this quite quickly, so I only have to climb back down 3 meters.
I brought a lucky charm from my backpack, and a bird seems to be following me up the mountain. All the time the bird is about 4 meters in front of me, until I get to close, then it flies 4 meters forward again to strike there and wait for me. This makes me feel less alone on the track.
When I reach the top, I take my headlight and put it on. The cave is very dark and should be the home to a lot of bats, so I’m quite happy with my light. I keep left all the time so I don’t get lost, as I learned in the fire department. After 15 minutes I reach the other side of the cave. This has totally collapsed and it will be tough to find a way out. But hey, tough isn’t impossible, so I just start the job.
When I’m finally out, the view is quite nice. Unfortunately there are still some clouds and the sun can’t get through. I pick a nice rock to sit on and have some breakfast and enjoy the view, before I start my descent. At 7.15 am it’s time to go, I take my stuff and try to find the entrance to the cave. This is easier said than done, because from this side there’s no sunlight breaching through, like it was from the inside of the cave. Luckily I manage to find an entrance. This time it’s keeping right, and in no-time I reach the exit.
Time to start the steep descent. I make a few more pictures and enjoy the view down the road, but overall I’m going pretty fast and I’m back in the village at 8.30 am. The guide sees me and I can tell he is wondering if I’m already back or just about to leave. I smile and tell him it was amazing.
Getting ready to leave Vale do Pati
Milou just woke up, so we pack our bags and get some breakfast. This looks just as good as diner and tastes excellent. We take some ‘Pão de queijo’ (very fluffy bread with cheese in it) for on the road, fill our water bags and start day 3. Today we’ll leave the valley.
According to the map the shortest way out is through Guiné, a village at 13 kilometres distance. Part of today is the same steep wall we climbed down on at the end of the first day, only this time we have to go up. We promise ourselves that we can have a break and some food when we reach the top, and on the way up we only have short stops and sunscreen stops. The sun is very intense so we want to be up before the hottest part of the day.
We leave the village and immediately start a long, but not very steep climb. Then it’s a steep way down, before we start climbing the wall. After a while we’re both pretty much done with this mountain and hope we get to the top soon. We finally reach it after about 1,5 hours of hand-and-feet-climbing. At the top there’s a man selling cold juices and fresh fruit ice creams. Unfortunately we only have 3 Real left, since there’s no way to get cash in this park and we spent our last money on accommodation and food. The price for a juice is 6 Real, so no juice for us.
There’s a man at the stand who speaks some English, and I tell him that we have to leave the valley today because we can out of money. I guess he pities us, because he gives me 3 Real for the drink! I thank him multiple times, this cold drink is very welcome after the long climb and on this hot resting place with barely any shade.
From here on most of the way should be flat, with some small ascents and 1 big descent. Sounds doable. Half way the day we find a nice river with some people swimming in it. That sounds good! We take off our shoes and socks and jump in, lovely! After 30 minutes it’s hard to say goodbye to this nice place but we really have to go. If we want to leave the valley today, it’s now or never. Since it’s the rainy season we’re expecting some rain for today, and the clouds in the distance seem to agree.
Out of cash
After 2 hours of walking we finally arrive in Guiné, tired but satisfied and with no cash. It will be a challenge to find a place to sleep here without any money. Hopeful, we ask some people for a cash machine, but they don’t have any. First things first, we can still pay by card in the supermarket to time for a nice, cold beer! I think we earned that. We also take some food and ask the man in the supermarket if we can get some more cash from our card, but he doesn’t seem to understand.
The next problem arrives when we get to the hostel. We don’t really have another option than staying the night, but there’s no way to pay for it. Luckily the lady in the hostel is super nice and with Google Translate she tells us that there might be a solution. She takes us to our room and asks if she can heat up the lasagna we bought, really nice. After a most welcome shower we go down to eat our lasagna and go to the local DIY-shop, where we can pay by card. The shop owner than transfers the money to the hostel. Great! That’s one problem solved.
It’s time for bed, tomorrow we’ll see how we get out of here. Probably hitch-hiking to the next town, or get a very expensive taxi to a town with a cash machine to pay for the taxi. Next time we should definitely bring enough money for the worst case scenario’s.