Chapada Diamantina – Not a Stairway to heaven

Was looking out of the window of my hotel in Fuschl and saw the mountain Schob or whatever they call it. The receptionist mentioned a bunch of people going trekking in the evening. I certainly was not inspired to trek up post a tiring day of work. Much preferred the idea of swimming in the lake, if it was not 10 degrees.

Overall, Im not a trekking person and I dont think I will ever be. I don’t see the point in going up the mountain to see what’s below when you can see it standing down. Anyway, a few years ago, I had gone on an intensive (Kill Me) treks in Brazil. Below is my story from Chapada Diamantina, a place that confirmed that trekking is not for me.


Almost 3.5 years after this trek, I think back on those 4 days. While I had felt a huge satisfaction on the last day and considered the pain totally worth it, I doubt a bone in my body will make me take even a 2 hour trek today, knowing very well that I may pass out and roll down the mountain and gather tremendous momentum till I reached my office. So much for a life in a little village in Austria and my growing laziness.

From February 2009 Diary

We heard English music as our bus pulled over next to the main square in this quaint litte town called Lençóis. Lençóis sits in the heart of one of the most beautiful National Parks, Chapada Diamantina in the state of Bahia in Brazil. Once a diamond mining area, the park is now known for a lush green mountainous terrain with waterfalls, caves, and rivers, a prime trekking destination in Brazil. 

I went to Chapada with my four friends Mary, Victoria, Paco and Pedro for an intensive 3 day trek. Mary and Pedro were from the US, Victoria from the UK and Paco from Spain. We had all met in Salvador, Brazil through an internet travel community and had decided to head to the National Park together. We were all on our South American adventures and on a shoestring budget. We all wanted a break from our sun burns in the beaches of Brazil and fiercely determined to trek. That was great reason to be together.


We were a little surprised to hear the tunes of Stairway to Heaven in the place of good old Brazilian Samba. Apparently, Jimmy Page, the lead guitarist of the band Led Zeppelin owns a house in Lençóis and there have been many live performances when Jimmy decided to stroll down the cobble stoned streets with his guitar. I am sure Jimmy never had to take an overnight bus ride. I am sure Jimmy never had to hunt for a cheap Pousada. I am certain Jimmy did not have to negotiate with guides for a cheap trek. And I am dead sure Jimmy never really did the trek in Chapada Diamantina. If he had, we would all be singing Stairway to Hell.

Our first day in Chapada Diamantina was a preparatory day for what lay ahead of us. Typically Indian, I bargained with the guides for a cheaper trek, in broken Portuguese and highly emotional sign language. Tired with negotiations, but with the sweet success of closing a cheap deal, we spent the rest of the day swimming in a waterhole outside Lençóis. Knowing that the next 3 days would be in the wild, we all decided to drink Caipirinhas and eat rich cheesy Tapioca pancakes before hitting the sack.

Early morning, we headed to the main square with our daypacks, which did not weigh more than 3 or 4 kilos. Little did we know that there was a cost we had to pay  for all the bargaining I had done. Our light daypacks were loaded with additional 2 kilos of food. The promised additional guide did not show up. We were headed on the most intensive trek in Brazil with one guide called Sen, who looked a little like Chris Rock, but spoke absolutely no English.


The 36 Km three day trek covers the distance between Lençóis and Capão, passing through Cachoeira da Fumaça, the Smoke Waterfall. 36 Km doesn’t sound tough but the well kept secret is the uphill climb on rocky paths with cactus eating into your skin. On day one, we climbed what they call ‘The Venom Hill’. It kills you even before you reach the top. The scorching sun and lack of water on the trail did not help in anyway. After six hours of treacherous climbing, we reached a beautiful waterfall Cachoeira do Capivari, with a reddish golden pool of water. Some of us were so tired that we jumped into the water in our trekking clothes. We cooled off while Sen prepared us a delicious lunch of Tuna sandwiches. After three days of eating the same thing, our opinion about Tuna changed dramatically.

After a heavy lunch, we continued our trek till we reached our camp for the first night. The Venom Hill climb did have a reward. Surrounded by dark cliffs with bright greenery and natural grey caves  by the side of a mini waterfall, the location was perfect. We treated ourselves to some lukewarm Caiparinhas and salty pasta for dinner and fell asleep seeing the millions of stars and glowing fireflies around us.

Day two was actually a cakewalk. Our bodies were accustomed to climbing and what lay ahead of us was flat terrain. We walked along a river and took pictures of the moss covered scenery and bright  orange mushrooms that surprised us every once in a while. The sun and the cactus had disappeared. We  reached  the base of Smoke Waterfall. 420 metres high, this waterfall could not have a more appropriate name, thank to the water that disappears into thin air as mist before it hits the ground.

Over two days, the group had become close. Mary delighted us with songs of Candomble, the African religion, while Victoria’s craving for proper English tea in the middle of nowhere seemed hilarious. Paco developed a weird rash and was the Humpty Dumpty of our trek and Pedro was obsessed with taking underwater pictures with his camera. I was the official Portuguese translator. I got accustomed to Sen calling me Juliana, after the famous Brazilian actress, who plays the lead role of Maya in the latest Brazilian Soap Opera about India called Caminha Das India. With the group chemistry at its peak, we swam, ate and enjoyed the beautiful view of the waterfall, till some group on the top started throwing rocks at us. Yes, watch out in the base of any waterfall as there are frustrated trekkers on the top always throwing things.

A good day always has a terrible night that follows. The camp on day 2 really took the cake. It was one dark cave, with the most uneven ground that you could possibly find, with bats, lizards and bugs, with litter from the previous trekking group and with horribly damp ground from the rain during the day. We crawled into the little space we could find feeling like Uma Thurman from Kill Bill, buried alive in a coffin. The water from the lashing rain at night was an additional reason why all of us woke up on the third day with the crankiest mood ever.

The trek up Macaco Mountain (Monkey Mountain) was a sheer nightmare. None of us were in a mood to talk. We just focused on every stone that we stepped on, counting in fury till we reached the top of Smoke Waterfall. The only thing that kept me going was knowing that in another few hours, we would be in the little village of Capão drinking ice cold beer. Reaching the top, we celebrated by taking pictures on the edge and screaming Spanish swear words that we had learnt from Paco. As they echoed through the valley and the table mountains stretched out splendidly in front of us, the little weird flowers popped out from the rocks next to us and the rainbow appeared out of nowhere near the waterfall, we felt that the pain was totally worth it. Moments like these especially do not come easy.

As I ran down the hill towards Capão, I learnt something that every shoestring traveler has to live with in life. Cheap is expensive.  But, it is certainly more precious. 


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