Written by Kristin on 1/17/12:
The last four nights we have slept in a tent, in a cave, on a bus, and on a plane. Tonight we finally get to sleep in a real bed now that we are in Rio de Janeiro. I’m serious about my sleep so the last few nights have been a challenge for me. I think Bryan must have planned things out like that so I appreciate hostel beds. Unfortunately, I’m a little leery to sleep in the hostel bed here. Although the hostel is very nice, there are some alleged reports of bed bugs. One of my worst fears during this trip! They have spent today cleaning and fumigating so hopefully they are gone. There haven’t been any reports of bed bugs in the girls’ dorm where I am but there was a report of some in Bryan’s room. Bed bugs can be anywhere though. It’s not just a hostel thing. They’ve been reported in some of the fanciest hotels in New York City.
Enough about bed bugs though. Last Wednesday we took a 6-hour bus ride west of Salvador to the gorgeous park Chapada Diamantina. For our first day we took a bus-tour and saw some of the park’s major sites – an enormous cave filled with stalagmites and stalactites, blue water grottos, waterfalls, rivers, and table-top mountains with breathtaking views. The landscape and vegetation are so diverse and incredible. We also arranged a 3 day/2 night hiking trip through the park with two guides and some other travelers from our hostel in Salvador. It was crazy for me – not your typical hike down a trail. We were navigating over miles of huge rocks and along cliffs for a lot of the time. Balance and rock climbing are not some of my strongest points so I have to admit I’m pretty proud of myself for not having a breakdown! I always get myself worked up that I’m going to break my ankle, trip and knock out my teeth, or die! The first day of our trek wasn’t bad at all and we set up a pleasant camp along the river, on top of a waterfall. Our guide Washington and his assistant Striker cooked up amazing meals over a fire. They were fresh, multi-course feasts for every meal – some of the best food we’ve had in Brazil. They made wicked Caipirinhas and taught us some Brazilian drinking games. Not only did our guides keep us well-fed but we felt well-protected with them too. Washington is a training partner and good friend of UFC Brazilian Jiu Jitsu fighter Ricardo Funch (who had a major fight the same weekend in Rio de Janeiro). Washington and Striker kept us laughing the entire time with their ridiculous antics. They were like little boys playing in the woods – making monkey and animal calls and playing around. Those two had probably the goofiest laughs we’ve ever heard.
The second day of hiking we went along a river and through a canyon to the most beautiful waterfall we’ve ever seen (Cachoeira do Mixila Poção). Our guide promised us that we were going to the most beautiful part of the park, and I must say, he didn’t let us down. The English name for the waterfall is Anteater Falls. Our guide said there used to be a lot of ant eaters in the park but the jaguars ate them all. He said they used to find anteaters and armadillos in the canyon that had fallen in from running from the jaguars. Anteater Falls is much smaller than Angel Falls but it was even more beautiful and peaceful, especially because we could swim in the big pool at the bottom. The entire way to the falls was through a canyon lined with vegetation on it’s very steep walls. We climbed over huge rocks, along some cliffs, and swam through some freezing cold pools of water. Unfortunately we don’t have any pictures because we couldn’t bring Bryan’s camera through the water. Bryan’s coming to the realization that we won’t always be able to get pictures of everything we see since we aren’t willing to put his pricey camera at risk.
In the evening huge black clouds started rolling in and we had to pack up our camp and move to a cave to sleep. There was a huge downpour before we left and we all piled under a ripped up tarp to stay somewhat dry. We hiked about 30 minutes and came to our cave for the night. It’s a natural cave that had some stone walls that the diamond miners added during the mining craze in the area during the 19th century. The guides went through the cave with a leafy branch to sweep out the cave for “cobras” (Portuguese for snakes) and other critters like scorpions and spiders. They also lit a fire in the cave to smoke them out. The guides decided they wanted the tent that night and left us to sleep in the cave; go figure. I was sure that all the rocky crevices in the cave wall were filled with snakes watching us. I finally managed to put the creatures out of my mind, but then I couldn’t get comfortable on the hard, dusty cave floor. We didn’t sleep much that night. But luckily we just saw lizards and caterpillars in our cave. Who knows what else was in there with us that we didn’t see!
The next day was mostly an easy hike back until we took a detour to some natural waterfalls. We saw a deadly, colorful Coral snake on the way back (red, yellow, and black). The guide scared him off before Bryan could grab his camera though. They had us crawl along the cliffs and across the rocks in our flip flops. I finally took mine off and gave my bag with Bryan’s camera in it to our guide. I knew if I fell off the side of the cliff WITH the camera it would ruin Bryan’s day. Having that responsibility just added to my already high anxiety. I came really close to crying at one point. Bryan was pretty patient and encouraging, although he told me to pick up the pace a few times. My new nickname is “Tortuga” (turtle in Portuguese). I’m not slow though . . . just careful! I somehow have become quite the wilderness girl – even drinking river water, brushing my teeth and bathing in the river during our 3-day trek!
We returned from our camping trip in the evening and took the night bus back to Salvador. We had 24-hours to kill in Salvador so we saw a few more sights such as an old fort used for trading slaves (Fort Montserrat) and Bonfim Church where people come to tie wish ribbons and pray for sick loved ones by placing pictures and replicas of the injured body parts. It was pretty creepy seeing graphic photos of people’s injuries and a ceiling full of limbs and heads. We slept in the airport for a few hours before catching a 3 a.m. flight to Rio de Janeiro. Since we survived the rocky cliffs, jaguars, and snakes, we are living on the edge again tomorrow morning – hang-gliding over Rio! I’m actually really pumped about this!