The walk proves to be much shorter than we expected.
Favored by his thinness and the training of countless climbs, Negão reaches the top without gasping, settles down on a rounded stone and leaves us at ease to explore the nooks full of cacti on the plateau.
From there, we had the first of several 360º panoramic views of Chapada Diamantina and the inaugural notion of its unexpected magnificence. A canyon covered with meadow stretches as far as the eye can see, well marked by the slopes of the small opposite plateaus.
Other elevated canyons of the vast Sertão announce themselves in the distance in a sequence that seems to have no end. Scenarios of this type are almost always sculpted by high intensity erosion.
Chapada was no exception.
The Geological and Diamond Genesis of Chapada Diamantina
More than 600 million years ago, long before the fragmentation of the supercontinent Pangea, this region was adjacent to the current zone. Namíbia, still today one of the most important diamond reserves in the World.
Local diamonds were crystallized in that area, mixed with pebbles and dragged into the depths of the sea that covered what is now the interior of the Brazil. Over time, the sea receded.
Its bed turned into a layer of conglomerate stone that trapped the gems. Later, this layer was raised by tectonic movements and exposed to intense wear that deposited the diamonds in the riverbed, waiting for the lucky pioneers.
A little drier – perhaps in a rare rainy season – the setting before our eyes could have been perfect for hosting scenes from “Westerns Spaghetti”. The Chapada Diamantina region has remained a true “western” for centuries on end. During this period, it was populated by the Maracás Indians.
These, attacked the adventurers and settlers who arrived attracted by news of the first of the riches found, the gold.
Later, with the discovery of diamonds, it was not long before thousands of explorers and prospectors, merchants and settlers, Jesuits, smugglers and prostitutes from the most varied origins flocked there. Villages without king or law emerged, with dimensions and a growing concentration of inhabitants.
Bullets resolved any conflict that arose. Accordingly, the colonels with more influence and jagunços in their service concentrated power and imposed their will by force of violence and torture.
The Story Told Times Account of the Slave Father Inácio
The episode that Negão tells the visitors of his smoothed mound comes to us as a theatrical proof of the rudeness of that era. The tone of your sentences is warm. The accent, from the hinterland of Bahia: “Hi guys, gather there near the cliff to hear that the story is good!”.
Composed of the audience, the narrator says that in bygone times, a slave lived in Chapada whom they called Father Ignatius. Father Inácio was secretly dating his master's daughter.
But this one did not take long to find out about the case. He sent several henchmen in pursuit of the offender who had to take refuge on the same hill we were on.
Only someone informed the henchmen at the hideout. When he least expected it, the slave found himself between the persecutors and the abyss. The situation called for a drastic, preferably brilliant, exit. Pai Inácio lived up to the demands.
Under the pressure of rifles and pistols, he shouted that he would rather die in freedom than be slaughtered at the hands of his lord. He opened his umbrella, jumped off the hill and continued his flight, unharmed, never to be seen again.
Negão always took his work to heart and at a certain point, the narrative already asked for something to illustrate it. The guide found a device to match the outcome of the novel. When he reaches the climax of the action, Negão throws himself down and leaves the audience stunned.
Moments later, some of the visitors approach the precipice and discover that the jump (repeated several times a day) ended in a ledge a meter or two below that the group could not see.
According to legend, the slave is gone for good. It left Chapada to its increasingly soulless prospection.
Diamonds and Prospectors that Subsist in Chapada
In the riverbeds, browned by iron, greedy miners found gems in surprising quantities.
They opened new paths to previously inaccessible areas around the towns that were growing before our eyes: Sheets (from Bahia), Mucugê, Palmeiras and Andaraí, among others of equal colonial elegance but lesser size and importance.
We descend from the hill and head towards the narrow valley of Mucugêzinho. There, we have the first contact with the beds still filtered by the most persistent prospectors in the region.
At Poço do Diabo, the water reveals iron gradations of orange. In this and other tight streams, we pass miners. They work leaning over the banks, shaking gravel over their sieves, like souls half-retired from the world, moved both by social misplacement and by the hope of enriching and contradicting the past.
Success cases are rare. Most Chapada residents prefer bets with greater chances of success. At the moment, tourism proves to be the most guaranteed.
In 1995, under pressure from the same environmental groups that managed to create the national park and waged long-standing destruction of the local ecosystem, the government banned non-traditional diamond mining.
Although not everything is perfect yet, nature started to be treated as the most precious asset in the area. And Brazilian and foreign visitors and travelers flocked to Chapada Diamantina in large numbers.
The New Touristic Paths of Chapada Diamantina
After the long period of stagnation, migration and poverty that followed the end of mining, the local population welcomes this new invasion, in competition with other parts of the coast of Bahia such as the Morro de São Paulo. He also wants to profit from the revelation of his blessed homeland.
On the days we dedicate to it, we walk dozens of kilometers a day. We arrived at the most emblematic places in Chapada: the Ribeirão do Meio, the Lençóis river and the Primavera waterfall, the Salão de Areias, the Sossego waterfall, the Lapão grotto and the marsh and marsh of Marimbus.
Other adventurers try even harder. They follow exhausting but rewarding guided itineraries such as the one that leads to the Fumaça waterfall, the longest in Brazil, at 420m high, which they arrive three days after departure.
Or they surrender to the Grand Circuit, which covers 100km, completed in five days, eight, if you want to investigate the old diamond-producing village of Xique-Xique Igatu.
Certain natives don't need to go to this trouble.
Scientists have come to the conclusion that part of the water in the Amazon basin, placed under pressure against the Atlantic Ocean, ends up finding and excavating alternative paths.
It feeds aquifers that reach the Northeast of Brazil. This water is released. It irrigates the Chapada more than the surrounding area because the rock that is characteristic there is almost impermeable but conducive to the formation of “structural” breaches.
Incursion into the Underworld of the Lapa Doce and Torrinha Caves
As a matter of probability, the entrances to some of these gaps are found in the “sites” of lucky residents. We ended up following two of these promoters into the depths of Lapa Doce and Torrinha.
They lead us through these gigantic galleries, in the light of a robust Petromax-style lamp that shifts from one shoulder to the other. At the same time, shy and somewhat pressured by the weight of the new profession, they give us recently memorized encyclopedic information and the name of each underground section: “here, you can see Sugarloaf Mountain. This one is the “Cortina” and now we have the “Água Viva”.
When we return to the surface, a blazing sunset ridicules the dim light that had revealed that piece of underworld.
It reddens the landscape and darkens the silhouettes of the “mandacarus” cactus forest of the great Sertão, plant forms characteristic of the Chapada Diamantina.