The Parque nacioal “La Campana” is in any decent tourist guide as a day-trip from Santiago; though, unless you rent a car, it’s somewhat further. Other than that, it’s known for the fact that Darwin stopped by on his second trip on the Beagle. We went to La Campana from Valparaiso, by train, bus and some walking and arrived rather late in the day despite an early morning start.
Though it didn’t matter too much in the end as we would not have had the equipment to climb the top of La Campana. Plus, it takes 4:30 hours for the 7km trip (one way), of which 2 hours are for the last 1800 meters alone.
We, on the other hand, got all the way to the basecamp thanks to a really sweet couple that was driving up and kindly answered to our “hacer dedo“. As we already had walked and hiked 8km by that time, it was just perfect to get up this high and enjoy the beautiful view on the top. Before hiking a relaxing 5 km down to the park entrance and catching another ride into the nearest town where we enjoyed a well deserved late afternoon lunch.
is the largest harbour of Chile, it’s Unesco world heritage and rather dirty.
But most impressively is certainly the sheer number of street art:
Benefitting from a four day weekend, plus some additional holidays to make it a full week, we started by heading South along the coast of Santa Catharina. We were advised to go and visit Gramando and Canela in Rio Grande do Sul but first, a couple of days spent in the tiny town of Pinheira seemed about right.
Later during that week, Gramado and Canela turned out to be one more classic example for the mismatch between what Brazilians think is great and what we consider so. While Canela is a pretty little town, Gramado is much bigger, very touristic, though in a well kept “German style”. All in all, much better than Blumenau but still not quite our cup of chimarão.
So the best part of the journey was the one between the coast & the cities, two days spent exploring the huge canyons close by the little town of Cambara do Sul. With the nights being frosty cold, the days turned out to be amazingly sunny and clear. Both canyons, one called Itaimbézinho and the other one called Fortaleza, are accessible through well managed, easy hikes. The most adventorous bit is the crossing of the stones just above a waterfall.
During the second hike, we were lucky enough to observe two playful foxes from a short distance; though the most impressive animal on the trip was a onça – a Jaguar – in the Zoo of Gramado.
The Tucum mountain belongs to the region of the Pico de Paraná – with 1800 meters Paraná’s highest – and allegedly offers a great view over the same.
Or so we were told by a couple on the way down who had spent the night on the mountain and woke up to a sunrise in the East and the full moon in the West.
By the time we reached the top of Tucum however, the Pico had firmly surrounded itself by clouds.
Maybe next time..
It’s easy to see why the German and Italian settlers who came to Brasil towards the end of the 19th century were drawn to the highlands of Santa Catarina; commonly known as vale europeu – European valley – today.
Unlike the coast, the highlands, which reach from 700 to 1800 meters in altitude, have a cool and rainy climate and even snow in winter; not unsimilar to the country of origin.
Beyond the climate, it is the landscape that reminded me of Southern Germany: timber plantations, onion fields and apple trees, large green fields dotted with cows & chicken and occasional remnants of the Mata Atlantica. Were it not for the occasional palm tree or the less occasional banana plantations, one could almost forget that this is Southern Brazil.
Benefiting from the long Carnival weekend, we escaped any potential festivities by driving first down to Urubiçi, then to the Serra do Rio do Rastro, where we were greeted by absolutely zero visibility at the lookout and a bunch of quatis.
Driving the Serra down one day and up the other, we still got to enjoy a some spectacular sights. Touristically, the vale europeu has lots to offer: from zip-lining over a waterfall, to rafting in the Itaiji-Açu river – one of the best in the entire country it seems – and many, pretty waterfalls.
The only downside was the rather cool & rainy weather in what is supposed to be summer. Though, upon returning to Curitiba, we learned that it had been raining for 5 days continuously…
Eventually, arrive we did. After a change to a smaller motor boat and the stop at an abandoned, mosquito infested hotel, we arrived somewhere around mid-morning in Porto Jofre. What had looked like a minor town on the map turned out to be 3 bungalows and a group of geese, one of which had barely escaped a jacaré attack in the morning.
At least, that’s what the owner of the bungalows told us, along with the information that he was not really open for business. Still, we got lucky. A couple from São Paulo who had been camping in Porto Jofre for two days with the daughter and mother in law, was just packing up their huge SUV.
For once, I’d admit that they actually had the right kind of car. Not only was it perfect for camping, and to deal with the non-asphalted road, it also provided enough space on the loading space to seat two crazy tourists with their luggage.
Thus, we gained a free safari all along the Transpantaneira, seeing Tuiuiu, pantanal deer, more jacaré, more capybaras and Southern screamers. Once we reached Poconé, which turned out to be the kind of city it appeared on the map, we got off at the first decent B’nB, switched on the Air Condition, took a shower and returned, slightly regretful, to the 21st century.
Time loses its importance quickly out there in the Pantanal. People get up with the sunlight, eat, sleep during the worst heat and avoid the late afternoon mosquito swarms. Powered by a Diesel engine, the little boat made its way slowly up the Rio Paraguay and then the Rio Parana. Both are large waterways framed by green, thick covers.
As we learned during the trip, the Pantanal is already filling up in December, due to the rains coming from the Amazonas. While water stands low in the dry months from May till October, it starts raining in November and the chances of seeing animals are consequently decreasing. Still, we saw hundreds of birds, capibaras, jacaré and even one morning huge otters. Everything but the famous onça – jaguars.
I found the boat journey a very peaceful, slow way to travel: nothing to worry about, no pressure to be anywhere at any precise time. An engine failure in the middle of the night, or a steering problem during the day, doesn’t matter. The answer to the question when we would arrive, was “Monday, se deus quiser”.