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 intention was to hike the way up to Morro do Sete and enjoy the view over to the Pico de Parana. After two and a half hours we gave up though we learned one more Portuguese word: barro – mud or clay.
With our shoes ankledeep in the same, that’s all there is to say about this.
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…
The Chapada de Guimarães – one hour north of Cuiabá, the capital of Mato Grosso – was the last stop on our journey. However, we made the crucial mistake to go there on the 31st of December.
Apparently, this is the ONE day of the year where everybody wants to go to the little city carrying the same name as the mountain range. While we got to see the top sightseeing attraction our friends had told us to check out,
and visited two minor ones, our plan was to go hiking the next day. Only that finding a place to stay for the night proved to be impossible, and that in a city that seems to have one of the highest ratios of B’n’B per capita.
Even so, nothing remotely within our budget and our expectations. It was kind of fascinating to discover that apparently New Year’s Eve commands double if not the triple of what’s considered an otherwise normal price. At one moment, we found ourselves briefly considering to pay 300 bugs for a room hardly worth a third of that. After a dozen or so stops, it turned out to be cheaper to drive back to Cuiabá, have a fancy dinner and to stay in a nice business hotel.
Coming back two days later, we found out that one hike started just behind a little shop selling local honey & sweets (on km 47 of the Rodovia Emanuel Pinheiro, to be precise), finding ourselves quite unexpectedly in the cidade da pedra – stone city – enjoying some stunning views.
One of the luxuries of traveling is to meet people from all kinds of origins, classes or educational backgrounds. Sometimes that can be challenging, sometimes that can be wonderful.
In all of the Pantanal, we found people to be very kind and helpful. It’s easy to see that life out there is somewhat slower, simpler but often also harder. Still, people were not only very respectful, but also very curious to know more about these two gringos who would share a few days on a boat with them.
They were equally eager to tell us more about their lives out there on the farms, on the boat, or in the city. It sometimes was a glimpse in a different world. A world I would have liked to explore though I’m not sure if I would like to live there.
One thing that stood out as not respectful however, was the way they deal with nature. The only possible explanation for all the waste thrown in the water, is that, maybe, there is just too much of it. Too much green, too much water, too many animals and of course, too many mosquitos. It almost seems as if there was an endless supply. If only that was true.
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.