When first seeing the Xingo reservoir, we were amazed that it is full. With all the visible drought problems, we had expected to find the lake half empty. Until it was explained to us that the Xingo reservoir is the last of five reservoirs lined up on rio São Francisco. As the other ones are smaller and older, they are on a 40% low in order to have the Xingo one filled up.
After the drive through the dusty inland of Alagoas, coming to the shore of the lake is a real pleasure. Vegetation – being burned in many other areas to make space for agriculture – surrounds the lake, giving it a beautiful green frame. The blue, sparkling water is clean and refreshing.
On the banks are two restaurants offering boat trips to the canyons further down the lake. These canyons are the real attraction of the lake, with the trip being described by Brazilian friends as muito legal – very nice. We probably should have asked for details…
As it turns out, the trip by boat is beautiful and so are the canyons themselves. Even though they must have been much more impressive before the dam was build but so be it. What we did not quite expect was to spend in total two hours on board bombarded by music and, much worse, the constant chatter of the tour guide. And what for? To arrive on a small side canyon where tourists can spend an hour swimming in a former fish tank.
To be honest, given the swimming skills of most Brazilians and the alcohol consumption we observed on the boat, this fish tank is a good idea. It just didn’t fit the slightest with what we had in mind. Neither did the trip to get there. In summary, it is again a reminder that Brazilians and Germans have a very different understanding of what constitutes a proper tourist journey.
Driving through the inlands of Alagoas, it is visible even to the untrained eye, that this land hasn’t seen enough rain in months. It turns out that the truth is worse. In the past two years, rain has been sparse. People hope that this year’s raining season that is just about to start will be better.
Besides dried out land and meager cows, one of the consequences of this prolonged drought is the increased risk of black-outs. Hydropower is the main source of electricity in Brazil and the dam of Xingo on rio São Franciso is the third most important of the entire country as the guide didn’t tire to repeat.
The dam and the large reservoir are shared between the two states of Alagoas and Sergipe. It’s only possible to visit the plant with a guided tour which makes a lot of sense but, as so often, requires a sound mastery of Portuguese. After being shown a short movie, we went by car to the dam, being able to see the spillway and then on to the turbine hall. There isn’t much to see of the turbines themselves though you can guess which company build them after seeing the big Willkommen sign outside.
What I found missing were more details about the generation process. Maybe it was my Portuguese, maybe it just wasn’t there but I wouldn’t have mind hearing more about how you convert falling water into something that powers my laptop instead of being told over and over how important this dam is.
Still, it was time and money well spent learning more about this part of the country and its development.
Nothing is ever close by in Brazil. If anything, close means less than four hour drive. In this sense, Piranhãs isn’t that far away from Maceió: only three and a half hours down the road. With our main destination being the canyons of the river São Francisco, we didn’t expect too much from this little town besides finding a place where to stay for a night.
As it turned out, we were positively surprised. Piranhãs is a lovely town. Contrary to other historic city centres, down town Piranhãs consists entirely of small, lively painted houses. Throughout the city, you perceive the efforts to keep everything clean, green and welcoming. Very successfully so!
After walking through most of the streets, we also climbed up to the two mirantes. And even though the view was nice, we couldn’t help but feel a bit roasted. Because once on top of the hill, there was some wind going. Only that, contrary to the coast, there was nothing cooling about this wind. If any, it reminded more an overheated blow dryer…