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The Diamond Cliffs, Brazil's Gem of a National Park: Brazilian Briefs on the Looney Front, Part 2

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 6/03/2016 Mike Arkus

I'm flat on my belly, atop a perpendicular cliff, 280 feet above a gaping void, in the wilds of north-eastern Brazil, inching forward like a demented caterpillar, ever closer to my personal Armageddon, my every limb tingling with vertigo, just to catch a glimpse, far below, of the crashing finale of a dramatic waterfall, otherwise hidden from view in any sane human posture.
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Oh the indignity of it all! And just as I've careened into my ninth decade.
First a few words on how I've got myself into this ridiculously prone state. Forty years ago, when I lived in Brazil, few people, at least in Rio, had ever heard of Chapada Diamantina, and it didn't become a national park until 1985. But the 600 square miles of kaleidoscopic landscapes are truly spectacular.
Swiftly changing from flat-topped mesa towers and massive ramparts that extrude grey and orange rock layers like a layer-cake but covered in emerald lushness instead of rich chocolate, to deep verdant valleys, plunging waterfalls, and caverns with blue underground lakes, it is a gem fully deserving to be named after a girl's best friend

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At an average height of 3,000 feet but with peaks topping 6,000, and remarkably lush for the semi-arid caatinga region of Brazil's north-eastern state of Bahia, it includes villages that sprang up from the diamond rush of 1840 - Chapada means land of steep cliffs. You can guess what Diamantina means.

The gateway town of Lençóis was founded around 1844 as a mining centre and although it doesn't have the impressive monuments and churches of the colonial Portuguese towns in Brazil's hinterland, it has its full share of peaceful charm.
Neat houses in pastel shades of pink, blue, green and yellow with red tubular tiled roofs line steep cobbled streets clambering up the hillsides in a giant bowl surrounded by lushly forested escarpments, while mountain streams chatter down rocky beds.

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And if that's not beautiful enough, a brilliant scarlet-headed bird which has just landed on a restaurant terrace overlooking a rushing, tumbling river to feed his fledgling chick, is soon joined by a beautiful blue bird, a larger one with a deep yellow belly, and a smaller one with a pale yellow breast.

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You need a car to see the Chapada from Lençóis unless you want to do stiff multi-day hikes, or else you can take day tours. I opt for the later, given my world-infamous driving skills, much maligned by my kids. One such tour takes two days.
And that's how I now find myself in this ridiculously prone position. My head protrudes over the rim, my eyes behold the Buracão (big hole) waterfall in all its magnificent flashy, splashy grandeur, Mother Vertigo takes over, I quickly press the camera shatter with no idea whether it's caught the flashy splash or not, and slither back tout-de-suite like the cowardly little caterpillar that I am.
I do - I get the photo 2016-03-01-1456869389-9395494-Brazil2016907.JPG © Provided by The Huffington Post 2016-03-01-1456869389-9395494-Brazil2016907.JPG

You can also opt for a precipitous rock path taking you 280 feet down behind a cliff promontory with no view of the waterfall, don life belts, then float splashily round the corner to view the flashy splash from below.
Well, don't force it, Phoebe, quoths I, not at my age. My overhang on the clifftop is still sending vertiginous shock waves through my system and I decide to sit on a rock and do a Rodin, thinking great thoughts with my fist under my chin, leaving it to others including an incredibly loud-cackling Aussie to take to the waters.
Trail views round Buracão

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Buracão itself is outside the National Park but you have to drive through it to get here; the journey is splendid, passing lush valleys, views of monolithic table-top mesas, and trees covered with the most spectacularly vivid purple and yellow flowers.

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After Buracão, we spend the night back in the park in the little town of Mucugê, whose residents in death show an appreciation for tombs built in 'Byzantine Gothic' style, a floodlit massive white cemetery that backs up against the layered cliffs.
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One of the main attractions of this area are the poços, or pools at the bottom of deep caves, requiring you to grab onto the ropes as you descend steep rocky steps. Oops! Damn!
Poço Encantado (enchanted pool) requires helmets with flashlights as you descend into the dark. Once seated, you turn off your flashlights and stare into the blackness. There's a slight blue sheen where the water touches the far side, but it takes forever for your eyes to get accustomed.
To get to Poço Azul (blue pool) you cross the Paraguaçu River by ferry, an interesting contraption in which a wading guy pushes a wooden raft with the car across the currently placid waters for about $6 per car and 60 cents per person. A horse rider fords nearby, lifting his feet as the water reaches the steed's belly. Huge clouds of yellow and greenish butterflies swarm the shores.

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After descending into the Poço's depths, you can witness two Brazilian religions, selfie mania and the tattoo craze, but more on that in the next blog.

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Now here's where I chicken out. I'm booked on a tour to Cachoeira da Fumaça, Smoke Waterfall, some 1,115 feet tall. But it involves some serious climbing, much more strenuous than I've had so far. So at my advanced lazy age I swap it for a less energetic one that still involves climbing down into grottoes or up to the top of table mountains.
Fumaça is not even on a river and it's dry at the moment, anyway, since it only turns on when it rains, the waters often evaporating before they reaches the bottom, hence its name.
But I can see something nobody else here can. It's full moon, and I don't know about howling at it or werewolfing, but I see two moons instead of one at its oblique rising angle thanks to cataract surgery. They all think I'm nuts or a Romulan - I'm a double lunatic.
At Poço do Diabo (devil's pool) a crazy Dutchman takes a flying jump off an 82-foot cliff into the water. A young Aussie is seriously into photography and has brought a $1,000-drone with him, with which he is now recording the great feat from all possible angles and heights.
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I, too, am filming it with my simple fail-proof Nikon digital on automatic. For some bloody reason I press too far to the right, away from the button, and miss the whole schtick. Fail-proof hasn't taken me into account.

I do an encore on the trail down to Lapa Doce (Sweet Grotto). There's a dirty great giant toad on the track. I whip out the Nikon, press and bingo - zilch. A white banner flashes across the screen: mode dial is not in the proper position. It's decided to move itself. By the time I rectify it, Mr. Toad has hopped off to Toad Hall.
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The grotto is at least 16 miles long and they still haven't found the end. We're all armed with torches again, ostensibly to find our way on a short walk in the pitch dark and to shine on zillions of stalactites and stalagmites, but many think it's specifically to shine on their faces for idiotically grinning selfies.

The stalactites and stalagmites are said to resemble animals and parts of the human anatomy. One is very clearly a breast and nipple. At another we all turn off our torches, and the guide flashes his on a mound, which forms the shadow of a dragon on the wall behind.
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Next comes Viagra Garden (my christening) - a whole maze of proudly rampant and anatomically correct phalluses.
Finally it's a steep rocky climb to the top of Pai Inácio, a massive mesa-topped geological tower, for a spectacular view over emerald valleys separating steep rounded cliff ramparts and towering mesas holding up the heavens.

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[Upcoming blog next Sunday: Narcissus Blushed - Brazilian Beauty Spots, Selfiedom's Mecca]______________By the same author: Bussing The Amazon: On The Road With The Accidental Journalist, available with free excerpts on Kindle and in print version on Amazon. Swimming With Fidel: The Toils Of An Accidental Journalist, available on Kindle, with free excerpts here, and in print version on Amazon in the U.S here.

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