Walking with dinosaurs
Trip Start Dec 03, 2005
38Trip End Jul 19, 2007
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Although quite easy to do, this shouldn't be confused with Parque Nacional Lençois Maranhenses where I headed to after São Luis, the city famed for it's many restored façades of azulejo tiles. I would have shown some photos of the beautiful designs but somehow on my way to Atins, I lost all my photos between Manaus and São Luis. Bother! 35mm vs digital 1 : nil.
I had the pleasure of Xavi and Didac's company again as we ventured out among the dunes. I had to rub my eyes when I saw water between the dunes, I thought mirages were only supposed to happen deserts? Or had I somehow been magically transported to the Atacama Desert on the Magic Carpet? Must have been something in the cachaça I had the night before!!! But nope, proof that I wasn't imagining things came when I tickled the water with my foot and discovered it was in fact real. Apparently, these crystal clear pools are formed during the wet season by increasing amounts of rain collecting between the immense white sand dunes. These dunes are fortunately protected and no driving is permitted on them. This meant a lot of walking, in the midday sun, on bright white dunes. You can guess what happened! Yup, I ended up red as a tomato! A sensitive lass I am. Ahhhh.
My plans for Brazil don't involve any organized tours and this was to be my country of self powered trails of discovery. Atins was the start of my long coastal trip heading east and then south. The total length of coastline belonging to Brazil (including islands) is 7491km (4655 miles) and I am planning on doing more than half, from Belém to Río de Janeiro. What better way to start than to hike the first hours worth of it, with my rucksack strapped on? I'd like to take this opportunity to revise my previous statement relating to my ability to carry 15kg worth of 'stuff'. I do declare that I can, in fact, carry 15kg no problemo, as long as it's completely flat and the ground beneath doesn't give way. There were some sections along the way where no matter how gently you trod, you just kept sinking deeper in the the black gunge below the sand. I had this picture of me being the perfect archaeological fossil (no jokes thank you!) in a few million years, with the next generation theorising as to how I came to be there. I hear that should man decide to nuke himself, his successor is likely to be the cockroach. They will be grateful to us for ridding the world of mosquitoes at least!!!
Other than lots of mosquitoes, we certainly got to see some sights out by the coast in Atins. The most fantastic meteorite ever (at least 20 times larger than your average shooting star), a massive downpour where you could be forgiven for thinking you had gone for acupuncture it hit you so hard and some of the strangest fish that must have mistaken the letter 'w' for 'k' as they skimmed the water rather than swimming in it.
All of a sudden, out of nowhere, St Patricks day arrived. Unknowingly, I celebrated with caipirinhas...
Time did come and go all too fast and I had to say goodbye to the two charming Catalans. While they headed south, I continued east towards Jericoacoara, affectionately known as Jeri. Like Atins, Jeri was a fishing village whose streets were no more than sand. It was very relaxing and low season meant it wasn't thick with tourists. In the evenings, people gather atop of the sand dune that along the beach to watch the sunset. Alternatively, you can watch the local capoeiristas fly around each other along the beach. I'm sure you can guess which one I went to see!!! Jeri is the start of the real Gringo trail which heads all the way down to Río.
I'd seen all I wanted to see at Jeri and it was time to find something new...another beach! Now I know I seem to keep saying that I'm not much of a beach babe, but someone had promised me that Canoa Quebrada was better than Jeri. And Jeri was good. So I was really looking forward to two nights here. As it turned out, Jeri was the better of the two. Canoa has the older feel to it, tourism has been there for some time while Jeri has a newer, pleasant and relaxing feel to it. They certainly don't pester you in Jeri to empty your pockets for every tour they have on offer.
This didn't match what I had come to know and love about Brazil so it was time to leave the Bible (aka Lonely Planet) aside and head inland off the beaten track and find the real people again. What better place to go than Sousa, Valley of the Dinosaurs. Maybe I could have a preview of what I was to look like in a few million years? My faith in Brazilian people had been restored and I had the pleasure of spending the morning in the company of Katia, Gean, Tiola, Fernando, Luiz and Robson (the grandson of the man who discovered the footprints) at the centre. Unfortunately my luck wasn't so great with seeing the footprints, unless I wanted to test my strength against the river I would have to content myself with seeing only one track of footprints. It is the wet season, and with the wet season comes lots of rain which turns a dry river bed into a raging torrent that is the Rio do Peixe which in turn covers most of the footprints.
This was the start of my first endurance test. It was the first of three overnight buses in a row and the first of three nights without proper sleep. In order to make up for the time spent in the north (time very well spent may I add) I decided to skim over the coast and travel overnight between visiting places on the way. Next destination was Recife / Olinda, culturally rich historical centres with some of the best preserved colonial buildings in Brazil. It turned out to be a good idea to do just a daytrip as both places were completely swimming with tourists of the package tour type. By now I was onto autopilot and had to keep refuelling my coffee with blood. The devil on one side kept saying to stay the night for some sleep, after all, the bus wasn't leaving until 11.30 that night. While the angel on the other kept reminding me a night spent in Parque Nacional Chapada Diamantina would be ten times better. The angel won.
Lots of coffee later I found myself on a bus destined for Penedo, a small village north of Salvador. Travel in Brazil can be quite an adventure, especially when you're tired. They like to keep you awake at night and, for some reason, don't put the name of the bus station anywhere in sight to reassure you that you have / have not arrived at your intended destination so with every stop you have to ask if it's the one you need. It's as if they want to keep their identity a national secret! I'm sure they do it intentionally just so foreigners get lost and have to spend more money getting back to where they should have got off two hours before. Luckily that hasn't happened to me yet, although I did have a scare at one point when I asked another passenger if we had passed Penedo and she said 'oh yes, we passed that quite a long time ago'. I find it's usually best to ask at least three people the same question as the first person isn't always right. Unfortunately this can also lead to three different answers. So I decided to take the bull by the ... horns and ask the driver. Nope, Penedo was yet another hour away. Phew! I seemed to be the only person left on the bus so I got to sit at the front with the driver. Normally this would be good, but bearing in mind I hadn't slept properly for 3 nights it was rather difficult as my brain hadn't managed to get past neutral so trying to engage in conversation, in Portuguese, with someone I couldn't understand and who couldn't understand me for a whole hour at 6 o'clock in the morning was an experience.
As it turns out, from what little I could understand, everyone along the way to Penedo knew Antonio and Antonio knew everyone. At one point, he decided to play chicken with another driver. I felt safe in the knowledge that, should it come to the worst, we would fare better than the other person in the car. Even Wilson, at the hostel, knew him. They were cousins. I soon got the feeling that the town had been recently renamed from Dos Santos to Penedo just to hide the fact that everyone from the town seemed to have the name "Dos Santos".
Sunday in Brazil is still the way Sunday used to be at home, a day of rest when everyone shuts up shop and spends the day with the family, usually on the beach. This being the case when I arrived I had little reason to venture out (not to mind the fact I was, by now, a zombie) and even less when Wilson invited me to a home cooked dinner prepared to the tune of Tarzan Boy by Baltimora. I had now reached the stage of needing matchsticks to keep my eyes open and after a few games of dominoes, I hit the sack and had my best nights sleep in a long time.
The peace and tranquility I had become accustomed to was soon to be shattered when I arrived in Salvador. Apparently there are only seven good nights during the week that you can arrive and I arrived on one of them. It was a Tuesday. Every Tuesday they have a party with people parading along the streets striking drums and singing and partying. To me, it seemed like a mini Carnaval. The next day, Salvador was celebrating it's 457th anniversary. I get the feeling that Salvador doesn't need an excuse to party and any night is party night.
But hills and valleys were calling me again and six hours west of Salvador is one of the best parks in Brazil, Parque Nacional da Chapada Diamantina. Luckily I had met Mia and Marika who were interested in doing something different to everyone else and we headed off to see the Vale do Paty rather than Fumaça waterfall, the highest freefall waterfall in Brazil. We walked through forest, open grass plains, valleys, cliff edges and caves in sandals, boots and barefoot. We crossed rivers, babbling brooks and raging torrents. We clambered over rocks, scaled waterfalls and walked paths that had turned into mini rivers with all the rainfall. All of this was in sun and rain, hot and cold. Most of the rain came at night which made everything a verdant green. Only two months ago the valley was gripped with fire started by lightning and it had already recovered. We did get one morning of nonstop rain, but the flipside of this was that the waterfalls we saw were bulging with water.
This trip was quite different to Roraima. Roraima, in a way, had a point to achieve - to reach the top. This, on the other hand, was walking to many different places to see beautiful valleys, plants and waterfalls. Each day got better, on the first day we saw a valley. On the second we saw another valley and lots of places to swim. On the third we walked through an enormous cave from one side of a mountain to the other to see a stunning view of the hills around and valleys below us. Finally on the fourth day, we walked to the head of the Paty valley and what a stunning view that was! The pictures don't really do it justice to be honest!
Then, as we left to head back to Lençois, this massive thunder cloud gathered atop the mountain we had just descended, and the sky lit up as bright as day and the thunder roared as if to tell us how annoyed it was that we were leaving. But leave we had to do. I only had 2 weeks left on my visa and had yet to see lots of places. Among these were Brasilia, the capital of Brazil which was my next destination.
Things I learned
I must write a disclaimer first to say that what I write here may not be necessarily true bearing in mind that I had to translate from Portuguese to English with a tiny pocket dictionary.
There are 330 cases of dinosaur footprints to be found all over Brazil and the Bacia do Rio do Peixe contains 54.66% of them. 130 million years ago in the Lower Cretaceous, the northeast of Brazil had a large river with many tributaries which drained into a wide basin of water which covered the region. The climate was semi-arid and it was primarily conifers taht occupied the margin of these rivers.
Dinosaurs, including sauropods, carnosaurs, bipeds, ornithopods and iguanodons, completely dominated the scene. Lots of information can be extracted from a fossil footprint including the form of walking (bipedal or quadrupedal), running and behavioural aspects of an individual or group. The mass distribution of the body, suggesting height and even the size of the neck, heart and importance of pelvic area can be inferred from the centre of gravity of the animal.
It is very rare to find a skeleton together with the footprints associated with it as the conditions for fossilization are incompatible. Footprints need to be made above ground where skeletons would dry out with the action of the sun. Skeletons require very specific conditions and must be buried soon after the animal has died. There is a rare occurrence of both together in Alberta, Canada.
Whatever way the dinosaurs died out, it is a natural process in the universe for catastrophes to occur which allows new species to break through and dominate. (Cue the cockroach!)