The Vale do Capão, on the northwest side of the Chapada Diamantina national park, is a rustic hideaway, a place where the locals live life as they please.
It’s calm, it’s peaceful. The word “paradise” is bandied about a lot these days, but you wouldn’t be far wrong in using it here.
We met a pair of German architecture students in Lençóis who planned to make the trip over the hills to Capão, so they joined us in the car for the journey, and the following day. The journey takes you past Pai Inácio and then you take the turn for Palmeiras. Beware: 25km of at times very rough road lies ahead. If you can manage that, you’ll arrive in a rolling forested valley of green and purple, with huge granite walls rising at the back.
Even before we’d reached the town, it struck us that the atmosphere here was friendlier, more open that anything we’d seen on the trip so far. I felt like I was back in West Cork, or some small island community where everyone knows each other. That’s the Vale do Capão, an island of calm. Family friends of Marina’s, Zelice and Julio, had offered us a place to stay during our visit – our accommodation was quite appropriate, to immerse ourselves in Capão life. Zelice and Julio live in a charming house in the forest, including a small garden farm, with chickens, banana trees, and all sorts of other fruit. We slept in a miniature house up the hill, without electricity or artificial light, for five nights. At night, we sat around the campfire.
Before starting our journey, we began to learn how to make do with less, since we’d sold most of our stuff to fund our journey! Staying in Capão was a chance to take this to the next level, as Julio and Zelice try to minimise their consumption and their waste to just what’s necessary. Everything that can be re-used, is. Thanks for sharing your home with us!
The natural attractions in the Capão valley are many- we were spoiled for choice. The highlight was probably our hike to the Cachoeira da Fumaça – a waterfall perched on the edge of a 340m cliff, seemingly defying gravity with its angled layers of rock overhanging the chasm. It was the highest in Brazil, until recently. A swim in the natural pools near the top cooled us off in the afternoon heat. The hike (Sara and Sophia from Germany joined us) was relatively easy – a short ascent and then a few km of almost flat ground. Unfortunately, due to a recent forest fire, there is very little tall vegetation along the route, so we didn’t have much shade along the way. It was very hot. (As Fumaça is within the National Park, they request a small donation, which is optional. We gave R$5 / €1.50 each). 14km in total, there and back.
Back in town, we had heard of a “famous” local restaurant serving only two items – a sweet dessert pizza, or a savoury cheese pizza. I expected great things. Sadly, we received a disappointingly normal cheese pizza, along with some fruit juice which was far too sweet to go with a main course. (R$18 / €5 each). I’d avoid it next time. On the other hand, we did find a very good hole-in-the-wall café with a lovely french waitress, serving Beiju (Bahian tapioca) with whatever sort of topping you want. (Under R$10 / €3) I could give you directions, but from the square, both are about about 50 metres walk. Ask for “the pizza place” or “the café with a rainbow on the front”.
After a couple of days in the valley, we already recognised many people as we went to and from the town, a wave here or a friendly smile there. Since the 1970’s, the valley has been a magnet for hippies. Our offers of a lift in the car, up the steep hill, were always well received. Almost every trip ended up with more passengers than we began with!
The valley heading south from Capão forks off in two directions. Southeast, and you’ll enter the Vale do Pati, an area famous for its spectacular vistas. Typically visitors to the area take a guide and hike for 5 days to see Pati. (This would cost you in the R$100 – R$150 (€25 – €38) per day). We opted for the less hardcore option this time, and took just an afternoon to fork off to the southwest, and see the waterfall called Purificação (Purification). Joining us were Hard Rock Hans and Jessica, who we had first met back in Lençóis. The trail is relatively short, it follows the river bed upstream, and there’s usually a path running alongside too. It’s cool, calm and shady all the way. You’ll pass a few smaller cascades on the way, and you’ll have the place to yourself, if you arrive early.
On our return from the trail, we met another local – an Italian girl and her dog. She’d come to Brazil a few years ago and now lives deep in the back of Capão valley. She told us it’s often weeks or months between her trips down to town. I can understand the need for peace and quiet, but such isolation would be too much for me. Fair play to you if you can manage it.
We’ll remember Capão fondly!