I arrived shortly after 6 pm. The sky was a haze of red, yellow and blue, punctuated by wind swept clouds and palm trees that dotted the horizon. Although it was a nine hour drive from Uberlandia to Chapada Dos Veadeiros, a table top mountain near Brasilia, I looked out over the expansive landscape with satisfaction. I was happy that things were working out.
After the World Cup ended, my plan was to join two Brazilian friends on an epic road trip across South America. Ahead of us lay Bolivia, Peru and Chile. Unfortunately, beaurcratic documentation issues set road blocks in our path. Our trip would be delayed by a week so that everything could be sorted out.
There was little I could do from my side. I don’t speak Portuguese and these were matters with the Brazilian state. Wheels needed greasing, and when gringo hands are involved, the cost of lubricant increases significantly. So I reviewed the surrounding area, picked a place that I had never been before, rented a car and 9 hours later I was in the Chapada dos Veadeiros. I had done minimal research on my destination.
I made it to my hostel in the town of Alto Pariso, located on the outskirts of the Chapada, shortly after 8pm. I parked opposite my accommodations near an open square the size of a suburban back yard, mostly brown, with patches of green, a seesaw and bouncy horse.
To my surprise the park was inhabited by a score of hippies. Was some jam band having a concert in the immediate vicinity? I strode over to gawk and investigate further.
Dreadlocks, sundresses and Rastafarian colors were the status quo. People were selling artwork, metal trinkets and jewerly. The pungent smell of weed filled the air – either that or somebody had to do a load of sock laundry really badly. Someone strummed a guitar and it wasn’t long before an impromptu sing along soon followed suit.
But there was no jam festival, no phish concert. I asked around and found out that’s how it is. Always. I thought to myself: What’s with all the hippies?
The Waterfalls of Chapada dos Veadeiros
The next morning, after a quick breakfast of Coxinha, coffee and orange juice mixed with acerola, I packed up my day-bag and headed off to visit Sao Bento. Accompanying me were two fellow travellers I had met at my hostel the night before.
Sao Bento farm is located about a 10 minute drive from alto paraiso. After paying 20 Reals and hiking about 2km, we arrived at the first of three waterfalls that the farm boasts. After spying the waterfall through thick foliage, we climbed down to the pool at its base. I jumped in. The water was cold. Really frickin’ cold. But within minutes, my body warmed to the idea and I was able to swim lazily around the natural pool.
We made it to the second waterfall, and then the third. The hippies were there too, banging on the wood planks that they sat on, searching each others faces to confirm they wear on the same beat.
New Age Tourism
I love places that are a bit left of center. Places that have personality by the bunches. Even if I don’t believe in the rhetoric thrown easily around the campfire behind the hostels, I love it’s enthusiasm.
At dinner that night, I gave a dusty, glazed-eyed man that was hocking his wares a slice of pizza. He, in return, gave me a small wire trinket, adjustable at two main hinges. Wide eyed, he kept making different forms with the trinket while explaining something about each shape to me in Portuguese. I didn’t get 95% of what he said, but I could tell he was enthusiastic about his good none the less.
He fiddled with it. First a tiny hat. Then a flower. Next a UFO. And for the coup de grâce, a mandala, a shape that represents the universe in Hinduism and Buddhism.
Many of the shapes mirrored the Chapada itself. To the believer, the Chapada is a spiritual lightning rod. Early that day, at one of the waterfalls, I was told that the Chapada is located on a giant bed of crystal and that it’s on the same 14th parallel that Machu Pichu traverses. Supposedly, it is the brightest natural formation viewable from space. The light from the crystals makes it a favorite landing pad for UFOs, or so the conspiracy theorists postulate.
I walked back to the hostel belly full and eyes tired from a long day. I had walked maybe 10 km and swam another one. I tucked past the reception desk and my room, which was off to the left, passed the communal bathroom for 14 people, past the kitchen and outside to the campfire that was glowing underneath the star filled sky.
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