Ola pessoal! I just got back from a two-day excursion to Chapada Diamantina (Diamond Plateau), a national park in the state of Bahia about a 7 hour drive away. I went with eight other people (7 girls and 1 other guy) and we took a bus from Salvador at 11:30 pm so that we could sleep on the bus and arrive in the morning. Surprisingly I was able to sleep on the bus at least somewhat — there was a little confusion as somehow two girls in our group had been assigned the same seat number, so one of them sat in my seat and I found a random seat. I was woken out of my deep sleep by a confused traveler who realized that I was in his seat, fortunately the girl in my seat found him another empty seat and all was well. We arrived in Lençois, the town we were staying at, around 5:45 am, and were driven to our hostel by our later tour guide for free which was nice. We managed to crash for a few more hours until 8:00 am (our tour started at 8:30). The food at the hostel was very, very good (it was a place recommended by the people from CIEE, my study abroad program) — there was a lot of fresh fruit, fresh OJ, coffee, cakes, empenadas and other cooked things that I could not identify. Needless to say, I have never had a breakfast anywhere near as good from a US hotel (and this was a hostel), so I guess that shows the difference in priorities between Brazil and the US. The owner of the hostel was this little friendly lady, who was also the one cooking breakfast. There were also other foreigners staying at the hostel, it turns out this park attracts a lot of foreigners (apparently a lot of Israelis, we also met a guy from Switzerland and a guy from France).
Our tour started at 8:30, we had a car and our guide was named Hernandez — he was quite a character. There were also two girls from Austria in our tour group. We went to the Cachoeira do Diabo first (the Devil's Waterfall). I have no idea why it was called this as it was very nice. There was a scary zip-line that me and my friend did, we jumped off the top near the waterfall and eventually slammed into the water quite hard but it was very, very fun. We also swam in the waterfall pool for quite a while. We then went to Monte do Pai Inacio (Mountain of Father Inacio), a mountain named after a famous slave who was in love with the governor's daughter in the 19th century. It was very tall and had excellent views of the area — the area was basically large plateau's, it reminded me of Lion King or Africa. We then went to get lunch at this small open air ranch-like restaurant in a very beautiful area. The soil was extremely red and bright — between the bright flowers and plants and the red soil it was a very beautiful contrast, and the red soil reminded me of the soil from the island of Molokai, Hawaii. The food at the restaurant was good, although fairly typical (beans, rice, salad, vegetables, pasta, and chicken) — I think everyone in the group was starving at this point though so it was a welcomed respite.
After lunch we went to the Gruta de Azul (The Blue Cave), a cave where the sunlight shines on the water revealing a very turquoise blue color — it was very pretty. We also went to a nearby river with bright blue see-through water. There was also a cave with water that several of my friends snorkeled in. In the cave where they snorkeled it was basically pitch black so I did not snorkel (it also cost $20 reais) as I figured I would not really see any fish, it was more about the experience. I ended up swimming in the river with some friends which was cool, there were a bunch of horses just grazing fairly near the water so it was somewhat surreal. We also went to the Gruta da Fumaça (the Smoke Cave), which was a dark cave with a lot of stalactites and stalagmites — it was cool, we saw a couple bats as well and sat in complete darkness for a few minutes. The whole time during the tour our guide was providing us with information, he spoke English and Portuguese and knew all the best spots to take pictures — it was pretty hilarious. By the time we got back to Lençois at the end of the day we were all pretty exhausted but ended up eating at a good pizza place and getting caipirinhas from a small stand in the main square. The town was very lively at night and almost reminded me of Europe — all of the buildings were very brightly colored, all of the restaurants had a ton of tables outside and there were some musicians playing outside.
The guide for the first day was $120 reais per person, so we did not think we would have the money to hire a guide for the second day. However, after talking with our hostel owner we managed to procure a guide for the next day for $15 reais per person (yes, for all day). This guide was a local, 20 year old guy who only spoke Portuguese. We hiked all day, going to several different waterfalls, as well as a sand cave kind of thing. This guide was nice but not as informative so I was not able to pick up the names of the places that we went. Midday we returned to town to eat lunch where we ate at a restaurant for only $8 reais per person (about $4) for a large meal, several of the girls in my group got their hair done while we were waiting for the food because there was a salon right next door. The meal was good — again typical with beans, rice, chicken, pork and farofa (a grain that Brazilians dump heavily on their beans). We met up with the guide afterwards and hiked for about an hour one-way to a waterfall that was also a natural water slide. We basically climbed up the side of the gently sloped waterfall and then carefully went and sat down on a jet which would shoot you down the waterfall. It was cool, much smoother than expected but on the third time I was jostled slightly unpleasantly by the rocks and decided to just swim in the waterfall pool after that. We hung out there for a bit until the sun started setting and then hiked back to town. Along the way we saw a guy riding a donkey which was kind of comical, and it seemed that our guide was friends with three-fourths of the people that we encountered. When we got back to town we checked out of the hostel and ended up eating at a burger joint. My patty was so small that I originally did not think they put one in until after my waiter told me to check again — it was literally completely hidden under a piece of cheese and very un-American in that the patty was much smaller that the bread (and the cheese), badly proportioned with the overall bun size but then again it was only $3 reais so I wasn't really complaining, and it actually tasted good. After dinner our group split up until we had to meet to go to the bus station, me and three other people ended up going to a small outdoor cafe where we split a bottle of wine and ate fried aipim (manioc) which was somewhat like french fries. After consuming another bottle of wine we met the rest of our group and headed to the bus station. Our bus was at 11:50 pm this time and was much harder to sleep on for everyone for some reason, although the smell of rancid urine wafting from the broken bathroom did not help. The seat shenanigans somehow happened again with one of the girls having the same seat as another woman, so she sat in my seat and I sat in a random seat although this time there were no problems. We arrived in Salvador about 6 am, and were somewhat nervous as the bus station is apparently one of the most dangerous areas in Salvador, however we had no problems. We caught a bus back that actually went right by my neighborhood so I did not have to take a taxi back. Overall it was a great trip, I would love to return to Chapada Diamantina in the future to see more of the park and go backpacking. There was a ton of beautiful flowers and landscapes, as well as the waterfalls and caves. It was very nice staying in Lençois as well, it was actually safe at night (unlike Salvador), so we did not feel worried about safety for once and the city was so beautiful — I definitely was not expecting it to be so pretty and well maintained.
On a more sour note, I have an oral exam tomorrow, my final exam in Portuguese on Tuesday and my final paper for culture class due Wednesday. On Wednesday, about 20 kids from my program are leaving to São Paulo where they are studying for a semester or a year, so we will have a farewell dinner on Tuesday. My birthday is also on Friday and I am trying to get a group of friends together to go out and get sushi. Ate logo!