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Guide to Chapada Diamantina: Pati Valley

Written by Thomas Power | 14th January 2014 |


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The Pati Valley is a gentle wilderness with beautiful mountain and river scenery. Its appeal is enhanced by its remoteness - it can only be accessed on foot or on the back of a mule, so it's blissfully quiet and unspoilt.

Pura Aventura recommend a 3 or 4 day guided trek. The 4 day version starts in Capão (pr. cap-own) and heads south down the Capão Valley before turning east into the Pati Valley. The 3 day version starts near Guiné and begins with a steep walk up the western escarpment of the mountains.

This is an account of the 3 day version that Pura Aventura's James did in late 2008.

Day One

Set out from the hotel in Lençois at around 0800. You can leave your bags at the hotel awaiting your return so that you can travel light for the trek.
The drive around the north of the Park to Guiné on the west side takes about 2 hours, much of it on dirt tracks. We travelled in a Toyota off-roader (like a large Land Rover Defender) with roll-down plastic windows and few mod-cons but on some of the dirt tracks you appreciate being in a proper off-road vehicle.

Stop in Guiné to buy water and snacks.

We actually started walking at 1100 at the trailhead about 1km from the western escarpment of the Chapada.

Walk up a steep path which zig-zags 300m up to the top. At the top, there's a very welcome breeze from the east and a view over the high grasslands to peaks beyond. To the west is a large flat plain and then the Gold mountains to the south west.

The walk up is steep, with a few big steps but there's no scrambling required. Decent fitness and mobility is needed.

While we were getting our breath back, 3 men on mules arrived to look for a couple of other mules that had escaped from the valley. For a moment they looked as if they were going to attempt the surely-impossible ride down the path we'd just climbed. It turned out that they didn't, but that path _is_ used regularly by mules bringing supplies (and schoolteachers) in and out from Guiné.

Set off south east across the grasslands with views of mountains all around you. Stop halfway under a small clump of trees for the only shade for a while. The vegetation is obviously used to quite arid conditions but there's a great variety of hardy little flowers all around you.

Carry on for 1.5 hours to stop for lunch in a cave at the head of a valley.

After lunch, turn east down the valley to follow the course of a river (or walk along the dry riverbed in the middle of the dry season). It's a very pretty walk along the red sandstone riverbed surrounded by tall plants. Cross through a short section of surviving Atlantic Rainforest (Mata Atlántica, pr. mah-Ta at-lan-CHEE-kah) with its shady mixture of broad-leaf and palm trees and undergrowth. Pass by a swimming pool shaped and sized natural pool in the river. When we passed it was empty but with water it'd be a great spot for a swim.

Cachoeirão from the top 

About 45 minutes after lunch and a very easy and pretty walk down the riverbed, you approach the top of the ""Big Waterfall"" Cachoeirão (pr. cash-oh-EH-rown) and get a hint of something spectacular ahead. Your first sight of it is a glimpse of the Cachoeirão valley framed by rocks on either side. I think all of us involuntarily stopped there, about 30m from the end, to savour the final approach.

As you approach the lip of the waterfall along the river course, you see the most beautiful view along the valley and a spectacular and terrifying 300m sheer drop to the bottom.

Depending on your position on the vertigo-lunacy scale, there are lots of places to enjoy the view from. Some are well back from the edge, others are out over large overhangs. There are even some holes to explore and wriggle down to appear in the rock face below the lip of one of the waterfalls.

There are a handful of vantage points depending on the state of the rivers. Even if none of the 12 waterfalls are actually falling, it's still a breathtaking place to see.

Depending on how long you've got before sunset, you may be able to spend a while at Cachoeirão or you may have to get a move on to get to Mr Wilson's house before it gets dark.

From Cachoeirão it's about a 1.5 - 2 hour walk around to Mr Wilson's house at the head of the Pati Valley itself. It's mostly downhill and you end up about 100m lower than you started the day. Needless to say that the view along the valley as the sun sets is beautiful.

Being near the equator it gets dark very quickly so take a torch or headlamp. We'd recommend an LED-based headlamp or hand-torch/flashlight for good bright light and light weight.

Today's walk was 20km with total ascent 650m; descent 740m.

Casa Wilson

Since commercial agriculture and mining is now banned in the National Park, the remaining handful of families in the Pati Valley make a living providing accommodation to hikers. They are basic, but impressive in the circumstances and more comfortable and responsible than camping.

Mr Wilson's house is at the western end of the Pati valley and is reached by a fairly steep sandy path down into the valley. It's surrounded by trees (including banana trees) and peaks tower around on all sides.

On a clear night the unpolluted view of the stars is breathtaking, especially seeing the cloudlike band of the Milky Way stretching across the sky.

The house itself is made up of a block with 3 dorm-rooms, each with 5 or 6 bunks in plus one double room. Clean sheets, a towel and a thick blanket are provided. There's no powered lighting in the dorms, so a torch is handy to supplement the candles provided. There are two shower rooms, with cold-water showers, toilets and electric light. It is basic but it's welcome after a long day's walk, it's friendly and charming, and it's remarkable given that supplies come in by mule or on foot.

Electricity is supplied by solar panels that charge a set of car batteries during the day. They do run a fridge, however, so you can buy a cold Coke or a beer for about R$3.50. Dinner was very tasty and there was lots of it - about 10 different dishes including salads, roasted beef, beans, rice and lots of vegetables. It was accompanied by plenty of freshly pulped fruit juice.

It does get chilly as night falls, so do bring a jumper/fleece and long trousers to stay warm. I was glad I brought a good (Helly Hansen Prowool) baselayer top to sleep in. While they're not a noticeable feature of your stay in the valley, there are insects about, so do use repellant.

Breakfast at the Wilson house is great. The morning I was there we had: fruit, bread, coffee, fried platana do terra (a very tasty variety of plantain), manioc, cake, etc. If you'd like a herbal tea, you can have one made from leaves picked from the garden.

Day Two

The mornings are often cloudy, since clouds form over the mountains at night before burning off during the morning. We were lucky enough to have bright sunshine from dawn onwards.

Today's walk is much shorter and easier than yesterday's so you can take it at a leisurely pace and enjoy the very pretty path that winds down through the trees surrounded by the valley crags. The first section to lunch, swimming and sunbathing is only 4km.

On the way stop and admire castle mountain (officially Morro da Lapinha) and see why it got its nickname. Continue along the valley, crossing the river a couple of times before following the rocks of a cascade down to a big pool.

The dark brown water in the pool is deep, cool (but not cold) and clean - perfect for a swim. The temperature is good for swimming from August onwards (through to about May). There are tiny fish (piaba) which will nibble at you if you stay still for long enough in the water - not dangerous or unpleasant but worth being pre-warned. The pool is deep enough to dive in from the rocks.

The cascades are beautiful, not hard to explore (though the rocks can be slippery), and provide lots of natural showers and hydro-massage spots. The more slippery rocks make for some good sliding for the brave and the drier ones make for good basking for the less brave.

Have your lunch here - we had bread, cheese, tuna, nuts, biscuits, etc while we lazed away a couple of hours.

Set off in mid-afternoon for the second half (another 4km) of today's walk through woodlands, across riverbeds and through very attractive lowland shrubs. You cross the Pati river on a big concrete bridge which has lost most of its railings to high water currents. Carry on winding along the river valley until you arrive above Casa Masu which is set in a grove of banana trees and coffee bushes on a bluff above the river.

Accommodation and facilities at casa Masu (or Massu) are very similar to those at Mr Wilson's. There isn't a fridge, so your Coke or beer won't be as cold but it's still a bargain at R$3. As at Mr Wilson's the dinner was very varied and tasty, accompanied by plenty of fruit juice.

Day Three

It's an early start this morning (5am) to have a pre-dawn breakfast and set off with the light.

Initially you take a steep path down to the river, which you cross on a series of logs lashed together to make walkways. It's not difficult, the walkways are stable and the water is shallow, but you do need to be awake if you don't want wet feet.

Once across the river, you set off on a long zig zag slog up the side of the valley. It's about 440m up along a sometimes-steep but decent path. It can be done in under an hour, but allowing for rests, photos, etc it'll be more like 2 hours to the pass.

Near the top there's a great vantage point for views/photos along the Pati and Cachoeirão valleys. You drop off the path for about 10m through some bushes to come out onto a rock platform. Unfortunately the sun hadn't quite broken through the clouds when we were there (at about 8am) so we didn't get the best of it.

Just over the pass, we were passed at speed by Mrs Masu and her daughter heading for market in Andaraí on foot. They must have left at least an hour after us, but raced past us at an impossible pace. In flip-flops. Humbling really.

From the pass, it's about 10km of mostly-downhill walking to the town of Andaraí. It's on a good path/track all the way, with a few steep shortcut options for the more adventurous.

As you get lower, you'll see increasing evidence of the diamond 'mining' works with graded piles of rocks, natural water channels, aquaducts, shelters, dynamite holes in rocks, etc. Hear about the geology, history and politics of mining on your way through.

Stop in Andaraí for a short time for a very good ice-cream and a drink in the market square. We were there on Monday, which is market day.

From Andaraí you can hop into the Jeep for an hour's drive (18km of it on dirt tracks) to the Poço Azul, which appears to be firmly in the middle of nowhere but is well worth a visit."

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