Chapada Diamantina National Park, Brazil
July 20, 2003
The Brazilian guide shop woman unfurled the table-sized topo map on the table. Immediately, Enmi and my eyes converged on the same spot.
“What is this?!” I asked, pointing to a dizzying pile of concentric topo lines in the middle of a plain. “We want to climb this.”
The woman didn’t understand. Enmi repeated in Spanish, which the woman internally translated into Portuguese. Her eyes grew wide. “El Morrão. Ay ay, necessito llamar a Paulo.” Apparently not a standard tour.
Half an hour later, Paulo arrived at the Lençois guide shop. He greeted us with minimal emotion and pointed to the topo map.
“El Morrão,” he said. “You want to climb? Not many people go.”
I asked in English, then heinously poor Spanish, then Enmi added vocabulary, pronunciation, and grammar, and the net result was a successful communication of “How difficult is the climb? What do we need to bring?”
Paulo, a man of staccato bluntness, said,
“Trail not good.
I bring machete.
Wear long pants.
I bring ropes.
You bring water.
Will get dark.
Meet 6 in morning.”
I looked at Enmi and we agreed: sign us up for some Brazilian adventure.
Paulo arrived at 6am as planned and we piled into the hired car. After roughly 90 minutes of rough-and-tumble travel on increasingly rough, forgotten dirt roads, we started hiking. At first, we eased along a meandering dirt road in the middle of a moderately undulating plain. The Morrão was nowhere to be seen.
A few stream crossings later and the dirt road morphed into a narrow singletrack. Stands of dense vegetation occasionally blocked all views. Paulo wordlessly marched ahead at a slow steady pace. We continued like this for quite some time.
Then, without a sound, Paulo froze in his tracks. Immediately, we stopped right behind him. I heard something in the brush, and I’m sure the something in the brush heard my heart pounding. Paulo quietly unsheathed his machete.
After a moment, Paulo spoke. “A snake. OK now.” We moved on.
Then, cresting a rise, we caught our first glimpse of El Monte de Tabor, aka the Morrão. Resembling a vertical drum (“tabor” means “drum” in Portuguese), the cylindrical rock summit towers 1500ft above a lush green valley extending unbroken for miles in every direction.
“Oh my god, there she is.”
Paulo trudged on, unphazed by the view. We gradually approached the hulking mass of the Morrão, hidden in its shadow. Although it was now obvious where we were headed, the trail managed to elude Paulo’s memory and in a short time we were ensconced in thick sub-tropical vegetation. Paulo slashed a trail with his machete and from his body language (Paulo never really used spoken language) I could tell he was completely lost.
He quickly surged ahead, scouting a route I presume, but he didn’t communicate his intentions. Thus Enmi and I completely lost sight and sound of him. “Paulo!” we yelled, but no answer. Was he running away? We were completely lost in dense jungle-like vegetation fencing us in on all sides and our guide had seemingly abandoned us. “Paulo!” No answer. Panic started to rush in. The adventure we sought had become too real.
But Paulo returned (I am writing this, after all). We backtracked and Paulo macheted a new route out of the brush. Before us stood the walls of the Morrão, and as my eyes raced upward I traced a primitive, extremely vertical trail to the summit. The trail was not really a trail but a cascade of rock-fall that afforded a relatively vegetation-free route to the summit. The climb was an intense rockhop; at one point Enmi almost turned back due to concerns about her ankle. Paulo, however, informed us that out of the six American groups he had guided that had attempted to summit, only one had made it. Enmi’s stubbornness kicked in and long-climb short we reached the top.
The 360-degree panorama from the “top of the drum” ranks as one of the most awesome views I’ve ever seen. The valley floor far below spread like a green sea toward distant mountainous plateaus. The blazing sun reflected in the curves of lengthy rivers and cast elongated shadows across eroded canyons.
The return passed without any of the shenanigans of before, although we walked a couple miles in complete darkness at the end (well, okay, Paulo whipped out a flashlight). By the time we made it back to the car, we were wiped out -- a fully plum-tuckering experience. All in all, the Morrão is of the most scenic places I’ve ever been, and definitely high on the adventure factor.
Map showing where Chapada Diamantina National Park is located
Map of Chapada Diamantina showing where the Morrão is located
Some info from gd.com
Morrao Monte Tabor