Escaping the Concrete Jungle

In Portuguese, the word “saudades” is used to express longing, missing or nostalgia for a time past or for something that is absent from your life–or that was possible never there. It conjures up feelings of wistfulness, melancholy and incompleteness. With only three more months in Brazil, I am already beginning to feel “saudades” creep in. One thing I am quite certain that I will miss very much is the beautiful natural environment surrounding Brasíia, the cerrado, and the national park Chapada dos Veadeiros, to which I am dedicating this post.

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On the GO-118 that leads from Brasília north toward Alto Paraíso
We have visited this area numerous times during our time in Brazil and regard it as a sort of haven and reprieve from our busy life in the capital, with all of its massive concrete modernist architecture, that at times can be rather stifling. We most recently returned from a long weekend here over Easter, while my mother was visiting us in Brazil. During our trip, it occurred to me that this might be one of our last trips to this special place and I was struck with a bit of sadness–and preemptive “saudades”.

My husband and I are both from West Virginia and love the outdoors—particularly the mountains. A weekend in Chapada dos Veadeiros always leaves me feeling more Chapadas Flowercentered, refreshed and energized. Many people actually believe that the Chapada dos Veadeiros and the surrounding area possess a certain healing quality. Alto Paraíso, the quaint town outside of the national park attracts mainly hippies, natural healers and new-age wanderers who populate the many stores selling rock crystals, wind catchers and loose fitting cotton garments. Alto Paraíso is not known for its culinary selections, but there are a few good restaurants and cafes to visit while in town; we especially enjoy Jambalaya, tucked away in a private garden on the outskirts of town. But if you have the chance, stop by the farm São Bento on a Sunday for delicious traditional Brazilian food, including, of course, feijoada. They also have several trails and waterfalls on their property, small bungalows to stay in, horseback-riding and even a small chapel! One of the most prominent waterfalls, Almecega I, is pictured below. There are many pousadas in the area, ranging from luxury bed and breakfasts and Air B&B condominiums to rustic bungalows and yoga retreats. My one piece of advice, however, is to book far in advance, because these always fill up very quickly.

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Visitors use Alto Paraíso, the neighboring Sao João, or the more northern Cavalcante as a jumping off point to explore the numerous waterfalls, canyons and trails in the national park and its surrounding high plain region. Chapada translates to “plateau” and the park was named a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2001. I have never actually been inside of the park, but have instead visited many waterfalls on private properties surrounding it that are open to the public for small entrance fees.

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We first visited Chapada when I was seven months pregnant, and have again returned several times with our baby boy to hike, splash in shallow pools and dive into rivers below crashing waterfalls (the latter, of course, without our baby!). Most all waterfalls have areas where you can swim, jump and explore. And Brazilians love to climb right up to the waterfalls and sit on rocks for an impromptu hydro-massage. Coming from the US, where parks are so strictly regulated for fear of litigation, it is an exhilarating change to be able to move about freely, climb on rocks and directly approach a waterfall. Of course, caution must be exercised and there are areas that are simply too dangerous to enter, but overall, Brazilians take a much more laid-back approach to experiencing nature!

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Almecegas I. Note the people on top of the waterfall for scale.

This area is truly a magical place and some of our dearest memories of our time spent in Brazil have been formed here. As I have mentioned before, though one always thinks first of Rio or São Paulo, the immense country of Brazil has so much more to explore and offer than these two coastal cities! I hope that my blog brings you closer to some of these sites that may be a bit more off the beaten track.

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