Chapada Diamantina: I Came At A Really Bad Time

After Paraty I had 2 weeks to kill before I had to be in Rio for Carnival. I was hoping to visit different beach towns but the rain and the prices were making that difficult. It was still the Brazilian holiday season so prices were high, and I just wasn’t willing to pay that much when there was an 80% probability it would rain.

So, I decided to head North to the Chapada Diamantina National Park. It was supposed to have great hiking with beautiful mountains, lagoons, and waterfalls – all things I thought could still be enjoyed in the rain. I was wrong.

After my 1 day delay in Salvador (that turned into 5 because I was having too much fun) I arrived to Lençois, the main tourist town next the park. I had emailed my hostel beforehand to switch the date and he had replied in a friendly manner, fine with my proposed change. However, when I arrived off my night bus at 5 am he was nothing like the supposedly friendly man I had emailed with. At first he wouldn’t even accept my reservation, then he told me check in was at 1 and I would have to come back then.

Lençois is a tiny little town and at 5 am literally everything is boarded up. There are no bars, restaurants, shops, nothing. Was he seriously expecting me to sit alone on the street in complete darkness for hours? I asked if I could sit in his lobby until the sun came up (really not a crazy request – every single hostel I’ve ever stayed at let’s you do this) but the man put up a complete fuss repeating “I HAVE NO OBLIGATION TO YOU” as I tried to politely argue. I showed him our email chain but he maintained that our emails meant nothing. He had no obligation to me. Frustrated, I gave up and asked if he knew of another hostel nearby. He shook his head all grumpy-like and had his mother walk me to a place down the street.

The owner of the new hostel was way more accommodating, offering me breakfast and making up a bed for me to nap (sadly this hostel turned out to be dirty and disorganized and the owner ended up trying to rip me off in the end. Such is life on the road). I slept a few hours, then showered in preparation for a day of tour price comparisons and a visit to a nearby swimming hole I’d heard of.

Of course by the time I’d sunscreened and changed into my swimsuit the hot, sunny day turned into a full-on torrential downpour. I headed up to my room to kill time until it passed.

The hostel had only 8 beds total and that day it was just me and two hippies, guys around my age from France and Sweden. I tried to make polite small talk but it’s just so difficult with hippies. I can’t relate to them in the slightest. And they’re just so friggin dirty. At one point the Swedish one leaned over my shoulder to ask what I was reading and I nearly gagged at the stench. Hellllooo new roomies.

I spent the next hour killing time reading Lonely Planet. The hippies spent the hour talking about the reggae beats they were blasting, rolling herbal cigarettes and setting up a jewelry board full of animal tooth necklaces they planned to sell. At least they were friendly hippies. They politely offered me their weed (no thanks) and their munchies (that I’ll take).

Eventually the rain passed so I headed out to the supposedly lovely water hole I’d read about. Except I really didn’t think it was that lovely. The hole was more of a brown waterfall that about 20 hippies had set up camp next to. They sat around washing their clothes in the water and making jewelry. At one point I’m pretty sure I stepped over human shit.

Taylor Swift WTF Gif

I didn’t stay at the water hole long.

I headed back into town to book a tour for the next day. Lençois’s tourism industry is very well developed with tons of different agencies offering combination trips to the different attractions in the park. There’s a lot that I wanted to see. Unfortunately, apparently that morning’s torrential downpour was one of many they’d had the past few days so half the places I’d wanted to visit were inaccessible. A bridge was washed away, a waterfall was dangerously powerful, a river was running too high, etc.

The tour agencies were coping the best they could, adding different sights to the usual tour combos but it was nonetheless disappointing. The mountain hike I wanted to do was supposed to include visits to vivid aqua-coloured lagoons but instead included a visit to a cave  (I’m just so over caves) and a lackluster replacement waterfall. BUT I had come all the way here so I booked it anyway. I headed back to my hostel to call it a day.

In the time between me leaving and returning to my cutesy cobblestone street the hippies had full-on moved in. They were everywhere, selling their hippie wares in every free space possible on the sidewalks. I’ve never in my life seen so many different dreadlock hairstyle options. I’ve also never seen so many face tattoos. I’d heard nothing about Lençois being a hippie town but maybe things had changed since the reviews I’d read? Interesting bunch.

The next day was my tour. We spent the morning crawling over rocks in some big dark cave (I saw 49274913 caves in South East Asia so this literally did nothing for me) and the afternoon hiking the region’s famous mountain (the replacement waterfall also turned out to be inaccessible). Don’t get me wrong, the mountain was amazing (see pictures below) and made my short trip to Lençois worth it, but at the end of the day I decided that me and Chapada Diamantina were just not meant to be at this time.

The only other activity I wanted to do that wasn’t affected by the weather was a strenuous hike uphill to a waterfall. I had originally scheduled this in, but Day 1 left me exhausted and blistered  (the mountain hike was 5 km longer than planned due to a road being washed out), steep hikes in probable rain stress me out (emergency evacuation flashbacks), and the tour to the hike entrance was crazy expensive. I decided to change my bus ticket and return to Salvador. Essentially I gave up.

It was in line at the bus station that the whole hippie nation thing started to make sense. The dreadlocked girl behind me struck up a conversation, asking if I was going to Capão (a nearby town 30 hippies were in line to buy tickets for. So no, I would not be going to Capão). I said no, and decided to ask her about the bracelet I’d seen a lot of them wearing. Turns out, a musical festival had taken place in the area, ending the day before, so 2,000 hippies had flocked to nearby Lençois to bus out. According to dreadlocked girl there wasn’t much music at the festival as the rain had damaged the sound equipment…but the “vibes were amazing” (of course they were).

I sit here writing this on the step of the Lençois bus station, swarming with flies and hippies (this describes it so perfectly it hurts), waiting for my bus back to Salvador. I’m really disappointed to be leaving because I think that at a different time this place would be really cool. The landscapes are really unique with red dirt, cacti, cool rock formations, flat mountains, and a million things to see and do…just not right now. It’s not worth the money for a half-assed experience.

I really didn’t interact with any locals while I was here, or even other tourists for that matter (aside from the few on my tour). I really didn’t see much. It’s just been hippies…and rain.

Chapada Diamantina: I came at a really bad time.

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