Chapada Diamantina National Park is located in the central part of the state of Bahia. Many Brazilians say it’s the most beautiful place in Brazil. The park abounds in hills, ravines, rivers and waterfalls, so it was an obvious direction for us after Salvador. We didn’t know, however, that we would find ourselves in a situation where our life hung in the balance due to a little bit of our negligence, and a little bit of bad luck.
We are in Lençois, a town from which there are routes to the park. We went on a 3-day trekking. The first day we wanted to go to Caete-Açu, a small town on the other side of the park, the next day we planned to see the waterfalls west of Caete and start returning to Lençois, putting the tent in a place marked on the map and returning to the starting point on the last day. According to the leaflet from the hostel, the route on the first day is 25 km, which can be done in 7 hours. On our map with GPS (maps.me) there were 2 routes to Caete, and as we don’t like to walk the same way back, we thought that we would go one and return back with the other. We left most of the things in the hostel, taking with us only the most necessary equipment, and a supply of food and water for 1.5 days, with the thought that we will refill the supplies in Caete.
Let’s move. The trail is very overgrown, most of the time we struggle through bushes, generally it is very hard. We don’t meet anyone on the route, but in the end it is already after the season, and from time to time there are arrows on the stones, so we feel that we are going the right direction. In addition, GPS shows that we are on the trail. By controlling the time and the distance traveled, we realize that we are going much slower than we should if we were to walk the trail in 7 hours. At some point we reach the river, which we crossed without a problem, making a stopover, eating dinner and bathing in pleasantly cool water. In the end, the heat is fierce, the sun burns mercilessly, and our backpacks weigh (each contains 2 large bottles of water, tent, sleeping mats, food, equipment… we gathered a little bit). The next part of the trail is going through the dried up riverbed of the second river, which is connected with the first one. The road leads through a gorge with of walls of several hundred meters, on the bottom there are huge, mossy and slippery stones, and on the sides there is a dense jungle or a high wall of rocks. Every now and then we have to climb, walk on all fours, squat, get up, jump down… It’s not easy.
We walk and look at this our GPS map, and only now, at a large zoom, it turns out that the trail we follow doesn’t connect Lençois and Caete-Açu. There is a break of about 50 meters in it – there are paths from both towns, but they don’t meet. Well, we reach this break – at the end of our ravine with a dried up river there is a rocky wall, from which a small waterfall flows into a shallow lake. It’s 17:00, an hour to darkness. It took us 2 hours to go through this gorge, so we won’t be able to come back before the sunset and moreover we are very tired. On a large flat stone above the lake, we pitch a tent to wait out the night and return to Lençois the next day. There is also a campfire nearby, quite fresh, apparently not only we took this blind alley. It’s quite nice, because we can wash under a waterfall like in the shower, the water is quietly roaming, the frogs are cawing in a small lake under it, the boulder is flat and comfortableafter putting a mat on it. We are even cautious enough to boil 3 bottles of water over the fire so that we can have enough of it to return. Then we thought that the worst thing that could happen was to return to Lençois the next day, the same path that wasn’t very pleasant. And the feeling that we didn’t manage to reach Caete-Açu and realize the plan. We go to sleep, there are lightnings in a distance. It starts raining at night, but we’ve got strings that are protected by stones, so we’re not scared. The tent has already survived a couple of rainstorms, so we turn over to the other side and sleep well.
The rain doesn’ stop. It’s raining more. More and more. The sky is flashed by lightnings every second. Around 3 o’clock we are awaken by an outstanding roar, Michał leaves the tent to see what is happening. It turns out that the tiny waterfall has turned into a frenzied beast. We have NEVER seen such a mass of water striking with such a momentum. And this is just a few meters from our tent. The lake started to grow at an alarming rate. Michał quickly ran out to recon the situation and he found a rock pit above our boulder on which we can hide. He shouted so we immediately take the whole tent with things inside and on slippery rock steps we climb to the cave. The moment we reached the pit 5 meters higher, our boulder was already under water. The waterfall roars like a plane taking off, lightnings striking around and in the following flashes we see that our ONLY way of return has turned into a rapid mountain river, and the water level is constantly rising and approaching our safe place. Nobody said it out loud then, but we both thought it could be the end. That we can not come back. If the water reached into our cave, there would be no escape. The only option would be to stick to the tree growing nearby, hoping that it won’t go down together with the river and we will manage to keep on it. We pack up a tent, packed our backpacks and secured things inside. Fortunately, the water level stabilized and we had the impression that for the time being, we are safe in our cave.
4 AM, every now and then we glow with a headlamp to see if the tragic situation is even worse. The current way out of the situation is either climbing on a vertical wall (eventually slipping down and certain death), or walking down a rapid river (eventually falling into it and drowning). We want to call for help, but guess what. There isn’t even a sign of range. We are completely on our own. Up to 6 AM we freeze in the dark. With dawn, we see a picture of misery and despair. Everything below our cave is a deadly element. We can’t move a step. Fortunately we have this little cave, it doesn’ rain on us. How long will we have to wait here for the river to calm down? Hours? Days? We don’t even have a sweatshirt or sleeping bag, only tourist sheets, because it’s always so hot here… We wrap ourselves in what we have, we cringe and go to sleep, because nothing else is left.
We wake up around 8. It turns out that the waterfall began to slowly decline, the water level in the river slowly began to fall, the current also ceases to be so strong, even the timid sun goes out. Around 12 we see a chance to break off on the bank of the river. We decide that we are running away from this trap, because it is thundering again in the distance, and we don’t have a chance to survive long in the cave without food and warm clothes. We secure all things with plastic bags with the conviction that we will surely fall into the river on the way. We eat a modest breakfast – the rest of the pasta from yesterday (already a little bit rotten) and 3 hard-boiled eggs. Scrambling over rocks, or through the brushwood (collecting spider webs belonging to spiders as big as a hand), or through water in shallower places, slowly, often on all fours, we cross down the river. Many times we had to come back, because we encountered a rocky wall, and there was no possibility of crossing to the other side. The 2.5 km trail took us 4 hours, after which we happily reached the place where it is safe to pitch a tent and wait out the night.
We are pitched by the first river, at which we made a pleasant stop on the first day, still unaware of anything. The place is good, a lot above the river and we can see that the water didn’t reach there the previous night. It’ even possible to stick all pins for the first time on this trip and the tent remains stretched. We eat supper – a piece of cheese (slightly rotten) and some biscuits and go to sleep thinking that what is left for the next day is relatively easy, the last straight to Lençois. The days 2 ends. We can see lighnings in a distance.
At night, a huge storm passes again. The nearby river also turns into a rushing monster, but fortunately it does’t come too close to our camp. The tent resisted the downpour, but we sleep quite restlessly with fresh memories from the previous night. In the morning it’s still raining. The return journey turns out to be much more difficult than we thought. It’s not the last straight. In many places the return route turned into lakes and rivers that hadn’t been there before. We are going down in the downpour, breaking through the jungle, falling over on slippery stones and wading up to our knees in the water every now and then. However, we have in mind that if we stayed in our cave by the waterfall, we could be imprisoned there for the next days. Fortunately, we finally reach the city. Hungry, soaked and after many tippers, we buy a Fanta and a pie. We’ve never liked it so much. The losses we suffered from this were bent bar from the tent, many bruises and scratches and strained Ola’s knees – after three days of intensive use, they are very painful and one swells.
For a moment we thought not to describe this story on the blog. We are slightly ashamed, because we feel a bit like we were tourists going in flip-flops to the mountains (incidentally, the local guides go with the tourists only in flip-flops). But we have taken out of this adventure a very valuable lesson regarding respect for nature, noticing signs in the sky and on the ground, and good planning of the route and preparation for it. Maybe someone will benefit from it and learn something from our mistakes. What could we do better?
- Asking about the routes in the city – we even wanted to, just after coming to Lençois. But the information was closed, and then it flew out of our head. We shoud have tried and talk to someone from here. He would probably tell us that it is impossible to get to Caete that way, or even showed us a break in the trail on the map.
- Saying where we’re going – nobody knew where we went. And as we were walking along the trail leading nowhere, no one would probably look for us there. It is always worth telling someone where you are going in the mountains. Having left the majority of things in the hostel, for example, we could have told our route to the owner.
- Always take the jacket! – no matter how hot it was and how much the jacket would weigh. We made it, but if it didn’t stop raining and we had to wait in the cave for a few days, we would have to come back frozen and undernourished. And this doesn’t bode much for a long march.
- Know emergency numbers in your country – it’s embarrassing to admit – we didn’t know them. We only knew the number for the road police. In our case, it didn’t change anything, because there was no coverage anywhere. BUT if it was, we wouldn’t know how to call for help… Now we have the cards with the numbers behind the phone cover. And we recommend this solution even while in your country. 999, 998, 997 – these numbers have been instilled in us since childhood. But when in the stressful situation of Ola had to call an ambulance last year, in her nerves and emotions she didn’t remember the number.
- Check the weather forecast. Even if it’s summer, it’s obviously dry and there is no indication of a change in weather, a storm can always arrive unexpected. And weather services usually know this before.
- Pay attention to nature. If you go through a dry gorge in the mountains, it will almost certainly turn into river after rain. In particular, it can be indicated by the trunks lying in its light, the lack of trees growing in the middle or if they are already growing – these are usually only bushes inclined towards the potential current.
- If there is only one way back, you have to be sure that you will be able to come back and try to predict how it can be cut off.
You know what? It’s good to be alive 🙂