|As we rose
up the mountain road I realized we were in coffee country, some had started
to bloom, very pretty.
Found our way
to Alto Caparao (pop. 5000, elevation 3000’) to where we had made reservations
for the week at the Pousada do Rui. Was a nice place but I was disappointed
to find that it had no open land about it since it was in town. To
me a pousada is, by definition, out of town and has plenty of grounds to
roam around on and let the kids play, barbeque, party and what not. (Lesson:
if you are traveling in the off season to a place you have not been then
only make reservations for one night and go elsewhere if it does not fit
the bill. We were here during off season and could have got better rates
and more privacy just outside of town. However, meals may have been more
of a challenge.)
place was nice, had a veranda with good views of the park and coffee plantations.
You could hear a creek. Good bird watching to be had.
We were fed
three home cooked meals per day though I think only one of them was included
with the rooms. One day they killed a rooster and made a really good
chicken dish for us. Cooking style here is called “Mineira” and is not
unlike South East US country cooking, I like it. Went to the Catholic church
with our host on Sunday eve, pleasant experience, everyone stood up and
cheered for the family with a new born. My wife and I were also introduced
as visitors “from out of town.”
The park itself
has an entrance at Alto Caparao, I hiked in the next morning, paid my 3
real entrance fee and explored Vale Verdae. This was too short of a hike
so I started walking the park road up to its end at an elevation of 6000’.
An old guide in a beat up jeep offered me a ride. He could understand some
of my Portuguese, I asked him if he liked his job, he smiled and said he
loved it, had been at it for over 20 years. He dropped me at the top and
though he did not ask for money I gave him 10 Reals for gas which he said
was not needed. I did some exploring and then hiked back down the road,
which had some great views. (Nice camp site right next to the parking
lot at 6000’, the fee is very small and looks like you can have a campfire
if you want one. Also, a long distance trail starts here and goes 100 or
200 km? I can’t remember its name but some day I may give it a try…Trilha
de Luz maybe? Good for some real trekking!).
There was a
pousada close to the park entrance that featured what appeared to be a
big hot tub…that sure would have felt good on my road-hammered muscles!
Next day we
did a jeep tour of the north east border of the park. Visited a private
camp ground that also had waterfalls and short trails and food and beer,
Cachoeira das Andorinhas…my kind of place, remote, beautiful and only dirt
road accessible. We were told that the coffee would be blooming in the
next month (which was October) and the mountainsides turn while with their
blooms. According to the locals this did bring in some international tourism
since it must be a site to see, would guess it looks like snow and it does
not snow there.
crossed from Minas Gerias into Espirito Santo for my first time to visit
a rum distillery…cachaça still! Great place, lots of sugar cane
being crushed and fermented. The final product being distilled and then
piped to a wooden tank. Lots of plastic pipe though and most was bottled
in recycled two liter plastic bottles. Price was good and the spirits were
strong. Marveled at the various tropical birds that the Don of the Cachaçeira
put food out for. Many were of bright colors, my favorite and one I had
not yet seen was iridescent turquoise.
Our host told
us that coffee plantation plots around 25 acres could be purchased for
very reasonable prices. Could I keep my self busy picking coffee
and feeding chickens? Or would I wind up hangin’ out down at the Cachaçeira?
My wife and
I got dropped off at the campground and walked the 8 km back to Alto Caparao.
Best day of the trip for me. I did carry a hiking stick just in case a
barnyard dog wanted to get too friendly. We had a few beers at the camp
ground before walking, and had the best fried mandioca (mantioc) I’ve ever
had. Normally is bitter and bland but this was right up there with French
Fries! The road was quiet and clean, we saw very few people and few vehicles.
Many of the wild fruit trees had ripe fruit: avocados, the “Devils Lemon”
(it’s got the shape of a lemon but orange skin and fruit and stronger than
the yellow lemons we are accustomed too). The ameixa were delicious, yellow
plums that I’ve not had before, maybe used to make prunes?
The next day
it looked liked the clouds that had been obscuring the high peaks were
gone so we took a jeep up to 6000’ where our guide mulas (she mules?) where
waiting for us. The glaring late summer sun was not too bad but I kept
my pale skin covered, sunburn can happen quickly up there above the tree
line. The saddle for my mula was comfortable, had two stubby hand grips
that enabled me to ride comfortably without squishing the family jewels.
the next day I was really sore from the mula ride up the mountain since
I am not accustomed to riding…again, that hot tub sure would have been
Took a break
at around 7500’ here was a really nice backpackers camp ground with green
grass and clear running water. Good views all around.
At around 9000’
we had to dismount and walk the rest of the way to the 9500’ summit. There
were clouds but we lucked out and they parted so we got some pretty good
views into the Mata Atlantica rain forest on the Espirito Santos side of
trip was uneventful, we cooled off in the pools of the Vale Encantado while
waiting for our ride out.
Next day we
rented one mula and a carriage so we could take the kids and Carmen out
of the dirt roads. Again very pleasant. Saw a real cowboy decked out in
red trim riding real hard and smooth up and down the road. He was really
enjoying life. People were picking coffee and we passed a place where it
was being roasted, very good smell!
We took an
express bus back the next evening. It was brand new and shiny and clean
and cost a fraction of a taxi. Rui, our host at the Pousada dropped us
off at the bus station in Manhumirim for a fee of 25 Reals. Traveling
at night without road construction got us back to the Centro of Belo Horizonte
in a surprising 4.5 hours.
So, it was
great trip though we only saw one zone. I think the most fun thing to do
would be to mountain bike around the park on the dirt roads and camp at
the places back away from the paved reality. Remember the rains come in
Oct or Nov and can stay for a while though this is when everything turns
from a drab yellow brown to a vivid green. Also, the tourist cities like
Alto Caparao can get pretty busy during Brazilian holidays like Carnival.
If you are
coming in through Sao Paulo it might be quicker to get there by flying
to Vitória, ES and then taking a bus or taxi for about 160 miles.
You can find plenty of pousadas around the park using the internet (search
for keyword “pousada” and “Caparao”), there are several in Alto Caparao.
The park has a West entrance close to Alto Caparao and a South Entrance
close to Espera Felize.
Finally an on-line
map of Brazil:
on a fast growing airline that serves South America:
And now in English,
the Philips Guides offers National Parks Brazil, excellent source of information
with decent maps:
are Shane's previous articles for the magazine:
To contact Shane