Salto do Itiquira & the Beautiful Goiás Countryside

The water drops 168 meters, creating a constant wind and spray.  It is exhilarating to walk toward the falls, surrounded by sound and mist. You soon get soaked.

The facilities were more primitive when I visited here twenty-six years ago and there were no rules.  For example, you could swim in the pool right under the falls.  I suppose if you were dumb enough to actually swim under the falls, you would get hurt or maybe killed, which is why it is now illegal to swim I the upper pool at all.   It would be hard to get there anyway.   The current pushing out from the falls is very strong and I remember being unable to swim against it – and that was back when I was strong.

Today there is a decent restaurant at the gate to the falls and a paved road that leads all the way there.  The biggest challenge getting there is going through the town of Formosa.  It is not a bad little city, but it is no longer a little city.  The signs directing you to the falls are fairly good.  I would never have found my way through that warren of streets w/o them. 

IMO the drive from Formosa to the falls was worth the trip just by itself.   The Goiás landscape, as I have mentioned in other posts, is very pleasant, especially this time of the year.  Everything is intensely green with beautiful hills in the background.  

This is mostly ranch country with lots of those white, humped Nelore and zebu cattle. This breed came originally from India, but today breeding to adapt them to local conditions has made them essentially a Brazilian breed.  India has the world’s largest cattle herd, but Brazil has the world’s largest COMMERCIAL cattle herd, i.e. they use the cattle for meat.  It is a little ironic, IMO, given the status of these cows in their country of origin.

Surprising Goiás

The boys and I went to Caldas Novas. There are hot springs in the area and a big artificial lake nearby. The neighboring recreational areas include a water park, called Hot Park, lots of other hotels and water-based attractions and a big man-made lake.

We drove through lots of Goiás to get there.  We went down Goiás 139 and BR 010 among others.  These are fairly small roads, so you get to see a lot of countryside. I was surprised. I thought that Goiás was like an extension of Brasilia, that it would be flat and sort of savanna. But there is a lot more different types of landscape. 

Goiás is in the middle west of Brazil and it reminds me a lot of the middle west of the U.S. There is lots of variety, flat plains, rolling country and forest covered hills. I will let the pictures speak for themselves.

Above is a planted pine forest. They are now being replaced in Goiás by eucalyptus.  Below another pretty landscape.

Northern Goiás

We drove up Goiás 118 to Chapada dos Veadeiros national park. It took about four hours and it was interesting to see the changes in landscapes.  Leaving Brasilia you see the typical planalto landscapes. There are plantations of eucalyptus and pine. The pine is on the way out. I saw lots of young eucalyptus plantations, but the pines are all older, usually past prime. This makes me a little sad; I like the pines, but I understand that eucalyptus is just a superb producer of fiber in this climate. Nothing can compete with it, economically or biologically. Eucalyptus plantations are so neat because the eucalyptus tannins inhibit the growth of anything else.

As you get farther in to Goiás, you come up on forty miles of bad road and almost no people. It is surprising how empty this land is still. I drove through Kansas, Oklahoma and the Texas panhandle  a years back. This reminds me of some of those places.  Imperfectly, of course, since Goiás features palm trees and other vegetation not typical of the American plains. American roads are also better and there are more signs of human habitation. I think this has to do as much with settlement patterns as actual population. Brazilians tend to live in concentrations, while Americans spread out on their own farms or in suburbs.

The land changed abruptly and became hillier and greener as we got closer to the chapada. Maybe I should stop making the analogies, since it doesn’t really look like any of my familiar landscapes. The cerrado is its own sort of landscape.

Our destination for the day was São Jorge. It is literally the end of the road, actually PAST the end of the road. You drive down a decent paved road, which end abruptly. Twelve kilometers down the dirt road is São Jorge. I found this really fascinating.  It is an active village. People are walking around and there are several pousadas and restaurants of sorts, but no paved streets. I have been here before.  I mean, it is like many of the towns at the gates of national parks. In America they have paved streets, but the feeling is the same. People work in the hospitality industry or in outdoor occupations such as guides, forestry workers or rangers.  These places also attract alternative lifestyle types.  In São Jorge there are shops that sell crystals etc. that are supposed to have some kinds of special powers, kind of like you might find in Sadona. People respond in similar fashion to similar environments.

The top picture is another of those eucalyptus plantations. Farther down is a pine plantation. The pines are way too close and should be thinned, but I don’t think this forest is being used for forestry. It is decorative. Still, it should be thinned. The picture between is at a gas station on GO118. Below that is a main street in Sao Jorge. The bottom picture is the dirt road that leads to and past Sao Jorge. What looks like smoke is dust. A car was coming but I didn’t get a good picture.  

Where There’s Fire, There’s Smoke

I don’t mind the dry air, but the smoke is starting to get difficult.  The rains will come in a few weeks.  Until then, this is not the best time to be in Brasilia.

I am not unsympathetic to using fire as a management tool. I understand that it is crucial to the cerrado ecosystem. But most of the fires set around here are not good management. They are either too hot and destroy too much or not well done so as to be ineffective. Most of the fires, in fact, seem to be garbage fires that got out of hand and/or much of the smoke comes from actual garbage fires, which do nobody any good. Using fire as a tool is not the same as using it as a convenience.

We saw lots of fires on our way up to Chapada dos Veadeiros and you can see the effects of fire in the national park.  The rocks are black. The guide said that they get a natural black patina and that it is not the result of fires.  I don’t believe that.  I know that the guide has been there all his life and I don’t want to oppose his local knowledge, but it is probably true that this place has been burned over all that time. I remember the black “cream city brick” in Milwaukee. Cream city brick is a kind of yellowish white color in its natural form, but the porous nature of the brick surface turned it black when exposed to the constant coal smoke. Not all brick was equally blackened.  When the air was cleaned up in the 1970s, the cream city brick again looked creamy.  I think the same thing happens to these black rocks. They soak up the carbon black and never get clean. Different sorts of rocks absorb more than others, as in the rocks above.  

“Natural” fires would have been rare, since lightning to start those fires would tend to come with thunderstorms during the wet season, which would limit their extent. But with the arrival of man many thousands of years ago, fires during the dry season changed the landscapes. Native Brazilians set fires, just as native North Americans and there has not been a “natural” landscape here since.

I learned in my fire class (I am certified as a fire manager by the State of Virginia) that fires that are too hot or too frequent destroy natural diversity, since only a few species can take the stress.  On the other hand, places where fire never comes also lose diversity, since a few species come to dominate. I wrote a post about how fires work at this link. A proper fire regime produces greater variety and a robust ecosystem. The problem is knowing how much is enough and how much is too much.  It also requires setting priorities.  Land managers must make choices, which some a loath to do.  They want to default to the “natural” option. Unfortunately, there is no natural option, only a variety of different choices for human management. Do we take it back to 1500?  The landscape at that time was already altered by the native populations. Do we guess at what it must have been before humans? Of course, we cannot restore all the species.  Or do we manage for diversity, productivity and robustness?  This would be my option.  

Anyway, fire can be used well or poorly. All fire will produce smoke, but there are better ways of smoke management. A well designed fire will consume much of its own smoke and will not smolder for a very long time.

The picture at top is a fire by the side of Goias 118. I don’t think it was a “managed” fire, but you can see by the direction of the flames that it is a backing fire, i.e. it is burning in the direction away from the wind. This produces a cooler fire, not as destructive to the plant life. I wrote a post about this when I was taking the fire class. It is at this link.  You can see the burned over area in the side mirror. Next picture shows some fields on fire. The blackish rocks are below. The plants in the next picture are burned but not killed. Last is a typical Goias landscape as you get near the hills.

Wandering Goiás

We had to rent a car, since mine still has not arrived. I had them pick up it up in the middle of May. It really doesn’t do any good to send it early, since they kind of save them up to send all at once.  After it gets to the country, the Brazilian bureaucracy is daunting. I suspect they just delay so that there is no way the car will be in officially in the country for three years before you leave.  That way you still cannot sell it tax free.

Anyway, rental cars are fairly expensive here and they only have stick shifts, so it is not a good thing. But we needed the car for Chrissy to travel.  For her first visit we wanted to get around Brasilia and Goiás. You cannot do that w/o a car.

It is the end of the dry season around here.  It will rain in a few weeks, but everything now is as dry as it will get.  We saw lots of fires along the roads in Goiás.  The news mentioned the extreme dryness and fire danger and the smoke irritated our eyes and throats.

The grassland/savannah burns naturally, but a combination of human-made fires and human fire suppression causes trouble. Many people here still see fire as an enemy to be fought or prevented rather than a natural process that needs to be used and managed.

I still want to study the ecology of the cerrado more.  (FYI – the cerrado is the vast area of grass and widely spaced trees in the middle of Brazil, especially Goiás.)  It is strange to me because of the very dry season and the very wet season.  We have nothing really like it in the U.S.  The predictably of the rain is making it a good agricultural region, but I didn’t see that much crop agriculture. It seems mostly pastures and there is significant forestry, especially eucalyptus. Eucalyptus grows very rapidly here; I have heard that the rotations can be as short as five or six years. And the Brazilians have developed varieties especially adapted to the specific demands of the region. The wood is used to make charcoal and for cellulose pulp.  

Eucalyptus is unpopular with some people because not only is it an introduced species, but it also has been developed extensively both with conventional breeding and biotech.  There are indeed drawbacks to extensive eucalyptus monoculture. They do not support large populations of wildlife. The leaves are not palatable to most animals and even bugs tend to shun them.  It is no coincidence that the flavor is used for cough drops, but what is good for menthol in cough drops is usually not great for ordinary eating. The bark is loose and resinous. It tends to fall off and lay on the ground where it causes more intensive fires.  The eucalyptus themselves can usually survive these conflagrations, but other native plants often cannot. Like everything else, you have to trade benefits for costs. As a tree farmer who grows loblolly pine, I see the eucalyptus as a competitor. It produces a substitute for man of the things that my pines also produce. Putting aside my self-interest, however, I can see that eucalyptus have a place in well-managed forestry systems, but as the Greeks used to say, “nothing too much.” 

The eucalyptus plantations we saw were extremely orderly.  The rows were neat and there was almost no undergrowth of competing vegetation.  This is very much unlike pine in Virginia.  I respect the ability to transform nature, but I prefer to leave a little on my own land for the animals and natural systems. Something too orderly is probably not so good for nature. 

We followed BR 60 to Pirenópolis and BR 70 back home to Brasilia. These are good highways. There was a lot of traffic near Brasilia, but it was quiet once you got out of town. We stopped at a nice churrascaria on the road called Churrascaria Gaucho. It has gotten expensive in Brazil in all the big towns and in the tourist centers, but it is not bad in the smaller places. The total for the two of us was only $R44. They had lots of good cuts of meat and it came quickly and generously. 

My pictures show the churrascaria I mentioned above.  The middle picture is a very neat eucalyptus plantation and the two bottom pictures are the pousada where Chrissy & I stayed.  

Places of Aspiration

Brazil is a big and diverse country that has changed remarkably in recent years. That fact is so obvious that it can be overlooked; it can hide in plain sight.  History and tradition conspires against seeing the big picture.  Rio is so attractive and São Paulo so dynamic that it is easy to think that Brazil revolves around this axis.  Add Brasilia, and you could spend a lifetime in this Brazil w/o paying much attention to the rest. It is not only Brazil.  I know another big and diverse country where some people don’t really notice much beyond the East Coast (i.e. New York and maybe DC) and the West Coast (i.e. LA and maybe a little around SF). But in both countries, much of the energy is outside these formerly central places. 

My admittedly still limited experience with Brazil leads me to believe there is a strong parallel with the U.S. in what we can expect in future development. Demographer Joel Kotkin identifies such “cities of aspiration” in the American heartland as engines of growth and cultural expression in the next decades. I think the same thing goes for Brazil. Cities like Manaus, Cuiabá, Campo Grande or Tres Lagoas are Brazilian cities of aspiration, places where people go to get their piece of the country’s success. It is musica sertaneja replacing samba. It is new infrastructure opening up new places and new people enjoying social mobility. We cannot forget the old places, which are and will remain important, but we should also be in the new places. 

I can think of lots of reasons to stay in the office. Office work creates its own gravity. It is hard to get out and if you are out of the office a lot some people think you are not working, but we are not really doing our jobs if we DON’T get out … a lot. If we didn’t need to get out among Brazilians we could just stay in the U.S.  Most Brazilians are far away from us, since it is such a big country, it takes time to get to them but we can get to them. Some are close enough to drive, although that takes time too. Some of the areas and satellite cities around Brasilia are places of aspiration, so are some places in Rio and Sao Paulo.  They are not all away from everything. They are not all far off in the countryside. My car will come soon, I hope. I can drive from Brasilia to Goiania in about three hours and from Goiania I can get to Uberlandia etc. 

Anyway, I think that most of us agree about the need to get out. We can all identify the problem. We just have to do it, and not just me.  It is an exciting time to be in Brazil, as I have said on many occasions. There is enough Brazil for everybody.

The picture is a landscape in Goias.  There is lots of room. 

Goiás Waterfalls & Colonial Towns

I am not sure what Goiás reminds me of.  Maybe it is just Goiás.  Every place is like others and unique in its own way.  I was surprised.  I thought it would be flatter and more prairie-like. But much of the land was hilly and dotted with little ponds and lakes.  They are man-made, but they fit in well with the landscape. And there are beautiful waterfalls, as you can see above at the fall of the Corumbá above. Below shows the river as it goes on its way in the other direction and you can see the landscape.

This is the dry season and it will get dryer before it rains. Then for a few months it will rain every day.  That is one of the unique things about central Brazil.  It is both very dry and very wet, so you get big waterfalls running through dry country side.  The spray from the waterfalls creates evaporation in the dry air and makes a very pleasant, fresh and cool feeling. You can get an idea about the countryside from the pictures below. It is an open landscape with some trees, I suppose a type of savanna.  Unlike the African savanna, however, there where no vast herds of grazing animals until European settlers introduced cows and horses. Where there is water under the ground, you often find palm trees.

More landscape below. I understand that clouds, as you see in the picture, are uncommon this time of the year.  The winds were blowing in from the east, bringing in some clouds, but still no rain.

Below is another pretty picture of the Corumbá. It also shows the mixture of vegetation near the river, where it is nourished by the water and the spray. It stays green here. As you get away from the river, the trees get sparser and the vegetation browner.

Below is the path to the falls. Notice that it is steep with a railing secured by a few nails and bolts. I was a little afraid to lean on it too hard. I am heavier than the average visitor and I thought I might break the rail and tumble down the hill, an unpleasant prospect.