When brazilian writer Guimarães Rosa saw the exuberant landscape, he said to the goat that was at his side: “Make sure I’m going to have a stretch”. Did not have. But the scenery of those lands certainly inspired him to write a masterpiece of Brazilian literature: “Grande Sertão: Veredas”.
He saw imposing buritis, trees with dry and twisted branches, grasses of different sizes and hues, plateaus, dunes, cliffs, flowing rivers and a generous amount of animals – owls, parrots, maned wolves, bush deer, snakes, horseflies …
This area in which the landscape changes drastically and rapidly as the traveler travels through it is the Jalapão , a region in the state of Tocantins that has been practically untouched since the time of its emergence, about 100 million years ago, in the so-called Cretaceous Period.
The name derives from jalapa, a plant whose tuber (potato) was immersed in cachaça. The sertanejos believed that it had deworming properties and the ability to “thin the blood”. When they were beyond Baghdad, the men wanted a double dose of pinga and then asked for a “jalapão”.
The reputation of the “ Brazilian desert” has nothing to do with the supposed dryness of the region, since it is covered by vigorous vegetation and bathed by many rivers. One of them, Rio Novo, which rises in Serra do Meio and goes to Ilha da Capivara (all in Jalapão), covering 170 km, is one of the largest in the world in terms of drinking water.
The Jalapão is even dry on the presence of people: in a territory of 34 103 km2, there are only eight counties (High Bridge, Bushmen, New Deal, Lizarda, Rio Sono, San Felix, Lagoon and Santa Teresa), where about 26 000 inhabitants, which makes the region have one of the lowest demographic densities in the world: 0.8 inhabitant per km.
The city of Ponte Alta (“High Bridge”) , which is 300 km from Palmas (capital of Tocantins) is considered the gateway to Jalapão. It is from there that the expeditions leave to discover natural heritage such as Fervedouro, Serra do Espírito Santo, the waterfalls of Velha and Formiga, the dozens of river beaches and quilombola communities that produce handicrafts with golden grass.
To get to know this true mosaic of ecosystems, where the landscape changes radically in a matter of kilometers, it is necessary to be accompanied by an accredited guide, since Jalapão is located in areas of environmental preservation, provided for in state and federal laws.
A plateau 300 meters high, which is reached after traveling a trail of approximately one kilometer. From up there, you have a privileged view of the entire Jalapão, where you can see the vastness of the area and the variety of landscapes. Highlight for Pedra do Urubu, where you can take photos on the edge of an abyss – but safely.
On the sidewalks, sunscreen, sunglasses and a cap are essential (the sun doesn’t let up, reaching 38 degrees), repellent (horseflies, species of flies up to 2 cm that bite and make it itch and swell immediately, are hell!) and swim trunks or bikini (to enjoy the rivers, lakes and waterfalls).
The routes are covered in cars with four-wheel drive, which makes the distances seem longer than they really are. City water, electricity and cell phone signal? Forget it! Do an exercise of detachment from the modern world.
Through a crack between the rocks, a small stream of cold water is poured, which provides a vigorous hydromassage to the visitor. To reach it, go down a trail, which allows the view of the longitudinal cut of a path (as if the soil were sliced like a cake), showing the trees, the subsoil and the water that is poured by vines, to form underground rivers.
They are considered true oases amid the arid vegetation of the cerrado. In the middle of nowhere, where creeping vegetation and trees of dry and twisted branches rotate, we find small groups of large trees and very green leaves. They are areas where the diverse animal species, especially birds, find an ideal place for shelter, food and breeding.
Virtually all paths have buriti, a type of palm tree, which is called the “tree of life”, due to its ability to irrigate the environment. Each buriti is capable of absorbing up to 192 liters of rainwater per day, storing in the soil, as if it were a giant sponge.
In times of drought, this stored water feeds 99% of the Jalapão rivers. It was this vigor of nature, and the way the countryman lives with it, that inspired João Guimarães Rosa to write some of the most beautiful pages in Brazilian literature, “Grande Sertão: Veredas”.
Large portions of golden sand, which are formed after being blown by the wind from the slopes of Serra do Espírito Santo, 10 kilometers away. From there, you have a unique view of the sunset.
170 km long, it is one of the largest drinking water rivers in the world. Its crystal clear water allows you to see the clear sand at its bottom and dozens of fish. It is used for canoeing and rafting.
A small waterfall in a real natural pool that looks like pale green tiles at the bottom. “Formiga” means ant.
About three meters in diameter, surrounded by banana trees, Fervedouro (in a free translation, somethig like “Boiling pit”) it houses the underground spring of a river, whose pressure makes the sand permanently suspended (imagine a glass of salted water being permanently stirred) and prevents the person from sinking. It is a phenomenon called “water resurgence” —the same thing that occurs in the Dead Sea, only there, instead of sand, it is with salt.
As the density of water with sand in suspension is greater than that of the human body, the person does not sink. This boiler is on private property, whose owner, Conceição Alves, nicknamed “Ceiça”, charges R$ 5 for the entrance and, so that it doesn’t become a mess, limits access to the well to six people at a time.
A waterfall 20 meters high and 90 meters wide, which guarantees an unforgettable view.
Place of shallow, transparent and calm waters. There is space for camping. Prainha da Cachoeira means “Waterfall´s little beach”)
Jalapão is the only place in the world where golden grass (in portuguese, “Capim Dourado”) is born. Researchers at the Federal University of Goiás have tried unsuccessfully to cultivate the species near Palmas, capital of Tocantins. With straw from the plant, earrings, necklaces, bracelets and various other types of handicrafts are made.
A state law forbids the extraction of “in natura” grass from Jalapão, reserving the exclusivity of the production of handicrafts to the inhabitants of the region, the majority quilombolas (descendants of blacks who took refuge in quilombos, before the Abolition of Slavery).
Handicrafts with the use of golden grass were taught by Indians, for making everyday utensils, such as vases, small rugs and supports for bowls. The pieces drew the attention of participants of the 1998 Rally dos Sertões, who warned of the beauty and its commercial potential.
In 2000, residents got organized and started selling products. To prevent it from becoming extinct, golden grass can only be harvested between September 20 and November 20, under penalty of a fine.
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