Brazil: Searching for mystical falls

Reply Tue 8 Oct, 2002 06:51 pm
CANELA, Brazil (AP) -- Water, above all else, is the lifeblood of the Brazilian soul.


Swimming at the base of "The Bride's Veil" waterfall near Bento Goncalves, Brazil

Yes, folks, here are soccer nuts and they are known to samba past sunrise and dabble in spirit cults

when not in church, but water is the element that soothes, electrifies and gives body to the alma brasileira. Without so much

coastline, so many mighty rivers, so many lakes, I suspect, Brazilians would be a lot less playful, less upbeat, less

affectionate -- a sad shade less Brazilian.

Over the years I'd seen this special relationship:

-- On New

Year's Eve in Salvador, when scores of Bahianos stood on the edge of the Atlantic and tossed roses in the surf in homage to

Iemanja, the goddess of the sea.

-- During Carnival in Rio one summer, when a samba school paraded to the theme "A

Tribute to Water," which featured a float with a woman dancing in a shower for 90 minutes au naturelle but for the suds.

-- At a photo exhibit in Porto Alegre, which featured portraits of street boys in silhouette frolicking beneath the

golden spray of a public fountain during a heat wave in Sao Paulo.

"The water caresses, the water embraces, the water

soothes the pain of the children abandoned to the hot asphalt," the display caption explained to visitors.


I was telling a friend how I could use some soothing. I guess I'd been in a rut. Wound up, run down. Nothing too

traumatic. Just a little fed up with lots of things.

"I'll tell you what you need," the friend said. "You need to

get in contact with some water. Get that old negative energy on the run. Ever go waterfalling?"

I hadn't.


Truth be told, the only waterfalls I knew by name were Niagara, Victoria and, of course, the Iguacu

Falls that separate Brazil and Argentina -- those falls Eleanor Roosevelt once gazed at in awe before exclaiming, "Poor


But Iguacu was in Parana State, more than a day's trip by car from Porto Alegre, where I was living. I

needed something closer. I looked on a road map.

Waterfalls are not listed on road maps.

Then I remembered an

Oscar-nominated film I'd seen not long ago, "O Quatrilho," which had been filmed in the Serra Gaucha, a handsome range of

mountains north of Porto Alegre. In the movie there was a scene in which a man and a woman share their first adulterous kiss

behind a curtain of water that leaped off a cliff's edge.

Its name was O Veu da Noiva -- The Bride's Veil.




"The Bride's Veil" waterfall

The trip did not

disappoint. I took the main highway into the high country and, approaching the old Italian settlement of Bento Goncalves,

turned off onto a blacktop that perfectly suited a horse and buggy. The road dipped and rolled, sometimes through deep pine

timber, sometimes coming out into clearings and farmyards, once passing what could only be a pig farm, and, leaving behind

the sharp, brooding basalt of a cliff face, kept twisting and dropping and climbing until a rusted metal sign slid past with

an upward-pointed arrow that read FALLS.

I had to drive on a few more miles before seeing any further sign of such a

falls. My first sign was the river to my left, brown and wide and swiftly moving and white against fins of stone, and my

second sign was a small bridge that spanned that river.

The road veered to the right and I followed it until a wall

of trees stopped the road and me. I stepped out of the car and into the cool, moist shade of noon.

I heard it first.

There was a rapid, whooshing noise, like thousands upon thousands of hairpins dropping on a marble floor. It had a

sweeping, rushing steadiness to it, a sound I found relaxing.

Down a dirt trail, through an opening in the foliage,

the falls came into full view: Its water ran white over a ledge of rock and down a 10-story declivity, a pall of foam

seemingly still, hanging in the air, erupting in clouds of spray at the toes of the cliff.

The trail curled in a

half-moon beneath a jagged, stony, tree-topped awning. I stood there behind this watery shroud, tasting the falls on my lips,

watching the minute flecks of spray float and sparkle around the train of white.


Gift of

There were no signs pointing this way or that, no threats of fines for littering or historical markers. There was

just a ribbon of mud winding down the cliffside to a pile of boulders below. And there was no litter. Brazilians apparently

appreciated this gift of Nature.

I tucked my towel and shirt and boots between two rocks and waded into the river. It

was cold and dark. I couldn't see my waist. It was like my lower body was detached from me. I went in up to my shoulders.

Now all I had was a head and a neck.


There were boys and girls and elderlies and in-betweens

splashing about the basin. I swam over to where the falls hit bottom, pulled myself up on the rocks and sat on a smoothed

ledge, feeling the cascade slap and pummel and needle my head, neck, back.

Water swarmed all over me and I couldn't

see anything. I knew I was inside the waterfall, but it was like I was inside nothing at all.

I stopped over in

Gramado that night, one of the more touristy mountain towns in the Gaucho Range. The innkeeper wrinkled the corners of her

eyes when I told her of the Bride's Veil.

"Why don't you take a look at the cascade here?" she said. "I used to

play in it when I was a little girl."

So I parked the car off the curve of a gravel road just north of town, marched

down a zigging-and-zagging trail, touching the beaded petals of lilacs and azaleas along the way, and listened for it.

No need to think
The water raced through a break in thick, tangled woods, spit from a jutting promontory and

tumbled from ledge to ledge, gathering golden and cola-colored and clear in rock beds, then spilling diamond-like over a

tongue of white stone and plunging several hundred feet to a churning river.

On a ledge beside where the water

gathered in a bowl I sat down and pulled out my backpack. I found a bottle of white wine I'd picked up a day earlier in

Bento Goncalves, lowered it into the pool almost up to neck. My hand felt numb when I lifted it out of the water. Then I felt

it pulsing again.

I sat for a while and watched butterflies and toads and the needles of light that shot off the

cascades. I kept a lookout for monkeys. The innkeeper had said I might see one. I didn't.

I munched on a roll

stuffed with salmon and cream cheese and cucumbers and thought about nothing. There was no need to think. I had left that

need behind.

A woman and her daughters walked by, shot a few pictures of themselves. I heard the mother caution the

girls, and then they were pointing to the top of the falls now in the sun, and oohing at the band of colors. After a while

they were gone and the sounds of water rushing came slowly back.

I brushed aside a vine and pulled the bottle out of

the water. It was coldly beaded. I sat and drank the wine and smelled the dewy, earthy smell. Goosebumps spread in a pimply

wave over my back and arms. It was all right.

After a while I stood up. My head felt clear and sharp. Now there would

be the walk back. It would be nice to get back to the inn and sit in a steaming whirlpool.

Caracol Cascade

sign on the ranger's booth had been forthright. This stairway had 862 steps. "People with heart problems should NOT descend

the stairway," the sign had read.

It was wire mesh and steep. Wet, too. It had rained all morning, and most of the

afternoon. I looked out at the squadron of mountains marching back to the horizon, dark green, then blue, then gray, as if

some enormous paintbrush had swept a bar of color across the tops. Clouds hung above them like bunting.

It would be

dark soon.

They call this country Caracol State Park. Rugged, stocky, busy with wildlife -- a swath of nature as lush

and abounding with different creatures as you could find in a sea of peaks.

The park spread over 250 acres of hilly

forest about 5 miles north of the mountain town of Canela. A network of trails had taken me along a brawling stream, past a

dam, along rapids white with fury, atop a lookout that spanned an aqueduct, to the ruins of an old, water-driven mill.

It was a sanctuary for dozens of animals, most notably the guara wolf, a cinnamon-colored creature that looks and

acts more like a fox; six different species of cobra, four species of woodpecker, three species of hummingbird and a plethora

of fish, namely the barrigudinho, cascudo, jundia and lambari.

Queen of the park
Now, though, I was halfway down a

mountainside, on my way to meet the queen of the park, the Caracol Cascade.

From the observation deck, it looked

solid, unbroken, dropping white off the knuckles of a tree-bounded ledge, braiding in plumes down the gorge, shattering in

crystal shards on a riverbed.

That view was heart-jolting, but not quite enough.

Vines dripped, tree branches

waved, creepers dangled. A bush rustled. A capivara, a wart hog of sorts, grunted and scurried off into the bush. On a

branch, a parrot dug its beak into its red breast. A white-beaked hummingbird whirred just an arm's length away, beside a

bunch of wild, purple flowers.

Feeling cold breaths on my face, I slowed. Curtains of spray lapped against the

mountain. My eyes closed. The mist gathered in drops on my eyelids and ran down my cheeks.

At the toes of the falls,

I found a bench and sat down. My legs twitched.

Up above, the waterfall was doing what it always had: hurtling,

plunging, tumbling, stretching, coming apart, regrouping, dropping, exploding, spraying, clouding. It never did it the same

way, never had, never would.

I sat there and gazed and gazed and gazed. I didn't get up.

I couldn't.

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Reply Sun 13 Oct, 2002 09:23 pm
Brazil has got to be

one of the most fasinating countries in the world.
0 Replies
Reply Sun 20 Oct, 2002 09:42 pm
Brazilians speak

Portugeuse or spanish?
0 Replies
Craven de Kere
Reply Sun 20 Oct, 2002 10:20 pm
The fact that

Brazil is the only non Spanish speaking country in South America means I get that question a lot.

But the languages

are the most similar of any two languages that I know.
0 Replies
cicerone imposter
Reply Sun 27 Oct, 2002 01:18 pm
Some day in the not so far future, I'd like to visit Igazu Falls. c.i.
0 Replies

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