Discovering Candomble on Itaparica, Part 1

Bem vindo :-)

Bem vindo :-)

Sabado 28 June

I became acquainted with some inspiring and hospitable visiting artists in residence on the island of Itaparica. Much to my extreme luck they invited me to join them at an all-night and very special Candomble ceremony.

“Candomblé is an Afro-Brazilian religion. It was born of a people who were taken from their homes in Africa and transplanted to Brazil during the slave trade. The religion is a mixture of traditional Yoruba, Fon and Bantu beliefs originating from different regions in Africa, and it has also absorbed some details from the Catholic faith over time.

The name itself means ‘dance in honour of the gods’ with music and dance being important parts of Candomblé ceremonies.”

-Quoting from

Today in Bahia, the heart of Afro-Brasilian culture, Candomble is practiced with great reverence, pride and even secrecy (to nurture away from the vampiric tendency of tourism). As an anthropology geek I felt enormously privileged to gain access to this occasion.

Here’s what Happened According to my Diary:

“I have an afternoon siesta and then take an evening boat to Itaparica. The journey is a joy. Early evening, cool breeze, a quiet boat with a few locals. I take this time to think and reflect. As we get closer to Itaparica I can the see the pretty church illuminated like a beacon.



A boat bobbing in the water as my ferry arrives at Mar Grande, Itaparica. 'Negao de Ogum' = 'Denial of Ogum'

A boat bobbing in the water as my ferry arrives at Mar Grande; ‘Negao de Ogum’=’Denial of Ogum’. Wherever you wander on Itaparica you’ll notice Ile Aye references as this pretty island is the richest in Candomble heritage, preservation and practice. Ogum or Egun is the Orixa I was expecting to be in the company of that very night.

I arrive on the island and take some time to soak up the busy life of the praca by the large old church. Families and children everywhere. I love the outdoor play and social mingling in this country. I sit down next to a voluptuous Mae and her little boy having a cuddle and wish I could join them in this affection.

Food stalls, moto taxi, playground is buzzing. Lights, movement, dogs.

I imagine the Christians, colonisers and even further back, the Indians and their impression of this place on first arriving. When did time begin here? I am yet another visitor, my feet padding on to the shore, a new arrival. One of billions over the course of time.


I haggle and finally agree on a taxi ride to Instituto Sacatar – sleepy rural dirt track roads, such a different vibe here, horse in the street, red earth, a tropical version of where I grew up. Humility, peace, a natural place.

We (Eun Jung, Guillermo, Cecile, Jon, Niki and Cristina) go to the meeting house together by VW Combi van. I arrive a little late and only just catch them in the dusk light.

We arrive at the Ile Aye Tumtum Olokotum hall

‘Ile Aye’ = ‘House of Life’.

It’s simple building with a corrugated iron roof surrounded by tall palm trees. As we approach the narrow dirt rack to the hall I see women in Bahian white headwrap, lace and cotton walking ahead; a sign that something’s afoot.

I try to imagine for a moment the frame of mind of a local Camdomble follower in the lead up to a ceremony. I only have childhood Church to compare it with…feeling bored with a resigned sense of obligation. But this is a faith that has survived the test of time…displacement…cruelty. It’s a time capsule. A fundamental root. A family. I sense excitement!


Red Axes and White Cotton

We go inside the hall full of local people in their Candomble best. Women, men and children of all ages, amazing colourful clothes, arms and legs covered in respect, floral prints of every variation in lucious fabrics I feel I could be at a wedding. There’s a pleasant hub-bub. We are welcomed as guests and as women, given long skirts to wear.

There are red axe shaped decorations and big palm branches on the walls…, ..lots of long red and white bunting hangs from the entire ceiling. We wander further up to find a place to sit and see the most wonderful axe shape of fresh green leaves there on the concrete floor. An altar? It’s about 3 metres square.

The kitchen, just off the area of worship, is busy.



Communicating with Spirits

We are introduced to the priest and he explains, “when the ceremony begins Spirits of the Dead are invited into this sanctified place. As newcomers this can leave our own spirit vulnerable to possession and so, we are instructed:

“Don’t look at or touch Egun. Don’t speak to him. Don’t use your cell phone”

As a second course of protection he guides us to wash our eyes three times from a small dish of water. He wears a bright red voluimous tunic + white floppy hat. He looks amazing.

We admit a great sense of anticipation.

Eun Jung notices a rooster in the corner bound and moving helplessly.

Teenage boys practise drumming beforehand, warming up. Hip clothes – skinny jeans and baseball cap on top of their heads. In contrast to other men and young lads in regal traditional African garb. They are handsome and striking. Their drums wrapped in beautiful pink patterned fabric bows and of three different sizes.

Scribblings from my raggedy notebook.

Scribblings from my raggedy notebook. Rightfully so, cameras and cell phones were forbidden but no one seemed to mind me making notes and the occasional drawing.

And so Part One of the ceremony began.

The door of the hall is locked to keep the spirits inside and everyone safe. 

The congregation is divided according to gender with men and women sitting in two separate camps. 

The priest sings and calls out. Different sequences of rhythms. The drums are very loud. Metal percussion instruments. A band of boys and men.

As the singing and drumming begin a group of about thirty women get up and circle the axe of leaves. They sway, dance in simple symbolic movements and sing their hearts out. They sing and clap around the AXE.

One of the dancers wears a Hello Kitty t-shirt with her long floral skirt. This makes me smile. 21st century Candomble.

Candomble Itaparica (8)

Bronte dresses from 1830 + Tropicalia colour.

Bronte sibling fashion from 1830 + Tropicalia colour  (image refs: L, Antonella Delvecchio, Bottom R, revistacriativa)

Step forward, step back, arms swaying. Turn and repeat. Hips and elbows swaying to and fro to the rhythm.

Ankle length skirts, like 18C Bronte sisters meets Tropicalia. A shimmying wave, pulse of floral prints with ribbon trim at the bottom.

A man arrives wearing a cool cream crochet beret, French style, beatnik. He’s also wearing a white and silver embroidered tunic, white trousers and matching white brogue slip-ons. Such a dandy!! He about 60 years old. As he bellows out a song with everyone else I notice his two front teeth are missing which only adds to his charm.

The Dandy is full of humour and play. Calling out to specific women who smile and sing back a response.


Several sequences are danced and sung out, calling up the Spirits of the Dead. …Different rhythms, different songs….. Part One comes to a close as the women convoy down the hall in a grand finale  free flowing dancing queue and then back up to circle around the axe leaf altar.

Catholicism and Candomble

Small Orixa statues in the corner? A candle is lit to acknowledge them. I look later to discover that they are Catholic saints.

saints candomble

It’s midnight when  Part Two begins…..















Discovering Candomble on Itaparica, Part 2

A Sacrifice

A group of men take up long bamboo canes and take their turn to circle the leaf Axe. They bob up and down, singing and calling, striking their canes to the floor to keep the Spirits of the Dead at bay.

A goat is brought to the centre of the circle from a side room. She wears a white and red cloth across her back, covered in axe symbols. …..A sacrifice?

I feel sick and wish I hadn’t eaten the pre-ceremony welcome of coffee and salgados.

Questions, struggles rise up in my mind regarding my own beliefs, morals and being predominantly vegetarian other than occasional fish, my comfort zones, …how open minded am I really…..?!!

A Feast Worthy of the Gods

Beyond the Axe centrepiece woven mats are lay out and a feast to honour the Orixa is set: three massive clay dishes of offal and chicken feet, live birds – the rooster, a dove…. More vessels of food and drink that I can’t discern…. The men pick up a vessel each or flapping bird and carry as they continue to circle the Axe.

Everyone singing now, calling, clapping. I glance a very old lady singing her heart out, she has a toothy grin. Her frame is tiny, she is in full white lace regalia. Another vision of beauty to me.

Lights flicker. Hanging bulbs. Film noir.

I naturally make these associations:

Singing out = Hymns

Place of worship, a long cool humble interior, corregated roof = The village halls I know from tea dances in rural Norfolk.

Waft of leaf and palm = evokes memory of Christmas tree pine


A cloaked figure appears from the side room

Literally a walking blanket of dark grey with a skull embroidered in red at the natural height of a face. The figure swaggers and sways in a dance. A spooky swaying square. The theatrical effect is incredible!

The feet are covered by trousers that hang to the floor. Again: simple illusion so this figure looks even more other wordly.

Our human protectors huddle together and crack their canes towards the ‘spirit’ as if defending themselves from a predatory animal.

Egun Arrives

A second figure comes into the room – a beautiful Darlik. Is this Egun ,the Orixa who communes with the Dead? He is clothed in a wonderful decorative garment: head dress, face covered with a fringe of swinging beads, long cloak of ties & godets – contrasting fabric, the outer of mirrored shapes and seashells reminding me of a Rajastani textile.

He swings and sways and grunts in a low non-threatening voice ….like Yoda! a vaguely human sound.

His costume carries with it a symbol.

As the Orixa approaches us, the audience, the men rabble around and use their canes to maintain a safe distance. One or two women sat next to Eun Jung and I whisper, and remind us not to risk looking up at him with a direct gaze! It’s so hard not to gaze directly at something you find beautiful. Like a dancing Christmas tree.

This is a marvelling mixture of theatre, threat and the awe of discovering a new species or alien.

The dancing, twirling, convulsions continue. This bird of paradise is in full movement, momentum and MAGIC are the result. When Egun finally leaves the room the session pauses to break.

I’m tired and bewitched. It’s 2a.m.

WOW! WOW! WOW!!!  This – is – AMAZING!!

We eat a tasy supper of rice and vegetables. Everyone else, with chicken. The people here are warm and hospitable.

Cecile, Cristina and I talk over our impressions, our inspiration. Cecile tells me about Pierre Verger and Roger Bastide. Two French authors and anthropologist experts of Candomble.


Clockwise from Top L: Pierre Verger, 1952 / His photograph of Candomble priestess / Roger Bastide / One of several books he wrote about Afro-Brasilian culture.

The bamboo canes cast shadows against the wall.

Row of 13 chairs, each unique and regal in appearance. They are covered in folkloric detail. A long winding serpent, plants, flowers and symbols carved into their wooden surface. Some have metal detail, other upholstered with pretty textile. Most are old and very rustic, humble. They are magical.

I wander outside, against the advice given: now dead have been called up it’s unsafe to venture beyond the blessed retreat of the hall.

The night air is quite something.

Inside it’s humid and heavy, outside is fresh and calm.

Tall silhouetted palm trees and cicadas.

A huge glowing fire, embers floating up to the sky, crackles.

A huge tree stands by the fire and entrance to Ile Aye, like a Tree of Knowledge.

Ley lines / Nasca lines / a Power Place 

The same red & white bunting from inside spans large areas outside, tied from tree to tree around the hall. As if the colourful orb is spider webbing out from that magical axe of leaves inside, a aura, a configuration on the earth big enough to be seen from space by spirits floating by.

I think of the Nasca lines in Peru. I imagine the colour, the channelled energy of the people, the ‘magic’ of this sacred interior extending and belting out rays of energy.

High up on my list of places to visit: The Nazca Lines in Peru

High up on my list of places to visit are The Nazca Lines in Peru. This mysterious pattern of desert geoglyphs can only be appreciated from an aircraft and are dated at over 2000 years old.

A spiderweb formation of bunting spanning out from this Ile Aye

A spiderweb constellation of bunting spanning out from the Ile Aye.

The final instalment of Candomble begins with more surprises to come :-),masquerade/Interesting



Strange Brew – Ayahuasca

I find an amazing place to live on Morrão Sereia.

This name means ‘Mermaid Hill’ and Yemanja graffiti is everywhere. She’s the Orixa of the sea and the protector of fishermen. In fact, as an extremely old port, Yemanja’s name and image is woven into the very mindset of Salvador… shop signage, advertising, hotel names, street names.


My bedroom view :-)


Yemanja on the side of a hotel in Rio Vermelho.

Yemanja on the side of a hotel in Rio Vermelho and more mosaic in the Morrao.

A series of serendipitous events lead me to meet Suzy who has a spare room to rent. I’m taken to a magical place  right on the seashore where the waves crash right below the concrete patio. Her house is like a brightly coloured cave.

Bare concrete walls decorated with mosaic murals.

Bare concrete walls decorated with mosaic murals.

Gorgeous young cachorros / dogs that would greet and follow like affectionate children.

Gorgeous young cachorros / dogs that would greet and follow like affectionate children. This little troupe would sleep outside our door, on the window ledges, by the gate. Lots of wagging tails.

Life on the Morrao is unique. A labyrinth of alleys and tumbledown dwellings; windows and doorways at all different levels, narrow winding steps. These former fishermens’ cottages are part of an urban enclave completely disguised from the main road, like a tropical Narnia; a combination of favela, termite hill and jewel with mosaic, decorative tile and coloured glass here and there.


Two chatty women passing the time of day o my regular cell phone ‘credito e coisas’ errand.



Young lads playing dominoes in the L’Argo do Morrao/ the Square.


I joke one evening expressing my pleasure at discovering the doorway to this camouflaged world. Salvador is an intense city and this place provides some much needed respite. Suzy goes on to tell me about the Quilombos: fugitive slaves who formed a secret community here centuries before and in other secluded places like the Morrão.

Picture of Zumbi monument

Ayahuasca ‘plant medicine’

One evening I am invited to take part in an Ayahuasca ceremony. I’ve heard much about this hallucinogenic brew or ‘plant medicine’ and I’m really curious. I don’t intend to ‘imbibe’ but the invitation still stands and I join eight others at a nearby hovel, beautifully cosy inside.

Etiquette is shared and the ritual begins. Our host addresses us with words of devotion of the medicine that will take each of us on a personal journey to commune with the spirits of nature herself. He pours a measure per person and we take it in turn to enter the circle and drink – in my case, a half measure.

Divine Luz Universal / Divine Universal Light

Divine Luz Universal / Divine Universal Light


Santo Daime

Members of our circle play drums, flute, tambourine. They are amazing accomplished local musicians. We all sing ‘hinarios’ from a little hymn book of Santo Daime songs.

This is a relaxing colourful and charming place to be.

The lyrics leap off the page. They are bursting with beauty and describe with humility an adoration of the natural world. The language is simple and overall easy to understand; I feel a surge of inspiration and make discreet notes.

After another measure of the sacred brew I only feel content and relaxed, no strong affects. Others are ‘flying’ interspersed with visits to the banheiro to purge.

Weeks later, when I reach a peaceful rural retreat near Itacare, I paint some of these rich and poetic words. They’ve been living in my imagination since that long evening, roots have grown and they blossom into some paintings:

Grande Mae se manifesta

Grande Mae se Manifesta / Great Mother Manifests

Santo Daime is a religion founded in the 1930s by Mestre Raimundo Irineu Serra, the son of former slaves. It was during work on rubber plantation that he came into contact with people who taught him how to use Ayahuasca. In these early experiences he encountered the Virgin Mary (the Queen of the Forest) and began receiving spiritual guidance which developed into organised worship Santo Daime.

What evolved was a fascinating amalgamation of religious and spiritual threads: a Christian core is combined with other elements, such as an emphasis on self awareness and personal development, an Animist appreciation of nature, such as the Sun, Moon and Stars, as well as the totemic symbol of the ‘beija flor’, the hummingbird. Links with Shamanism can also be made.

Ilumina os meus Caminhos

Divine Luz Ilumina os meus Caminhos / Divine Light Illuminates my Ways


Inflorescencia / Inflorescence

Na Bencao do Beijaflor

Na Bencao do Beija Flor / The Blessing of the Hummingbird

Must Grow

‘Must Grow!’ My own words on spending time in the wilderness near Itacare.

Bahia Calling

Bahia Calling1

Casa de Yemanja. A meeting house for local fishermen and home to a shrine for this Sea Orixa (goddess) who is celebrated EVERYWHERE here!

Oh handsome land, I’m pleased to meet you!

I’ve arrived in ‘Little Africa’ as my Manchester pal Nuradin calls it. The bountiful fruit basket of Brasil. Archetypal images of Brasil depict Bahia first and foremost – palm trees along big white sand beaches, seafood, colourful sweet fruit, hibiscus flowers, lush jungle and beija flors (hummingbirds), statuesque people with black skin and green eyes.

Bahia map Collage

Even Brasilians go all misty eyed upon mention of this region which is thirty hours by road north easterly or a three hour flight.

Back in Sao Paulo, Bahian Ayume played me this music video by Salvadoran superstar Creole. The imagery says it all :-)


The City of Salvador

Perhaps it because I’m finally in the swing of my travels, stringing together the lingo, feeling less like a stiff European but there seems SO much to explore here. I’m over-excitedly-whelmed – there are good vibrations on the Baiano breeze – it’s a melange that I looking forward to truffling my snout through.

I Couchsurfed with Luciano and his kind family in Salvador during my first week. Their apartment, a stone’s throw from Praia (beach) de Piata is where I walked the family pug and ran across the sand into the sea.

Formerly known as: São Salvador da Bahia de Todos os Santos meaning City of the Holy Saviour of the Bay of all Saints this historic hotpot of a cidade was the first colonial capital of Brasil and the city is one of the oldest in the New World (founded in 1549 by Portuguese settlers). It was also the first slave market on the continent, with slaves arriving to work on the sugar plantations from Angola, Benin, Nigeria.



Bahia Calling2

Mosaic is also everywhere here. And graffitti. All in all: a visual feast.



The beach is buzzing early in the morning when local people are there enjoying the cool air. Men and boys play football right up and down the beach. The ball bounces towards the sea, they tackle in the waves. Some teams are more ’official’/organised that others with coloured bibs.

Lots of beach dogs, laying spread eagle or randomly barking. Their seem to hang out with the fishermen who, like others live on the beach as far as I can tell. Simple homes can be seen in amongst some of the ‘coqueiros’ (palm trees). I’m reminded of the equivalent fishermen huts on the Black Shore in Southwold, Suffolk where I’ve wandered since childhood.

Discovering Pelourinho and Santo Antonio

I take the bus to the Centro Historico and meet Monika in Pelourinho. It’s a happy coincidence that we’re both in Salvador at the same time. We worked together in Rio and became firm friends.

And oh—oh—OH! —this is a stunning place. I feel as though I’m suddenly in renaissance Europe,…..Italy or Portugal. This is one of the best preserved old towns in Brasil and it really does take your breath away.


Decorative features at every turn and a sweet shop palette of colour to boot. Is this place real?!

The name Pelourinho meaning Pillory, comes from the central whipping post “where slaves received punishment for various infractions, as well as for disciplinary purposes” (- Wikipedia). Crikey, this place is STEEPED in history and poignancy. It’s both an awe inspiring and thought provoking place to be.

Monika and I wander the cobbled streets through this neighbourhood on to the sleepier more residential yet equally colourful Sao Antonio. Sipping a couple of 4R$ (£1) cans of Schin beer the two of us perch in a Praca outside an old church with children playing and local families relaxing all around. Dreamy!

Salvador criancas 3

Salvador criancas

Salvador edificio antigo5

Salvador edificio antigo4   IMG_3192


Lost and found: In Search of Cachoeira Magic

Before we left Lencois Monika and I set out on a path to find the mystical Cachoeira Sossego, one of the prettiest most majestic waterfalls in this area. We asked around in the town, cobbled together some directions and off we went. We had such an adventure navigating our way through a kingdom of gigantic rocks but in truth: we were LOST.


On our way home we met Pablo, son of a Parisian toymaker and young musician spending time in Chapada Diamantina on an eight month Walkabout,

Walkabout (noun) – A nomadic excursion into the bush, especially one taken by young teenage Australian aboriginal boys in certain ancient-custom honoring tribes.

He was funny, kind and played a mean Flamenco guitar weaving in some unexpected samba rhythms.

He offered to guide us and so, the next day the three of us set out with with Sossego in our sights. ‘Sossssssssego’=’quiet’; we retraced half of our footsteps from the previous day of wandering. Ironically the correct route was easier than our previous of clambering and scrambling in a giant’s lair.

Monika and Pablo and Magic Mud.

Monika and Pablo and Magic Mud.

A Snake in our Path

All of a sudden Pablo lept back and gasped!! A Cobra Corale was slithering across our path. And my….by golly….he/she/it was pretty!

Like a kinetic necklace.

And….according to our young guia, very poisonous too. Having rarely been around snakes I felt no fear at all – a numbness – strange to me. Pablo and I loitered and gazed in admiration at this truly wild beast as it slithered away and coiled itself around a tree.

There she is....the pretty deadly serpent of the forest.

There she is….O Serpente da Floresta.

Onward to a green grey boulders lumped in the river.

We hopped—skipped—and jumped over them—. Momentum is on your side.

It’s a great feeling to be in this bouldered valley, a remote peaceful place, only the sound of the rushing water between rocks. Yes, serenity. The sun bounces off these noble rocks – it’s bright and warm. A light drenched chasm. We feel like Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.

Apparently we’re only two minutes away from our destination and then, soon enough, SHE IS:

…a beautiful world——a circular Cathedral-like fractured flume——-a long and furious waterfall….

The still water below is so deep it is brown and black, like strong tea. We slip into the cool brew and swim around, rinsing the sweat of our well exercised limbs.

Egg & rosemary sandwiches for lunch.

Afterwards we explore the surrounding cliffs.

I dance Shaman style with Pablo’s colourful kanga. Shaman/xama – animal/animal – forest spirit/espirito da floresta – butterfly/borboleta – rainbow/acro-iris.


At the end of the weekend the two of us packed up our tent and hitched a ‘carona’ /ride back to Capao…..

Truckin' for Jesus! - The charming view from our lift.

Truckin’ for Jesus! – The charming view from our first lift.

A strange shop full of compact disc decorations and two cats on leads....

A strange shop in Palmeiras, on our way home. It was full of compact disc decorations and two cats on leads….

Once back in the bosom of Rivendell….a-hem!….I mean Capao, we attempt to find Cachoeira Fumaca, the tallest/longest (how do your measure a waterfall?) in Brasil at 340m; ‘Fumaca’=’smoke’. It’s a wet day, muita chuva! – we are warned to turn back in these slippery conditions and without a guide, but, ….we stubbornly march on. Waterfall hunting can be rather addictive :-)

We tie plastic scraps to shrubs, like Hansel and Gretel trying to keep track of our path. It’s surprisingly misty, much like the Peak District – a memory from home. After a couple of hours trudging I turn around 360 degrees: everywhere looks the same; another memory! call me dramatic but this is the Swamp of Sadness from Never Ending Story. We’re damp, disorientated, “let’s turn back…..!” I persuade Moni. Eventually the Polski ‘forca da natureza’ concedes.

Atrax the horse dies in the Swamp of Sadness, Never Ending Story :-( (image:

Atrax the horse dies in the Swamp of Sadness, Never Ending Story :-( (image:


Where the heck is Fumaca?!

Back to the Big Salvadoran Smoke 

It’s time to go back to Salvador. Sam is driving there and we bundle into his trusty Defender along with his friend Daniel. The four of us set off around tea time.

Daniel has been living alone in the jungle for the past month. He’s an artist, tattooist, a Seeker of Truth, he has an enquiring soul and hates cameras. He paints fabulous t-shirt designs and makes etchings. I can feel a new friendship in the air.

Off we speed together, into the night along that same red track that led us to this precious green wilderness in the first place.

Some etchings (all details) by Daniel Emekin.

Some etchings (all details) by Daniel Emekin.


Farewell Capao!

“The Hills are Alive!” in Chapada Diamantina

A happy twist of Fate

After a failed hitch hiking attempt from Arembepe, Monika and I bought the last two seats on a late bus to Lencois. We were on a mission to get to the big green spaces of Chapada Diamantina, one of Brasil’s national parks.

Feeling gun-ho and on very low budgets we were heading out into the night on this seven hour journey with no accommodation arranged for our arrival. Well, in this climate, a park bench could always be an option.

In spite of our gaul, we began chatting to Samuel, our neighbour on the bus who promptly offered us a place to stay.

Jungle flora - One of many Morra

‘Diamantina’ refers to diamond mining here during the mid 19th century – One of many Morros – Jungle cactus family flora.


…..Sam turned out to be the most amazing and wonderful person!

We alighted with him in Palmerias – a sleepy town, exactly like that from a classic Western film. He fired up his safari style Land Rover Defender and the three of us went speeding off. —–As fast as you can along the very bumpy red dirt track—- into the starry night to Capao.


A Brasilian one horse town with buildings dating from the late 1800s. I kept imagining life back then…how the locals might’ve have dressed, exchanged daily conversation, slang, gossip, comings and goings….

The Secret Communidade of Capao

The next morning we awoke cradled in Sam’s jungle dwelling surrounded by bush and mountains. The smell of locally grown coffee, pina fruit and warm buttered ‘integral’ bread rolls wafted up to our mezzanine level.

Sam sleeps in a big hammock on the ground floor.

After ‘café do manha’ we ventured through the labyrintine tracks, lined with abundant green foliage and hibiscus flowers to a nearby waterfall. We swan starkers, dozed in the sunshine and drank from the fast flowing streams we passed….

Blossom and colour everywhere.

Blossom and colour everywhere.


n hn

All of this following a previous day of sketchy plans and a chance meeting. Hurrah for Magic! Serendipity/ Coincidence/ Intuition/ Care-less-free-ness!

Over the two weeks that followed Monika and I had the most idyllic time getting to know Capao: a very small town with an alternative vibrant community of families, a local circus, lots of vegetarian food, random horses in the street.


The local Moto Taxi point, school gates and circus. ‘Criancinhas’ = Small children.

In search of Aguas Claras e Morro Tabor

This is trekking territory and most days we had a destination cashoeira (waterfall) in mind. We got to know Steffa, another solo backpacker from Hawaii. The three of us went camping out into the wilderness.

Here are some words from my notebook:-

“Red dirt tracks, motorbikes, trucks, dust clouds….turned into insects, cicadas, wild flora, cactus, pink rock, sloping green hills and mountains.

We reach Aguas Claras and pitch up.

Enormous bats come out at night where we camp; the sound of frogs calling to each other throughout the night is like a relentless and eventually relaxing car alarm.

The next day – dappled light and shadow over the land. It’s only us – there’s no one else in sight. No alien sounds. We climb the mountain, skipping up like mountain goats initially. Then scramble.”


Steffa, Monika and I, some big country to explore and ‘Space flowers’ with white bobble blossom, very sci-fi to us and once endangered.

“I wonder how many other feet have trodden on these boulders, stones, wedged their fore feet into the nooks between plants and rocks?

Small universes exist at every level, nestled into the mountainside. Like a favela and skyscraper of nature. Spiderwebs span space between rocks: imagine being a spider living here – looking out each morning on this panorama?!

We continue to climb…figuring out our way as we clamber and hug the mountainside.—- – looking for hand holds and gaps for toes to pull ourselves up. You look back over your shoulder and see the drop – the space – the beauty!”


Gringas/ Hobbits on the uncertain path to Mordor….er-hum!…I mean: Morro Tabor.

“As we reach the top the terrain flattens. ‘chapada’=plateau: a wonderful Eden up here! Lots of tropical plants, like a garden, lush and green but succulent-like too, prickily.

I ponder —–these plants have all been born here and reproduce, -up here-, away from the towns and cities, away from people…..growing, evolving, with their insect companions….this world, one that doesn’t need the help or attention of anyone or anything…..enjoying and feeding from the daily sunshine, rain, wind…..

And the insects, flying here and there amongst this plant kingdom and then off the edge of this magnificent peak, dipping in and out of the ‘villages’ on the side of this huge entity.”


Half way up the magnificent Morro Tabor. As big hilly lumps fare this one was a beauty.


A Space flower up close!

A Little Town called Lencois

Monika and I camped in a mango orchard in Lencois over a long weekend. This sounds quite charming but mango trees are vast in size and the swollen fruit would fall at random from branches on high with a loud *thunk!* on the ground. We both escaped ‘death by mango’ unscathed.

The town was gorgeous. Small enough to be relaxing and big enough to have a buzz of activity. Old buildings, cobbled streets – unassuming – humble – the gateway to more of Chapadaaaaaaaa.


Home in a Mango Orchard.


. Banks of the river, Lencois.

“Went for a hike to a waterfall and got waylaid in a kind of heaven: a lunar landscape of pink rock and several rock pools of orange water. The water is apparently full of iron hence the colour.

Families hang out, bathe and wash their clothes, The rocks are strewn with brightly coloured clothing, all smacked, stretched, clean and spread out in the sun to dry – like patchwork, big colourful squares glued to the contours of the rocky terrain.”


Laundry day by the river.


These women had no idea how pretty the results of their labour looked to us.

“Such a relaxed intimate place, we decide to stay and wallow too.

Warm sun, a cloudy sky….an aeroplane streaks across the sky in the far distance; it looks like a shooting star – ‘Estrela Cadente’. Children yelp and call….play…and easy adventure…jumping in and out of the cool golden water. Like mermaid people: “mer-folk.”

This the best playground ever.






“A young girl has her hair combed, washed, groomed, tugged,…she sits there frowning. Babies are dunked, rubbed and rinsed.

This is a kind of Eden. An effortless paraiso.

Daily routines/chores/tasks are carried out here. To the locals this is not a big deal, but to me this is a special place.

Dogs are washed, soaped up and rinsed. Held still so they don’t run dirty soap suds all over the clean laundry. They rub their heads against the stone afterwards, to find a new natural scent.

Large reptilian spiders cling spread eagle on the edge of the rock near the water’s edge, soaking up the sun’s warmth – recharging, like eight legged batteries. They are pink brown in colour, well evolved in this landscape – gecko-like with a furry brown body; their black eyes glisten like caviar baubles, *alert* . I am fascinated.

Earlier in the day we see two bright green parrots calling as they chase across the sky. They are a happy surprise to us. There is beauty everywhere.

Like a Turkish bath from another century – a scene from a classical painting – and yet this is Bahia…on the banks of the river in a small sleepy town in 21st century Brasil.”





Dancing in the Hills of Chapada Diamantina

I travelled to deepest darkest Capao with my Slavic hitch hiking compadre Monika.

Our host Sam sings to us one night and plays both the guitar and the accordion (not at the same time, that would be clever ….and strange).

We talk spiritual and philosophical matters, shamanism, animism and he tells about his experiences of taking the jungle plant Ayahuasca. The mind expanding properties of this natural trip allow you to understand the universe and all it’s mysteries.

Sam wrote Tamarindo, an ode to Ayahuasca and his visions. It’s a catchy number and I dance to it on tea breaks mid-trek. Rough terrain jiggery reminded me of John Cleese’ Ministry of Silly Walks; it was hard to maintain any balance!


Clumsy comedy.

New ideas about Shamanism inspire me to waft around butterfly styleee with Pablo’s colourful kanga. It’s easy to forget when out in this wilderness that it was once populated by Indigeonous people. And that the forest may have been full of meaning for them, a reverence held – spirits, seasons, symbols.

Xicrin tribe Brazil

A Xikrin girl. This may be the ritual dress for the Hummingbird Ceremony.

Tamarindo A Bitter Fruit – Fulano de Tao

O suco de tamarindo  /The juice of tamarindo

Que eu tava com a colher bulindo  /That I was with touching with a spoon

Nunca me deu azedo  /Never felt so bitter to me

Nunca me deu prazer do seu amor  /Never felt the pleasure of your love

A flor que tava se abrindo  /The flower that was opening

Num cacto espinho surgindo  /A cactus spike emerging

Nunca feriu meu dedo  /Never wounded my finger

Nunca me fez arder do seu calor  /Never made me burn by your love

De fato eu subi montanhas  /In fact I climbed mountains

E montes eu descobri sobre voce  /And hills I discovered about you

Agora to sozinho aqui no meu canto  /Now i`m here alone in my corner

Com toda a certeza que nenhum encanto  /With sure that no charm

Vai desaparecer com tudo que eu vivi  /Will disappear with all that I lived

Mesmo sabendo que voce nao volta pra mim  /Even knowing that you will not return to me

Xicrin tribe2

Xikrin-Kayoo man.

Voguing in a hole Lencois river portrait

An East Anglian woman – Voguing in a hole.