Chapada dos Guimarães

This month I was in Brazil’s interior state of Mato Grosso researching a story for the next issue of Americas Quarterly magazine, so I took the chance to visit the national park Chapada dos Guimarães. It’s about an hour outside state capital Cuiabá and, as my editor told to me, “everyone in Cuiabá talks about it as if it were the promised land.” Even back in Rio, friends told me to visit the famed chapada (not that they’d been there, way out on the border with Bolivia).

The park is nice, but it’s not the promised land, especially compared to the other spectacular places I’ve seen in Brazil such as Foz do Iguaçu and the Amazon.

Chapada dos Guimarães is basically a really long ridge where the central plains of Brazil drop down to the Pantanal, which is the world’s largest tropical wetland area. The Amazon isn’t far north, so it’s a lush, diverse region of jaguar, wild boar, and tapir (the continent’s largest land mammal, kind of like a giant anteater, which I saw one night stealing vegetables from a farmer’s garden).

It’s intensely hot and dry. So hot that when I arrived at 11am, the park had already closed to visitors because the midday sun is too dangerously intense to allow people inside after then. The park is tightly regulated (most Brazilian parks are) and you can’t go inside without an official guide.

So instead of hiking, I hopped on the back of a motorcycle taxi and sped around to some prominent vistas.

At first this was fun. Whizzing through the countryside on the back of a stranger’s motorcycle reminded me of how I often got around Cambodia. But it quickly became apparent that my driver was a little too eager to finish as soon as possible. As he zoomed down the speedbump-littered roads, screeching to a halt just before we’d hit the next bump, I had to grip the motorcycle frame tightly to prevent myself from sliding into him on the seat. It was a white-knuckle tour. And I don’t have health insurance.

Here’s a photo of a waterfall called Veu De Noiva (Bride’s Veil):

Unfortunately, even at the most beautiful areas of Brazil, people aren’t too concerned about leaving their trash behind…

Back in the quaint town of Chapada dos Guimarães, at a little market on the central square, I found a vendor selling old music records. I perused the collection and picked up a four-decade-old record by the Brazilian greats Caetano Velosa, Gilberto Gil, and Gal Costa, which I purchased for about $9.

Later that night, I tweeted a photo of the record, and Gal Costa herself popped out of the woodwork to “retweet” and “like” my message — which totally made up for my somewhat underwhelming visit to Chapada dos Guimarães.


Posted in 2016 | Leave a comment