The darkness closed around us like a layer of black oil, not even a little glow from a random piece of electronic equipment appeared. Nothing could be seen in any direction. The silence was complete and the air absolutely still. I found the absence of sensory distraction peaceful. I took a deep breath and relaxed, thoroughly enjoying the moment. Then somebody sighed and shifted his feet on the sand, taking me out of my reverie.
Our small group was sitting in a cave with our lights off. As with most cave tours, there was a lights-out moment so that visitors can experience true darkness. In some caves, a light cool breeze might move the air, or a small drip will tap a rhythmic sound. In others, like the caves of Torotoro, rushing water can be heard.
But this cave was dry, at least during this season. In the rainy season, water seeps through the rocks above providing wet minerals that slowly grow the stalactites and stalagmites of the cave. Now the cave floor is covered with a fine sand that puffs a bit as we walk.
Turning our lights back on, our small group continued through the Gruta da Lapa Doce of the Chapada Diamantina National Park in Brazil.
Chapada Diamantina literally translates to Diamond Plateau. At the beginning of the 19th century, a large vein of diamonds was discovered in the unique rock formations of this area in Brazil. The town of Lençois was created as the center for the diamond rush. The beauty of the area soon began to attract many visitors and it was established as a protected area by Brazil in 1985.
Today the Chapada Diamantina is a 152,142-hectare (375,950 acres) park surrounded by plateaus and mountains. Many of the tours into the park started in the town of Lençois which is an eight-hour bus ride from Salvador. Unless you have a car, you will need to book a tour to get to some of the destination points. In addition to the caves, the riverbeds and mountains in Chapada Diamantina are worth explorations.
Some attractions require a guided tour even if you drove there yourself. A few of the sites are just outside the park on private property. The owners do a great job protecting the areas and controlling the number of people allowed in each cave at a time.
Given the beauty of some of these caves I’m glad they are well protected, it would be a shame to see them destroyed. It is one of the things we love about this country. The people care about their environment making Brazil a great place to visit.
Crystal Clear Waters
Gruta da Pratinha
In Fazenda Pratinha, there is a pool of transparent blue water inside a cave, the Gruta da Pratinha. A wooden stairway took us to a rocky ledge that gave us a perfect view of a water-filled cave. We could see the floor of the cave through the crystal clear water, an unobstructed view. If not for the tiny fishes swimming about, the aquamarine tint and the faint reflections, you might believe that there was no water there. The water begged us to dive in.
Water seeps through the limestone bottom which filters the water and also infuses minerals that give it a bluish tone.
Beyond the mouth of the cave, the crystal clear water extends into a natural swimming pool. The cave is protected along with the area around it. Swimming is allowed only in certain areas to protect the clarity of the water.
If you get a chance to visit this place and you are able to resist the temptation of swimming in these waters, then your will is truly strong. I, on the other hand, offered no resistance as I allowed its magnificence to lure me in. We stood in the shoulder-deep water and looked down at our feet to watch the fish nibbling our toes.
“Ouch, he bit me!” I exclaimed. I could actually feel the jaws of the tiny fish trying to consume the end of my finger. They were not big enough to draw blood but they did elicit the occasional yip from the other swimmers.
After the refreshing and nibbly dip, we walked to another cave where we had a view into a pool over 60 meters (200 feet) deep. The sun was at just the right angle to shine beams into the water from the small cave opening. They created a waterfall of light that made the rocks beneath the surface of the water glow. The entire pool was deep blue.
The story behind the enchanted cave
A few decades ago, an explorer came upon a cave opening. He began to climb down but noticed that the floor of the cave looked a little odd. It was flat and dusty but seemed to move slightly from time to time. Warry of stepping on it he threw a rock down to the floor to see what would happen.
A glow suddenly appeared where the rock hit. The spot grew and beams of sunlight began to light the entire cave as they reached down into deep blue waters that now reflected throughout the cave. Dust had collected on the surface of the underground lake. When he threw the rock the dust separated and the ripples moved the dust toward the walls of the cave exposing the crystal clear water.
I can only imagine how transfixed he must have been as a deep well of glowing blue water appeared before him. Then he ran back to the village to tell everyone that he found an enchanted well. The villagers laughed and mocked him, but they followed him eventually and discovered the enchantment for themselves.
The Path to Crystal Clear Water
As we drove down the dirt road from Fazenda Pratinha dust flew all around us. The road stretched out in a long line before us. The trees devoid of their leaves stood as thirsty spectators to our passing. The landscape was dotted with large mounds left by prehistoric termites. Today the mounds are as hard as clay. I wondered at the size of the trees that must have been here enabling the termites to create such large and numerous little hills.
Arriving at a small cafe we piled out of our van to wait in a pavilion seemingly in the middle of nowhere on a flat plane of a desert.
We were fitted with hard hats and given instructions regarding our next adventure. Then we waited for our turn to enter the Enchanted Well. While waiting we watched the playful marmosets beg for food at the cafe.
When our turn came up we descended down the wooden stairs, 320 steps though I can’t be sure now as I was too excited to remember what our guide said. I knew what was ahead, I’d seen pictures of it. I have to admit my expectations were high. At the cave opening, we turned on our headlamps and continued our descent. Within a few meters, the cave began to open to our right.
Experiencing Poço Encantado, the Enchanted Well
Looking down further into the dark chamber I saw a soft, blue glow on the cave wall. Does the water really glow that bright that it projects blue light against the wall? My skepticism cultivated doubts in my head and I imagined that they installed blue lights to enhance the magical atmosphere of the cave.
We would clamber down the dark path and stop to look at the glow and then go again until we reached the viewing area. I could not tell when exactly the epiphany occurred but one moment I was looking suspiciously at the fake blue glow, and then I saw a faint patch of dust floating on…
I was looking in and through the crystal clear water the whole time. The blue glow was under the water which acquires a natural brilliance from a cave opening that let the sunlight in. The water line is barely perceptible. It was like staring at one of those 3D puzzle pictures where all you see are incoherent patterns until the image jumps out. It plays with your sense of perspective.
As we descended further the rest of the pool came into view and I stopped in amazement. There was no artificial light, this was all natural. Like the unique beauty of the sand pools in Lencois Maranhenses, possibly the most beautiful place in the world, this was also a unique beauty that I have never experienced before.
The Enchantress of the Pool
I began to wonder if the man who first found this pool stood in awe or in fear at the enchantment before him. The cavern floor 60 meters (197 feet) below the surface of the crystal clear water is visible in detail. The blue glow of the water from the sunlight feels as if an enchantress is deep below calling to anyone who may pass by. “Come, partake of my beauty and never leave,” like the apple given to sleeping beauty.
Of course, I know that the blue glow is caused by the calcium and magnesium leached from the sandstone walls, but it is still fun to feel as if one is in a fairy tale.
Swimming is prohibited in this specific cave due to the blind, almost transparent catfish (Rhamdiopsis Krugi) that are endemic to this area.
Everyone took picture after picture in an attempt to take just a bit of this enchantment home with us. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
Where Swimming is like Floating on Air
After drinking in as much of the view as we could we climbed back into the van headed to our next cave.
In Poço Azul we were instructed to rinse off in outdoor showers. Hair conditioner, sun lotion and a myriad of other things people apply to their skin needed to be rinsed off to protect this cave. This one we would be able to swim in.
Dressed in swimming gear, life jackets, and excitement we headed down into another deep hole. After descending a long stairway another blue glow invited us deeper. I couldn’t wait to experience this cave.
As we slipped into the water it felt a bit disconcerting to float up to 18 meters (60 feet) above the cavern floor which is clearly visible. I gazed down through my swimming mask in disbelief at the depth that I could see below me. We swam, we floated and we whispered our amazement to each other as if we were in a sacred place.
The park and property owners manage the cave tours very well. Only one small group is allowed in at a time. They give us plenty of time to swim and fully explore the cave. Each group has to wait their turn to enter. Sometimes the wait can be long but it is definitely worth the experience. I would rather wait then be stuck in a crowded cave and not really get to experience the crystal clear water and the enchantment of the glowing blue water.
Opportunities and Choices
Our path to this point has been lined with choices, doors of opportunities some taken and some passed by. Where will your choices lead you?
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Retired from Corporate America at the age of 43 along with her husband Trinity. In 2016 they sold their home to begin a nomadic life of slow travel. Bonnie writes of their experience on the road in each country. Subscribe to follow her stories here.
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