I stopped in the town of Torres because I had heard about a rather nice canyon about 20 kilometres to the west of the town and hadn’t quite had enough of Brazil’s excellent beaches. And so I found myself on a local bus which squeaked and shuddered slowly along a very rough dirt road that led away from the outskirts of Torres and towards the town of Mampituba. The plan was to make it to the Parque Nacional de Aparados de Serra using public transport, but this turned out to be impossible as the next bus heading in that direction would not leave until tomorrow.
I realised this in the small office of the bus company that operated out of Mampituba, and since I didn’t speak a single syllable of Portuguese, it also took a little time to work out there wouldn’t be a bus returning to Torres that day either. The podgy woman behind the counter of company’s office, which also served as the local shop, showed me the torn and grubby cardboard list which was the Official Mampituba Bus Company Timetable. Most of the handwritten departure times had been crossed out over the years, and only a small handful of services now remained, none of which was any use to me today. Beyond the fact there were no buses running today, a fact which already ruffled my usual calm demeanour, was the fact the woman continued to babble away with total disregard to our mutual inability to communicate, and I eventually had to resort to a shrugging of the shoulders and the all-purpose baffled grin of someone who has no idea of where they are, what they are doing here and where they are going.
I was stuck in the middle of nowhere.
The woman was kind enough to call a neighbour who arrived minutes later on a motorbike. The friendly local spoke English and was kind enough to confirm my busless predicament and suggested we negotiate with one of the taxi drivers to take us up to the canyon and then return me to the hotel in Torres at the end of the day.
By a staggering coincidence, he knew exactly the right driver for the job. A conveniently close taxi was summoned as if by magic, and together the three of us negotiated a price for the trip. A rather high price, and one that would have to be paid unless I felt like staying the night in the small town of Mampituba where the most exciting thing appeared to be the shop I was now standing in front of.
I had obviously fallen into a very common tourist trap, and the locals that now stood before me had clearly encountered this very situation many times over and listed my two possible options with practised ease. Take it or leave it.
I hate being taken advantage of as a traveller, and I‘ve encountered this kind of trick before. Usually, I just walk away at the slightest hint of this kind of set-up. Today, I decided I would not react with my customary stubbornness and allowed myself to be sucked in by these guys. What the hell, even a tight-fisted old cheapskate like me needs a day off. I agreed and started enjoying the trip I had envisaged when I’d set out for the day. It was, after all, only a few bucks more than I had anticipated.
Leandro was the taxi driver’s name and he attempted light conversation as we drove the dirt track that led to the entrance of the national park. Light Portuguese conversation. The vast language gap between us quickly made itself apparent and the majority of the subsequent communication was conducted with mimes and animal impersonations.
Leandro would point out a sheep by the side of the road, he would say “sheep” in Portuguese, and I in English and then the animal noises would follow by way of confirmation. A fun way to while away the 12-kilometre journey on a dirt road whose gradient and unevenness slowly increased as we approached our destination. The small Volkswagen we were in was mercilessly pitted against grossly neglected roads and our path was pitted with holes, treacherous erosion that had carved deep ravines and rocks the size Dolly Parton’s singing credentials (Country and Western).
The entrance to the national park was a small run-down car park and ticket hut of no particular interest, so I marched off straight away along the track immediately beyond it. Leandro came with me and together we trekked along the path until we reached a small lookout from which we could see the Cânion do Itaimbezinho in its entirety. This picturesque view instantly made the whole day’s endeavour a worthwhile use of my time and money. Sheer vertical rock cliffs on either side with a view all the way to the bottom where the remnants of the once mighty river that had at some stage carved its way down was now only visible as a thin slither of silver.
I posed for some photos as Leandro took up the role of trip photographer and then continued onto the second part of the trail which would give us another view from another part of the great canyon. The rocky precipice carried little or no vegetation, and the gunmetal grey of the rock was now partially obscured by a blanket of bright mist which hurled itself over the horizon and into the ravine below. After a long walk we reached the next lookout and my taxi driver/guide/photographer/sheep-spotter obliged with a few more photos. The day was drawing to a close, so it was time to get back to the taxi and go home. Despite our mutual language gap, Leonardo and marvelled about life, the universe and everything else all the way back to Torres.