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The Wetlands of Chapada Diamantina, Bahia, Brazil
Photo by Rui Rezende - Courtesy of Fazenda Marimbus/Pousada Sincorá

Aug.31, 2012

In Chapada Diamantina, water mostly flows in immense underground layers or sparkles on the earth's surface in streams which often drop from sedimentary rock heights to form some of Brazil's most beautiful waterfalls. There is one area, however - Marimbus - where it spreads over mile after mile of marshy terrain - the only wetlands in Chapada.

The word marimbu, pronounced ma-rim-BOO, means "marshy lands on riverbanks". Formed around the confluence of the Santo Antônio, Utinga and São José Rivers, this attraction featured on several tours offered by local ecotourism agencies is within the limits of APA Marimbus/Iraquara, an environmental protection unit created by a state decree in June 1994.

The APA with an area of 309,870 acres bordering Chapada Diamantina National Park on its northeastern side occupies land belonging to the towns of Lençóis, Andaraí, Palmeiras, Iraquara and Seabra. It encompasses hills (Morro do Pai Inácio and Morro do Camelo); caves (Lapa Doce, Pratinha, Torrinha); gerais (altitude fields); forests; cerrado and caatinga.

Local inhabitants use the plural marimbus for these marshlands often dubbed the "Pantanal of Chapada Diamantina" as a reference to Brazil's famous Center-Western wetlands. They are identified separately as Sucuiu, Ferreira, Fazenda Velha, Baiano, Isca, Pontal. They're rich in fish such as tucunaré and curimatá. The area is good for birdwatching and birding. Some of the species that can be spotted are cranes, common moorhens.

Abundant floating plants include water lilies and Salvinia biloba (known in Brazil as orelhas-de-onça, or "jaguar ears").

The Marimbus area is also rich from a cultural and historical perspective, thanks to the nearby towns with their heritage dating back to the diamond mining cycle which gives the Chapada its name and the presence of descendants of escaped slaves who formed quilombos, communities hidden in remote areas of Brazil. These comunidades quilombolas - Remanso, in Marimbus, is one of them - preserve many ancient traditions with strong African symbolism and spiritual meaning.

The area can be explored in day trips from Lençóis or Andaraí, always with guides. From Lençóis, you can take a tour including car trips to Remanso and rowboat rides down the Santo Antônio River.

The tour could include the Roncador River Falls and natural pools - one of them, underground, is known as Útero ("Womb") and off-road trips on the area's old mining trail.

The Andaraí side is the larger portion of Marimbus; the area receives the bulk of waters from the eastern slopes of the Sincorá Mountain Range. A great option for exploring the wetlands from Andaraí is taking a leisurely guided tour in the Canadian canoes (photo) of Fazenda Marimbus (phone: 55-75-3335-2210, pousada@sincora.com.br), by the same owners of Pousada Sincorá in the town center.

The sustainable farm has preserved woods, vegetable gardens, an orchard, campground infrastructure - restrooms, showers, a picnic area - and a kiosk serving regional food, sugarcane juice, and fresh coconut water (sugarcane and coconut residues are used for the oven). English-speaking owners Hélder and Ana Maria have a deep knowledge of the area.

When to Visit:

The wetlands have a seasonal, variegated beauty year round. Ana Maria Madeira of Fazenda Marimbus says, "in the dry season, for example, it's possible to visit the Peri Lagoon, which becomes a gigantic aquarium. The light brown shade of the water is caused by the organic decomposing of the vegetation. Since there's no stirring of the water flowing down the mountain range, the organic matter stays on the bottom of the lagoon, which leaves it completely crystalline."

She said it was that tour which convinced her and her husband Hélder to settle down in Andaraí.

About Rui Rezende:

Rui Rezende, who took the photo of Marimbus featured in this article, is the author of Chapada Diamantina: Um Paraíso Desconhecido (Chapada Diamantina: An Unknown Paradise, 252 pages, 30 X 30 cm), a collection of over 400 photos taken in all of Chapada Diamantina over 13 years and many trips on foot and by car, motorcycle, plane and helicopter.

The book covering the Chapada's wildlife, stunning landscape, people and their cultural expressions and everyday life also contains Rezende's texts (in Portuguese and English) with the story behind the photos, the techniques used and more.

A preview and buy direct link for the book, information about other publications and lots of online photos are available on Rezende's website, Fotos da Chapada.

More on Chapada Diamantina Wildlife:

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