Brazil's Classic Alpine Escape
In the Itatiaia Region of the Mantiqueira Mountain Range one can splash in waterfalls, hike
trails, and wine and dine––all without getting too far away from the luxuries of civilization.
I'm standing on the balcony of my Swiss-styled chalé of the Hotel do Ypê minutes after the
dawn, looking down the steep, green valley of the Campo Belo River. The sky is clear. A crispy,
nippy wind is blowing through the trees, clapping the leaves, and whistling in my ears. Small
tropical colored birds are singing about, rustling through bushes spotted with colorful flowers,
and skipping through the air, chasing behind one another. Crashing against the rocks that line its
bed and edges, I hear the Campo Belo River roaring quietly, yet forcefully in the background,
cutting through the silence of the dawn. I have the sensation I'm in the middle of nowhere, far off
and deep in the middle of nature. Tranquil moments as this one, just plain enjoying what the
Hotel do Ypê has to offer, would be enough to relax and satisfy anyone. Yet, my objective here
is far more reaching.
I've come to see if this vast playground, the Itatiaia Region consisting of the Itatiaia Park,
Visconde de Mauá, Penedo, and Serrinha, really is an area filled with natural wonders and
treasures. I've come to see if the park really presents two different aspects of conventional
tourism with well-equipped hotels for people that just want to relax, along with excursions
available for serious Alpinist. I've come to see if the multitudinous waterfalls of the Itatiaia Park
and Visconde de Mauá are as enchanting as people say. I've come to see if the Agulhas Negras
Peak and Prateleiras Massif are as monstrous and challenging as I've heard.
The Itatiaia region has gone through many changes in the past. The area where the Park lies
today, which is located between the states of Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro, and São Paulo was
once the property of the Viscount of Mauá. The Brazilian government bought it from him in
1908. The Emperor Dom Pedro II had bought the land to grow cold weather fruits. He sent
European immigrants there to cultivate the land, yet the plantations never yielded good crops
owing to the poor soil and the project failed.
Brazil was slow to join the international trend of creating nationally protected areas. In 1929, the
land became the property of the Ministry of Agriculture. Later on, it turned into a biological
station connected to the Botanic Gardens of Rio de Janeiro. When the Park was created in 1937,
it became the first national park. From that point on, people have been taking advantage of all the
Park has to offer. Through out the years, the Park has received many improvements such as a
main road, a natural history museum, and lodges for researchers and mountaineers.
After my wife and I come down the steep, winding driveway of the hotel, we take a left onto a
dirt road that down the way connects with the main paved road that leads out of the park. The
road is lined with two dense walls of tall vegetation, crisscrossing at various points above our
heads. The roar of the river and waterfalls are in the background. Through the trees to the right,
we can see the other green ridge of the Belo Campo Valley. Along the side of the road are bushes
dotted with small flowers ranging from violet to pink. Birds are singing everywhere.
Within a few minutes we find what we are looking for: a trail marked Hotel Simon is off to the
side of the road. We walk up the steps and start the trail. Immediately, we enter the well-marked
trail and into a dense wooded area. It's a Coastal Rain Forest ecosystem with a mix of pine trees
and grooves of palms. The air is fresh, clean, and green.
As the sun brakes through the leaves atop the trees, it highlights the small bushes to the side
dotted with those same various, colorful flowers, their petals glowing with a bright transparency.
The trail continues level and plane until it widens out and a steep incline begins. At that point,
we reach a brown plaque that reads Três Picos. Now, the true hiking begins.
The Park is divided into two distinct sections. The upper part that is mountainous and hilly forms
the Planalto of the Mantiqueira Mountain Range. The Planalto is filled with water springs and
undulating earth. Hikers and Alpinist come to the Park desiring the Planalto because the Agulhas
Nergras Peak and the Prateleiras Massif are located there. In the lower part you have a forest that
is seven hundred and fifty meters above water. Três Picos is one of the main highlights of the
lower part of the Park. Located in the Palmital Mountain Range, a six-kilometer hike takes you
to the top, where valleys and hills form an immense, boundless, rough sea of green. (1.6662m)
Tries Picos, or three peaks give the appearance of a women lying down. This originated from the
legend of Jandira. She was a Puri, or one of the half-bred Indians that once occupied the
mountain regions north and west of Rio de Janeiro. Her name signified honeybee. Two warriors
of Jandira's tribe loved her. Even though her heart belonged to Jatir, or clear bee, his rival killed
him. As the legend goes, in those days, there was a state of alert between the Indians and the
whites and the Puris ended up fleeing, and spreading out within the Mantiqueira Mountain
Range. Jandira was the only one that stayed and awaited her death, wanting to meet Jatir. She
roamed through the forest among the settled people of Penedo before being killed. Três Picos is
considered to be her burial site.
All the literature I've read about this trail before coming indicated that the hike was not difficult.
The problem is we left late and now it is 11:00 AM. Another problem is my wife. Whereas I've
trained before in the Tijuca National Forest in Rio de Janeiro, which is close by our home, she
hasn't trained at all. She has come to the Park more to rest. I've come more for the adventure. So,
she is hiking with me to make me happy. Regardless, it's always more enjoyable hiking with
another person, especially a loved one.
The first part passes by fast, as we snake through the Coastal Rain Forest. Along the way we run
into a couple from Denmark that have no intention of hiking to the top and are just taking
pictures of the nature. The second part has a constant climb and takes us from Costal Rain Forest
into dry altitude fields. Here, the dense vegetation is low due to the large quantity of rocks.
During this part, we hike up steep slopes with beautiful vistas of the foothills of the Mantiqueira
As we get to the end of the second part, we run into three different couples that gives us three
different answers of how far away from the top we are. I know something is wrong because the
trail is much harder than everything I've read. Then comes a German guy in jeans and no shirt.
He has red welts and small cuts across his chest and back. My wife asks him how far we are
from the top, and he tells her in the most sympathetic way that we are far away. This guy is
After we get through the second part, we arrive at the River Bonito Waterfall. It is located off to
the right of the trail. The roar of the waterfall comes through the thick vegetation. We go and
take a rest right in front. It has a fall of about six meters and below forms a small natural pool
with crystal clear water that you can bath in. Around the sides of the pool are rocks covered in a
grass-like carpet. Birds are flying everywhere. Butterflies are peacefully flapping about. Colorful
flowers dot the bushes. Once in front of the waterfall, the vegetation opens up into a stunning
view of the foothills of the Mantiqueira Mountain Range.
With all the stop and go, it has taken us a while to get here. It's 2:30 PM and it gets dark here
around 5 PM. So, we have to make a decision. We try crossing over a tree trunk that leads to
dense, closed wood to the right of the waterfall. Yet, we turn around because it doesn't seem
right. We reason that it is too hard. We go back, pick up the trail we left again, and run into this
large trunk. It seems to stop at a dead end. Taking into consideration how tired my wife is and
how late it is, I decide to abort the mission and head back to the hotel. The view of the foothills
of the Mantiqueira Mountain Range is way worth the climb to this point. Now, I know you need
a guide to get to the top or at least consult someone that knows before you set off.
The major highlights of the lower part of the Park are the waterfalls. The Hotel do Ypê is
situated in an optimal position for visiting all of them because it sits at a high point within the
Park, the highest of any Hotel or pousada (a Brazilian Inn). Above the hotel sits the Maromba
Waterfall and lake, Vêu da Noiva Waterfall, and Itaporani Waterfall. Down the hill sits the Pitu
Waterfall. Further down you have the Poranga Waterfall. Although it is one of the biggest and
most spectacular waterfalls, the Poranga Waterfall is closed to visitors due to preservation.
My six-year-old daughter decides to forgo the recreation activities offered for the children by the
hotel and opts to hang around the chalê with my wife and I. So, we take the opportunity to get
out and do an activity together as a family and visit the three waterfalls situated above the hotel.
Walking up the dirt road, the sides still lined with tall vegetation, we pass by privately owned
property. These are private properties that have been here since the creation of the Park. As their
land wasn't expropriated with the creation of the Park, many private properties within the bounds
of the Park including farms, hotels, and country estates have remained.
In about twenty minutes or so we reach the end of the dirt road. The roaring Campo Belo River is
crashing down the rocky bed. A small parking lot is filled with casually dressed tourist along
with seasoned Alpinist. Older people, younger people, and families were getting out of their cars
to walk and see the waterfalls. In fact, many women were in high heels and some men were in
slacks even. So, I quickly realize that this hike is very much a tourist activity and doesn't take a
lot of energy and skill to complete.
My daughter and I rush to the stairs and step down as fast as possible, racing to the end. Once to
the bottom, we step across from rock to rock, until we reach the edge of the large and wide,
transparent pool. The waterfall that let into the pool is only a few meters high. From the sun
shinning, we see the light cutting through the water, exposing just how crystal clear it is. Rocks
several meters below the surface are distinguishable. The luster highlights the ripples on the
surface of the water. All around the sides of the landscape is thick forest and abundant
Returning back to the top, we head up the well-marked stairs going towards the Vêu das Noiva
and Itaporani Waterfalls. It is a narrow, civilized, public-friendly trail that is well preserved. It is
lined with stairs, flat, stable rocks that you can easily step upon, and well-paved dirt trails. We
pass people the whole time for 500 meters until we get to a fork in the road. We go to the right to
see the Vêu da Noiva Waterfall first. We then come through a cave and cross a bridge that leads
to the waterfall, sitting off to the left. Moisture fills the air turning it humid and damp.
Vêu da Noiva is a very tall, steep waterfall. Large, wet, slippery rocks around the base sticking
halfway out of the water, creates scattered pools. Vêu da Noiva, or the Veil of the Fiancée, looks
like a veil from the white water sliding down its 30-meter high face. The whole waterfall is
enveloped in a fine cloud of mist that spreads out into the wind, refreshing the close
surroundings. Below it forms a natural pool with transparent water. The vegetation is exuberant
with an abundance of flowers between the trees. It consists of orchids, bromeliads, begonias, and
white, blue, yellow, red, and violet roses. The area is inhibited with an infinite amount of birds
Returning back to the trail, we hike 500 meters more to the Itaporani Waterfall. The trail is
packed with many rocks. Once we get there, the trail opens up into a perfect waterfall. Itaporani
is a three-level, ten to twelve meters high waterfall that lets into a hug pool of crystal water with
golden ripples rushing over the surface, a dense forest all around the sides. The vegetation here is
new and young with a big representation of Palms, vines, lianas, roses, dicksonia tree ferns, and
trees that have no equivalent in the United States such as mimosas, bignonias, and borages.
At 7:00 AM I go to meet the ecotourism and adventure agency, Gute's Ecological Ride, in front
of the Itatiaia Bus Station. It is a nippy morning. When the blue, old and rugged, Toyota Jeep
pulls up, I walk over bundled up in my jacket, my breath trailing behind me. Cêlia Regina, a
short, thin, energetic-looking white woman with a short, perky, blond haircut jumps out the front
passengers seat. In Portuguese, I ask her if she is with the Gute's agency and she says yes and
asks for my name, our voices fogging up in the morning cold. Once everything was confirmed,
she tells me that she will be my guide tomorrow for Visconde de Mauá. I get happy because she
is the owner, and I will have a whole day to talk to her about her company.
She then introduces me to my guide, Linus. I reach through the open window and shake his hand.
We look into each other's eyes briefly. He is a thirty-something white male, medium build, with
unlined stubble on his face and a short buzzed haircut. He has on a worn out leather jacket and
sweat pants. I then jump into the front seat and we take off. In the back seat is a couple from Rio
de Janeiro, who are biologists that have come to observe the land. I turn around and greet them.
The older man has a healthy head of grey hair and a youthful look. His name is Sergio. His wife,
a younger looking woman, has curly, dirty-blond hair with grey streaks mixed in between.
When we hit the Rio-Caxambo Highway, a road that connects Rio de Janeiro to Minas Gerais,
the whole landscape changes. Instantly, we wind through short beige and brown foothills,
climbing towards the Planalto. The foothills then give way to larger mountains with rocky peaks
mixed with wood, others have jagged, craggy summits. Along the way, flanking the highway, are
small nurseries and mom-and-pop shops selling homemade preserved foods and craftwork.
The whole way up Sergio and Linus talk about the politics affecting the area, along with other
biological issues. After and hour or so, we turn onto the Rodovia das Flores, or the Flower
Highway. It is an 18 Kilometer dirt road loaded with rocks and potholes. As we ride, the Toyota
Jeep rocks and shakes along. Exotic, rare birds in the bushes that flank the road fly in front of the
Now, all those mountains I saw coming up the Rio-Caixambu Highway sit eye level with us.
With the sun still rising and the day awaking, we begin to make sharp turns next to cliffs, the
whole time breath-taking views unfolding right before us. There is no limit for my eyes. From
left to right, I see immense green summits. The spur of the Mantiquiera Mountain Range, with
steep cliffs, dense forest of pines, and araucarias spread about. Looking down onto the green
summits along the horizon, I see a dance of highs and lows of valleys, an undulation of hills, a
sea of hills that is the characteristic of this part of the mountain range. At first, Manaca rain trees
flank the sides of the road. As we continue climbing up, the vegetation becomes lower and in the
valleys and cliffs below I see grooves of Eucalyptus. It's the zone of transition from tropical
forest to Alpine meadows where the forest cover is lost and stunted trees and perennial herbs
start to appear.
Once we get to the entrance of the Park, we park the Jeep and set out. We continue walking
down the same rocky dirt road that cuts across the Planalto until we cross over onto the real trail
and into two-meter tall bush. Large boulders we have to climb begin to make up the trail. After
an hour and a half hike and a moderate climb, we get to the rocky base of the Prateleiras Massif,
high upon the Prateleiras Mountain Range.
The Prateleiras Massif looks like a fragile pile of rocks stacked on top of one another that could
fall if just one more is stacked on top or if you could push hard enough on its side. It is a grey
colored granite rock with few black highlights. We rest here for about thirty minutes before
making the final climb to the top. The rock base has a few small shrubs and little friendly birds
accustomed to humans such as the Sanhaço-Fraude, Pampa Finch, and Spintail would come and
eat from my hand.
Looking over the Planalto from here gives a better perspective of the area. The most significant
geological point of the region is the bunch of rocks that are not common around the country, or
the world, but are found here in the Planalto. Rich in almost pure bauxite or aluminum ore, the
massif of Itatiaia is formed by intrusive, crystalline rock, a rare composition. Rocks spread out
everywhere on all the parts, dividing the space with shrubs, moss, lichen, bromeliads, Asparagus
Fern and dry areas with marsh and swampland. Rocky outcrops are common, and the soil is quite
deep. The flowers of the swampland are especially beautiful, as it is spotted with lilacs. Besides
the large variety of flowers, the area is lavished with mines and the beginnings of small streams
and creeks, small threads of brooks that run through rocks and feed into the Campo Belo River
that parallels the main dirt road crossing the Planalto. The species that have survived here have
adapted to the condition of intense cold, frost, and the formation of ice crust. In the summer
season when it rains, water moistens the soil and creates mud puddles.
The Agulhas Negras Peak, or Black Needle Peak and the Prateleiras Massif are the two
culminating points of the Planalto and the state of Rio de Janiero. Agulhas Negras, with dark
colored rock pointing towards the sky stands 2.787 meters. It is the highest point in the state of
Rio de Janeiro. The imposing rock block of Prateleiras is 2.548 meters above water. From the
base where I'm standing, I can see the Agulhas Negras peak, the Fina Mountains Range, and Três
Picos, down to the right in the distance. When I look at the massif, I don't see how we are going
to get to the top. Linus tells me that we are going to wind up the right side towards the back,
twisting. I still don't see what he is talking about until we start.
The boulders are big and wide and have gapping holes between them, big enough for one to fall
into easily and continue dropping. One wrong step and you are severely hurt, possibly trapped.
The granite however gives great traction, and you only have to trust in your feet and everything
is fine. We go hoping from one boulder to another, leaning onto one, and pushing off and up to
the next, crawling through some caves and climbing higher.
The further we go the more dangerous it becomes. Rocks splinter away from one another. Yet,
the granite continues to give good traction. I just have to remember to trust in my feet. Before I
know it, we are really high up. Even though I'm afraid of heights, my determination to get to the
top conquers my fear. Before it was one bad step and into a hole. Now, it is still one bad step and
into a hole, but also, due to the height, it is one bad step and over an edge and down to your
death. Along the way, Linus tells us that the Prateleiras Massif takes more skill, but Agulhas
Negra takes more strength and endurance.
As we come to the last part called "cats leap," a deep crack in the rock over which is necessary to
leap, we stop and gather our breath and courage. Linus goes first, then Sergio, then me. After
that, Linus climbs up over the ridge and walks up to the top and ties a rope for us to use and pull
ourselves up. At the top we have a dizzying view of the Planalto. No words are shared amongst
us, just the joy of the vista and the sound of the swirling winds. After a while, Linus opens up
this metal box and we sign a book that is left for everyone that makes it to the top.
5 part 2
Various European families within the group of settlers, who were sent to the region of
Mantiqueira Mountain Range to cultivate crops by Dom Pedro II, moved to the south of Brazil
when the project fell through. The ones that stayed decided to devote their efforts to tourism.
They continued receiving guest that came from Europe and molded their businesses out of that
clientele. The owner of the Hotel do Ypê, Luis Carlos Bastos, grew up working in this long-
Bastos's twenty-seven-years of experience began in a town called Bananal, a historical city
located in state of São Paulo. The only type work he has done throughout his entire life has been
working in hotels. He began by doing simple jobs and worked his way up. When Bastos started
the Hotel do Ypê with his wife and sister-in-law and her husband, they came up with the idea to
establish a world-class bird observatory. Along with that, he had the aim to create a place where
his guest felt at home. Without a doubt, Bastos has achieved both of those objectives.
Throughout the whole time I've been here, I've seen many groups of bird watchers from all over
the world come and go. And as for feeling at home, well, the atmosphere is homey, but the
amenities are luxurious.
The Hotel do Ypê offers sixteen chalés and nine suites. All of them are equipped with a fireplace
for those cold, alpine winter nights. The grounds of the hotel are well manicured. Paths lined
with rocks connect all the chalés together. Planted all around the property are colorful bushes
that brighten the landscape. The Finnish brought the practice of sauna to Brazil, which is popular
throughout this whole region, and Bastos capitalized on that idea. The hotel offers two types of
saunas, steam and dry, and has two pools. One pool is located indoor next to the saunas. The
other pool sits outdoors and has a captivating view that drops down and spreads far and wide.
Also, for children of all ages, there is a recreation program. A young adult meets with the
children everyday and coordinates activities such as hiking at night with flashlights to card
Once you see how deep and high up into the Park the hotel is situated, it is not surprising that a
full room and board is offered. This allows you to disconnect from the rest of the world and
completely absorb the surrounding nature. Bastos serves a full country breakfast. The kind of
famous country breakfast that is found in the state of Minas Gerais. Every morning you will find
spread out buffet-style on tables watermelon, melon, pineapple, papaya, banana, mango, ham
cold cuts, cheddar cheese, Minas white cheese, croissants and other freshly made breads, cheese
bread, cereal, milk, various freshly made juices from orange to pineapple, many different types
of cakes, scrambled eggs, and bacon.
Although the lunch is more traditional and reflects what is eaten throughout this region of Brazil
from day to day, it is delicious nonetheless. They offer beans and rice, French fries, fresh
vegetables, salad, baked chicken, fried fish, and simply prepared steak and other meats. Even
though all of the meals are more than satisfying, dinner is by far the best. Since I've been here,
some of what Bastos has offered is Brochette of File Mignon, File Mignon with Madeira sauce,
Potato Solê, whole Trout elegantly deboned right in front of you, with a choice of a caper sauce,
or a peanut sauce, pumpkin soup, Cannelloni of Trout, Roast Beef, Broccolis a gratin, rolled
chicken breast with asparagus, Rice with Spinach, and an assortment of fresh vegetables. Of
course, Bastos has a wide assortment of white and red wines to accompany your meal.
Along the way to Visconde de Mauá, I quickly make good friends with our guide Fabio Eduardo
Keller, a tall and lean white man, his square chin, and jaw covered in a five O'clock shadow. I
was expecting the owner, but since Fábio and I are getting along famously, I soon forget about
In his SUV, we pass through Pendo, a small nucleus formed with just one avenue, flanked with
buildings of Finnish architecture packed with innumerable craftwork stores, clothing shops,
pousadas, and restaurants. We then wind through the countryside neighborhood of Serrinha,
which has a backdrop of a short, green mountain range. Suddenly, it opens up into wide-
stretching meadows with heather, Cedar, Eucalyptus, and Pines trees, and an enormous variety of
flowers. We talk about everything from ecotourism travel to religion to sports. Although he
speaks English quite well, I speak with him in Portuguese, allowing him to feel at ease.
Fabio majored in Biology and then moved to Itatiaia from Rio de Janeiro to work in his field.
Yet, he couldn't make enough money to live. His friend wanted to start a laundry business, so he
bought a Volkswagen Kombi to be able to transport the clothes. Yet, the business never took off.
Still having to pay off the Kombi, he started to drive people around for money, somewhat like a
taxi service. He then took this one guy, who was a guide of ecotourism, to do an excursion and
realized that he could do a better job because he had a biology background. So, he took some
tourism and English classes and went on from there.
After we pass Serrinha, we catch a red clay, dirt road, and start climbing the Mantiqueira
Mountain Range. Although the dirt road has rocks, it is nothing as compared to the Highway of
Flowers leading to the Planalto. Actually, for being a dirt road, it is quite smooth. Nonetheless,
one must take caution when driving and passing by other cars. And if it is raining, forget about
driving on the road at all. After winding upwards, we stop at the top of the mountain range, get
out of Fábio’s SUV, and look down at Visconde de Mauá. It's a small village snug between green
undulating mountains with silhouettes of fading, blue hills behind them, situated next to a small
river that snakes through the valley, patches of preserved forest checkers the hillsides.
European immigrants colonized Pendo and Visconde de Mauá. Penedo is located at the foot of
the mountain and Visconde de Mauá at the top, situated in the heart of the Mantiqueira Mountain
Range. They both have pleasant temperature, cold, crystal clear waters, and the fragrant
perfumes of the forest. A Finnish, Toivo Uvskallii, founded the city of Pendo in 1929. He bought
a farm from Monks. With the land he established a big house, which was the future headquarters
for the Fazenda Pendo that took in about seventy Finnish families that came here throughout the
Indians first occupied Visconde de Mauá. In the beginning of the 19th century, gold was found
and the Portuguese came with slaves to mine the rivers. In 1889 came the Italians, Austrians, and
Germans. The Swiss immigrants that arrived there in 1908 were motivated by governmental
advertisement by the President Herms da Fonscea to work in agriculture, farms, and ranches. The
European influence is still present in the architecture and in the cuisine.
Mauá, as the locals call it, is much more attractive than Pendo and much harder to reach. People
that come here are in search of waterfalls. What is called Visconde de Mauá consist of three
villages Mauá, Maringá, and Maromba. The only way to reach the villages is via dirt road. There
are a few different routes. On top of that, all of the villages are connected by dirt roads. I've
heard some people say that the dirt roads are maintained to help preserve the town, by giving
visitors a big obstacle to arrive there. For sure, if these dirt roads were of concrete, this place
would be inundated with visitors and would lose its charm.
We come down the hill and pass through Mauá. It is very simple, nothing to it. It has one church,
one football field, one police station, a school, a post office, a pharmacy, a supermarket, and few
tiny bars. We then head to Maringá. It has a small area of shops with buildings designed like log
cabins with terracotta roofs. In the shopping area are restaurants and exquisite craftwork shops.
Many young people and the young at heart walk around holding hands. One interesting thing
about Maringá is that it sits right on the boarder between the state of Minas Gerais and Rio de
Janeiro. Maromba has narrow cobble stone streets and a few restaurants and craft shops. The
whole way through the villages I see pousadas and hotels tucked away into little nooks and
crannies, off the side and running parallel to the dirt road is a small river filled with rocks.
The whole purpose of this excursion is just to get to know the layout of Visconde de Mauá. So,
Fabio takes us by a two popular waterfalls called the Escorrega Waterfall and the Santa Clara
Waterfall real fast. After this, we all get hungry and Fabio suggest a great restaurant named
Trattoria in Maringá, on the Minas Gerais side of the village. After we park his SUV, we stroll
through the log cabin village with terracotta roofs and cross a short, narrow bridge leaving Rio
de Janeiro and enter into Minas Gerais. Once across the bridge we head up towards the right.
Sitting on the corner is the restaurant, a big, circular, bungalow of a building. We check the
menu before going in and the prices are very affordable. All the plates are between $15 and $25
reais. Fabio explains to me that Chef Mauro Jr., the owner, specializes in trout, which is the most
popular food in this region due to its abundance. After we go in and sit down, Fabio goes to the
counter and calls out for Chef Mauro Jr. When the chef appears, they shake hands and talk for a
bit. When they finish, the Chef looks over Fabios shoulder and waves at us.
Although deep in the country, the bungalow reminds me that I'm still in Brazil, yet inside the
restaurant the tropical feel now mixes with an old European flavor. All the tables are arranged
and focused around the counter, which sits in front of the open kitchen’s entrance, a narrow door.
Chef Mauro Jr. is not hiding from his customers, and I see him walking back and forth every so
often, busy creating his succulent inventions. Little black speakers on the walls around us are
playing relaxing, new age instrumental music that set a tranquil atmosphere. To the left of the
counter is a brick wall that is lined with various gourmet food magazines.
I order the trout with white sauce and fried mango. When it finally comes, the wait is worth
every minute. The presentation is immaculate, a generous fillet of trout, white sauce poured to
the side and fried mango carved into a flower shape placed on the opposite side. Curious about
these three different flavors I've never eaten together before, I take a piece of mango, a piece of
the trout and run it through the white sauce. Spectacular. Frying the mango brings out the
sweetness. The trout, prepared just right, is not too salty. And the cheesy white sauce balances
the texture of the trout and mango, creating a surprisingly succulent flavor on my tongue.
The Piturendaba and Pitu Waterfalls sit at the bottom of the property of a Japanese man. It's just
down the hill from the Hotel do Ypê and closer than the three waterfalls that sit above. I decide
to visit the waterfall with my wife because Gute's Ecological Ride couldn't find anyone to climb
the Agulhas Negras Peak with me. Just between you and me, even though the trip to Visconde de
Mauâ was light, I am still feeling the aftermath in my thighs from the hike and climb of the
Prateleiras Massif. If I went to do the Agulhas Negras Peak today, I would be regretting it. I
think Fabio is right that those climbs are so severe; you must plan to have ample recovery time
between them. I have allotted only two days, but you need more like four or five.
After we open and close the front gate, we enter onto a steep, descending drive way. The drive
way has two rows of long, curling grass that separates the tire lanes. The branches of tall, old,
proud Pine tress stretch over our heads. To the left is a log cabin type house with a weathered
terra-cotta roof. To the right, a little bit further down the hill, sitting on a plateau is a white,
Colonial style house with all the traditional trimmings.
Walking further, to the right and below the Colonial house is a field that leads back into a
groove of thin, tall white trees. Then, coming into the left is the main house of the Japanese man.
It is a larger version of the smaller log cabin. It too has a weathered terra-cotta roof. His garden
is meticulously manicured with bushes and flowers planted in oversized concrete pots, the sides
chiseled with elaborate designs. The backyard is in the process of being renovated so there are
piles of dirt and rocks sitting in front of the ongoing projects, as shovels and other tools are
tossed to the side.
Once the driveway stops, we catch a small staircase that leads down a short trail surrounded by
dense wood. At the end, the trail lets into the waterfall. The landscape is of closed forest that
opens up only for a passage of a river. Three springs, of three meters, come together into one fall,
forming a natural pool below of thirty meters, a mirror of water inviting you to take a dive. The
side of the river is lined with dense wood and vegetation that is intermingled with all different
types of flowers. We hoop from rock to rock until resting on one that sits in the middle of the
river, taking in the fresh air and tranquility.
The one attraction in the Park that draws people from all over the world is bird watching. During
our excursion to Visconde de Mauá, Fabio had been so adamant about me going bird watching
that I decide to take him up on his offer. We really hit it off the other day. Although he does the
hikes to the Planalto, the trips to Visconde de Mauá, and a host of other activities, his real
specialty is bird watching.
To make things easier, we agree to go bird watching in the lower part of the Park. The ecosystem
of the lower park, consisting of Coastal Rain Forest, is quite different than the Planalto or high
fields. Large-sized frugivorous species and altitude species are super special and a few are only
found in specific preserved areas within the region. The most rare species of all the birds are
located on the Planalto, the high fields.
It is July and the middle of winter in Brazil. This is the best time of year because it is the dry
season. After September it usually rains everyday says Fabio. He goes on to tell me this time of
the year is good because the mating season is beginning and the birds are making nest. So, now
we can see lots of males and females together, which make for more birds.
We decided to meet for breakfast at the restaurant of the Hotel do Ypê at six a.m. Being that this
hotel has a bird observatory; it is an ideal place to begin. The walls of the restaurant are lined
with large panes of glass and the observatory sits in plain sight off the balcony in the back. While
eating, the guest can delight in watching a wide array of colorful birds pass by. After Fabio and I
finish eating, we head to the back.
There, I see how the hotel sets up the observatory, with various sweet drinkers for the
hummingbirds that hang along with plates filled with sliced up fruit of watermelon, oranges,
bananas, papayas, apples, and kiwis. Off in the surrounding trees are all the birds hanging out on
the branches. It is like a who's who of bird species. Now and then, in orderly fashion, the birds
come up and eat and drink.
Fabio gives me some binoculars. I'm a beginner, so today he is just orienting me on what to do
and look for. Every time he finds a new species he directs my attention to where it is and informs
me of the name. I’m so close to a drinker and plate of food that the hummingbirds playfully
zoom right by my ears. When they stop to drink, I can feel the vibration of their fluttering wings
on my face and chest.
Because it is winter and the forest is dry, there is little fruit and seeds for them to eat. So, the
observatory is overflowing with species. Fabio says that makes this spot the best place to bird
watch within the whole Park. During the summer, hardly any birds come here because the forest
After a couple of hours that pass by so fast due to the high volume of bird activity, I learn many
species. Today there is a woodpecker, Brazilian Ruby hummingbird, Black Jacobin humming
bird, Violet Capped Wood Nymph, Blue Dacnis, Blue-napped Chlorophonia, Red Rumped
Cacique, White Throated Hummingbird, Green Headed Tanger, Golden Cheveroned Tanager,
House Sparrow, Rufus colored Sparrow, Great Kiskadee, Red-Breasted Tucan, Black-goggled
Euphonia, and a Saffron Toucanet.
Fabio then takes me out of the Park and into this sunk-down marshland that sits off the side of a
highway. You wouldn't guess this place was special if you weren't a bird watcher. He drives his
SUV over the curb and parks on the grassy shoulder of the road, overlooking the marshland. He
says that National Geographic set up here to study birds in this mini-ecosystem. Now, I feel
special, as though I'm on the cutting edge of bird watching. The area proves to be a prosperous
one, filled with lots of movement. There I see a Brazilian Tanager, Siff-Turn Lap Wing,
Roadside Hawk, Cattle Egert, Chestnut Capped Blackbird, Yellow-Chinned Spintail, and a
Water Mark Tyrant.
It is now around midday and the weather is heating up, time for the birds to go into the cool
forest and rest until they start to look for food at sundown. Fabio and I head back to the Hotel do
Ypê because it is Saturday; every Saturday the Hotel do Ypê does a complete Brazilian cook out
with live music right next to the pool. Yet, after we enter in the Park, Fabio gets an idea to stop at
the Ultimo Adeus, or the last goodbye. It is a big rock surrounded by grass and vegetation that
sits at the base of the mountain. It is meant to be the last look visitors have before leaving the
We walk onto the platform of the rock, and sit on the ledge. From there we get a panoramic view
of the steep, wide Campo Belo Valley. Just as Fábio starts to look through his binoculars, and I
bring mine up to my face, a question comes to my mind. The sounds of the Campo Belo River
crashing down the rocks is a faintly, powerful roar in the background. As we look around in
opposite directions I say, "Well, why is this region so popular and known around the world for
"The Park is good because it's preserved. It's a great representation of how Brazil looked along
the coast and inland before the Portuguese arrived here. The Mata Atlantica, or Atlantic Forest
"So, this place is like looking back into the past."
"Exactly! Also, the area is great because of the climate. The alpine mixed in with the
"Well, wouldn't all these reasons be why anyone would want to come here and do all of
the other activities offered by the Park?'
Fábio and I remove our binoculars from our faces at the same time and look at each other, I with
a blank expression and he with a big smile.
"Yeah, I guess you're right. I never thought about it like that."
PLACE AND PEOPLE MENTIONED
Hotel do Ypê.
Prices for the rooms start at R$125.00. The hotel is divided in 9 rooms with fireplaces and 16
cabanas with fireplaces also; all of them are different sizes. www.hoteldoype.com.br. (24 3352-
Gute's Ecological Ride
Av. Das Mangueiras
Pendo – Itatiaia/RJ
Reserve: (24) 3352-5085
Telephone: (24) 3351-2131
Cell Phone: (24) 9991-3132
Fábio Eduardo Keller
Fax/Phone: (24) 3352-1647
Cell: (24) 9218-5741
*He speaks English.
Chef Mauro Jr.
HOW TO GET THERE
From the Novo Rio bus station in Rio de Janeiro, www.novorio.com.br you can catch a direct
bus to Itatiaia from a company called Viação Cidade do Aço. After you arrive at the bus station
in Itatiaia, then catch a taxi to your hotel or pousada for $15.00 reais.
It cost $ 3 reais to enter into the park and R$ 5 to park your car. Children under the age of 7 get
in for free.
WHEN IT OPENS
The Park is open from 8 A.M. to 5 P.M. The front gate stays open 24 hours for people staying at
the hotels and pousadas inside the park.
Rock climbing, rappelling, hiking. Other alpine activities to do: travessia Serra Negra, hike to the
www.xe.com/ucc. *Use this to convert the currency.
BEST TIME OF THE YEAR
From May to August is the ideal period to take advantage of the region. During this time of year,
the temperature drops to 0 degrees ºC and it is the dry season.
*About the author C. M. Knighten is an attorney from the United States that now lives in Brazil
and is currently completing his first novel. The last article he wrote for Escape Artist was about
Tiradentes. His e-mail address is email@example.com.