Two Weeks in Brazil Part II – Ubajara
Ubajara is a small town in the northern part of the state of Ceara, about 200 miles from the capital city. It is located on Ibiapaba Heights about 800 meters above sea level. It is known for being home to Brazil’s smallest national park that houses the world-famous Ubajara grotto and several scenic waterfalls that can be reached by walking through the forest.
When we decided that we’d visit the region, I set off to look for a hotel there. I knew about a couple of places there (I’d been to Ubajara in 2000), but few could be reached online. I was able to contact Neblina Park Hotel via e-mail and made arrangements way ahead of time. When we reached Fortaleza, I immediately called the hotel, confirmed our arrival and set out to get bus tickets for the both of us.
After a weekend resting from the trip (this is the LAST time
I do such a long trip in the morning), we set off to the Fortaleza municipal
bus station, a facility that was built a few decades ago to replace a much
older and decrepit facility in the downtown area). It is overall a clean place,
and after we got there we had the chance to enjoy a cafezinho (drip coffee
served in espresso-like cups). We boarded the bus soon after, and then it was a
seven-hour ride up.
Brazilian buses are quite comfortable – the seats are well cushioned and offer plenty of body and leg space. We stopped many time along the way to pick
and drop off passengers, and we made a 30-minute stop at a non-descript
restaurant in the middle of nowhere. The place served snacks and buffet lunch
by the pound, but since I’d packed a couple of sandwiches for the trip, so all
we needed was to get a refreshing cold beer – the temperature there felt
somewhere around 100 degrees F (about 40 C). After that break, we got back on the
bus and then it was another 3 hours to our final destination. We killed time by
looking at the beautiful mountain scenery, reading, sleeping and watching a few
videos I’d previously loaded to my iPhone before we left.
We reached Ubajara shortly before the sun set. We caught a cab to our hotel, which is located about 1 ½ miles from the town center. After a few minutes we were greeted by the minimal hotel staff – since this was off-season, the staff was reduced to accommodate the lack of people staying there. The room was spacious and very
nice. There were three beds, cable TV (only Brazilian channels, though),
minibar, Wi-Fi and a spacious bathroom.
Air conditioning was unnecessary since up in the mountains the
temperature is cool during the night and warm (almost spring-like) during the
day. The hotel had two restaurants, a large swimming pool and spacious grounds
to walk around in. After we settled in our rooms, we ventured into the
restaurant. It seemed like we were the only ones in, since there were no other
diners. We ordered grilled chicken breast, which was served with a side salad,
white rice and fries. The food was tasty and fresh – but this being a hotel, I felt it was a bit overpriced.
After we dined, we walked back to the town to buy bottled water and other necessities, and briefly walked around to get to know the area.
We stopped in a ‘boteco’ (corner bar) and had a couple of drinks. As we
sat, people noticed the fact we were speaking a foreign language, and then I
started talking to them in Portuguese. The bartender – a teenage kid with a
never-ending smile – kept serving Renata orange slices – I guess he was taken
by her green eyes and fair skin, which is something you don’t see in the region
every day. After polishing off a couple of shots of cachaça, we walked back to the hotel and retired for the night.
The next morning we woke up early for breakfast (hotels in Brazil are required to serve it as part of the fee). It was weird to be the only ones there. The food was simple – bread, cold cuts, cheese, fruit, coffee, milk, pastries and juice – but it was tasty.
We then ventured to the National Park to visit the grotto.
After paying a nominal fee of about $ 3, we waited for the cable car. There was a loud group of tourists from a nearby city there as well, so we all took the ride together. Renata was freaking out a bit, because she feels a bit uncomfortable in these concoctions – she was just as uneasy when we visited Sugar Loaf Mountain in Rio in 2009. However, she kept her cool and in about a minute we reached the entrance of the cave.
Once inside, we were amazed by what we saw. The guide showed us some of what they call ‘rooms’ – parts of the cave with beautiful rock formations. Each ‘room’ is named after a rock that resembles something – a frog, a rose, etc. Years ago, the larger
portion of the Ubajara grotto was open for visitation, but due to conservation
issues the tour is quite shorter now. Also, at the time we were there it was
bat mating season, so several of the rooms were ‘busy’ with them – you could
hear the noises from where we were.
In order to receive visitors, the grotto has artificial illumination controlled by the guides. At one point, he turned off the lights for us to realize how it really is in there – pitch black, with no absolutely no sunlight visible from the inside. The story goes that when the park was inaugurated in the 1950s, explorers found skeletons of people who most likely got lost there – and who were never able to find an exit.
After the visit, we refreshed with some cajuina – a non-alcoholic
fermented beverage made from cashew juice. We found a simple restaurant to have lunch in – it is basically someone’s home that was converted into a no-frills restaurant (we only found out because there was a small sign outside the property).
The food was simple but delicious – chicken, rice, beans and spaghetti
with no sauce. It was so good that we came back the next day.
We returned to the park the following morning to walk the trails that lead to two scenic waterfalls in the area. We were again aided by a guide – trails were open before, but after a couple of incidents (one involving a Polish visitor who tragically fell to his death from one of the falls), guides became mandatory.
We walked for about 4 miles into the forest and stopped at
two falls – the views were breathtaking. From the first fall, we could look
down and see the entire view from the mountain, and from the second it was even
better, since we could spot the first waterfall a mile and a half away. We did not bathe in the waters because we did not bring swimwear, but it was a great experience. It was not a hard walk, so at the end we were not too tired. At the
end, we thanked and tipped our guide and went back to the hotel to lounge by
the pool and enjoy a few drinks before heading into town for dinner at a cheap
sandwich place. We stopped at our boteco and bade our teenage bartender
farewell (once again he plied Renata with fruit to go with our cachaça
shots as we watched the first half of a soccer game between Brazil and
Argentina (Brazil won 1-0). We walked back to our hotel and woke up early the
next day – it was time to catch our bus back to Fortaleza. At around 10:30 AM
the bus came in and we boarded. Before Fortaleza, we made a lunch stop in
Sobral, the state’s second biggest city. It was quite a contrast from Ubajara –
it was extremely hot. We quickly ate our lunches at a nearby restaurant and
went back to our bus, reaching Fortaleza around 6 PM… in time for caipirinhas
at Beira-Mar Avenue.