Jalapćo

I can't remember when the word Jalapão first entered my consciousness, conjuring up images of wild, rugged, untouched nature. I used "conjure" on purpose; the place is magical...Brazil's magical wilderness. This remote region in the north-central state of Tocantins is larger than Maryland and virtually empty of humans (it has fewer than one inhabitant per square kilometer). In fact, it's called a desert for this very reason and not because it looks like the Sahara! On the contrary, as you can see below and on Jalapão 2, it's got plenty of rivers and waterfalls, majestic green mesas, and the typical vegetation of Brazil's central plateau. The only dunes are the result of erosion at the Serra do Espírito Santo and are surrounded by greenery and water (see photos on Jalapão 2).

The Jalapćo gets its name from an abundance of a plant with medicinal uses called jalapa (the one with the purple flowers below). I heard from a local man that "tincture of jalapa" is a sure cure for a hangover...The Jalapćo is also home to the "capim dourado" (golden grass), which is woven into all manners of personal and home accessories. This plant apparently doesn't grow anywhere else in the world; let's hope it continues to be so, since most of the population seems to depend on it for their livelihood. The handbags, baskets, and jewelry pieces have become objects of desire in Brazil and elsewhere and, yes, they do gleam, shine like gold! Contrary to what you might expect, the flower stems are used for the weavings, not the grass blades. We have a few pictures on Jalapćo 2. We were able to photograph a couple of plants, just beginning to grow again (harvest will be around August/September).

The climate is tropical; temperatures vary between 30 to 35 degrees Celsius during the day (that's hot, folks!) and 13 to 20 degrees at night (which means that, depending on the time of year, you'll definitely need warm pajamas). There is a rainy season between December and March and a dry season, with scattered storms, the rest of the year.

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If you are up to driving yourself (in a sturdy 4 x 4 vehicle), remember that you'll travel on dirt or sandy roads and may not encounter another vehicle for hours on end. If you do, be polite and reduce your speed...no one enjoys choking on red dust! (Speaking of that, every piece of clothing you take with you will turn a reddish color.) Take along plenty of water and food, a flashlight with extra batteries, sun screen and mosquito repellent, and a good First Aid kit. We found a company called Korubo Expeditions on the Web and let them do the driving for us...They have safari-style, eco-friendly facilities by a river called Rio Novo, complete with a wonderful cook and delicious food, a knowledgeable guide, and, needless to say, excellent drivers. Not bad for our first "camping" trip! The minimum age for this "camp" is ten, but parents must come along. Korubo will take you on a few memorable walks and climbs; you'll need stamina and strong legs (as I like to say, considering the dust, heat, and mosquitoes, a teeny dose of masochism also comes in handy). At the end of the day, it's all worth it, though! They also have a site dedicated to Jalapão.

Last, but not least, the Jalapćo is made up of a National Park, a State Park, an ecological station, and one area of environmental protection. Some of its animals are endangered species (the hyacinth macaw, for instance) and its ecosystems are very fragile. It's our hope that all visitors will help preserve this magnificent place (and that predatory economic activities, such as large soybean plantations, will continue to be few and far between!). If you're wondering about the cattle photo on Jalapćo 2, we were told that within these protected areas, the landowners were allowed to keep their herds, but not to increase them.

For more images, please visit Jalapćo 2.

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