Many years ago I read an article in a Brazilian magazine about the discovery of cave paintings in the remote, arid backlands of northeastern Brazil. (At some point, assuming archaeologists in North and South America come to an agreement about it, these paintings and other findings in the park should push back the date of human settlements in our continent.) Then, in December of 2004, I saw an exhibition in Rio about Brazil's prehistory that featured the magnificent Serra da Capivara National Park, where most of these sites are located. I decided at that time that I had to go see the real thing. A long flight and hundreds of miles of horrendous road later, there I was...never walked and climbed so much in my life. The area is extremely hot and very dry and dusty and, at the end of the day, I was exhausted and wondering about my sanity (with a tall glass of very cold coconut water in my hand)...but the park is worth every step and sore muscle.
These pages are dedicated to the strong and brave women - like the young lady pictured here - that guard the entrances to the park and to the people of the Museum of the American Man Foundation in São Raimundo Nonato, in the state of Piauí, who are succeeding against all odds. By the way, there are photos below of a plaque dedicated to one of the guards, who was killed in 2001 by a hunter (who also happened to be her brother) that she had denounced to the authorities. Threats have also been made against archaeologist Niède Guidon, the 72-year-old professor from São Paulo who directs the foundation, which runs the park (please read our interview with her, she's an incredible, awesome - in more senses than one - woman).
I organized the images on several pages, according to the trails I did. There are many more paintings than these and even older sites that are yet to be open to the public. I hope to go back someday. I also added a photograph of the road (shame on the government, really!) and another of our sturdy, made-in-Brazil, Volkswagen Gol. I don't know how either car or passenger made it in one piece; credit must go to our experienced and competent driver, I suppose. I hope these photographs will entice other people to make the journey. Serra da Capivara is not easy to get to, but it's one of the most amazing places on Earth.
The paintings include animals, trees, beehives, and scenes of rituals, hunting, violence (even torture), sex, birth, etc. They range from 25,000 to 2,000 years ago. The region used to be covered by tropical forests and the paintings are in places where the inhabitants would find shelter, in what Brazilians call "boqueirão" (gully, large cave) and "toca" (small cave, den).
The park is a UNESCO World Heritage site. To get there, you'll probably fly to Petrolina in the state of Pernambuco. Here's a shopping tip: the best souvenirs, including wines produced locally, head to Casa do Vinho, Produtos do Vale do São Francisco, Av. Cardoso de Sá, 393, phone: (87) 3861-8072.
We thank Freeway Ecotourism in São Paulo for their support.
Next page: Serra da Capivara 2.