The Caraça's Natural Park
In a branch of the Espinhaço Range, between the municipalities of Catas Altas and Santa Barbara, in Minas Gerais state, is a piece of Paradise. It's Caraça's Natural Park, home to the Caraça's Sanctuary and a Private Reserve of Natural Heritage, 11,233 hectares long, owned by Brazilian Province of the Congregation of the Mission, entity of the Catholic Church.
Here, history, culture, religion and nature blend together in a splendid scenery, amid a park with a vast ecological collection, one of the few parts of Brazil where the Atlantic Forest joins the Cerrado, a transition zone of biosystems.
The region has an extensive variety of plants and animals. Found there are trees like rosewood, mahogany, cedar and lamp, plus more than 200 species of orchids. Among animals, many of them are endangered. Some examples are the maned wolf, the squirrel, falcon and anteater among others. The scenario gets even more beautiful with the presence of peaks, waterfalls, dams and pools scattered throughout the region.
The park holds more than two centuries of history, which began in the Gold Rush period, with the arrival of the religious Brother Lourenço, which builds a chapel, a small Baroque chapel (1775-1779), later demolished for the construction of the neo-Gothic styled Sanctuary (1876-1883), and founded the Brotherhood of Our Lady Mother of Men.
The College of Caraça:
Its history began with the construction of the Sanctuary of Our Lady Mother of Men. Founded in 1820 by Vincentian Brothers Antônio Ferreira Viçosa and Father Leandro Rabelo Peixoto, the College of Caraça has long been a reference in national education. It was known for its rigidity and ability to form a kind of conservative ideal man. The college did not have the goal of training professionals. According to historian Mariza Guerra de Andrade "its value must be understood by its preparatory dimension to the public life - it was to educate those who were not like everyone, but a few, hence its socially selective character." Among the most illustrious who passed through are: Affonso Pena, Artur Bernardes (formers Presidents of the First Republic) and others. The classes lasted from 1820 to 1912. On 28 May 1969 there was a fire at the College of Caraça in the building occupied by students, destroyed part of the buildings among them the library with over 20,000 volumes, classrooms, office and theater.
The Caraça's Sanctuary:
The complex of the Sanctuary of Nossa Senhora Mae dos Homens (Our Lady Mother of Men) and former eighteenth century college form an architectural set of inestimable historical and cultural value. Built in neo-Gothic style, the Sanctuary is a jewel encrusted in Serrra do Caraça with its warheads and tall columns, altars, windows, stained glass and rose windows, besides religious works of art and the famous Last Supper of Mestre Ataide.
Even though it was done in French architectural style, the church was built without any slave labor and all material were regional: soapstone (taken from near the Cascatona), marble (from near Mariana and Itabirito) and quartzite (the Caraça region and neighborhood), put together with a product lime based, mixed with rock dust and oil.
So, the first neo-Gothic church in Brazil was built up: all of it designed, engineered and built by a Priest of the Mission in the Serra do Caraça.
General view of the Sanctuary complex.
The neo-Gothic cathedral
The frontispiece of the cathedral
French stained glass
The Cathedral interior with its warheads and tall columns.
Another view of the complex.
Maned Wolf, one of the attractions of the park.
The Caraça's Natural Park
For fans of climbing, the Serra do Caraça has seven peaks: Pico do Sol (the highest of the Espinhaço Range, 2072m), Inficionado Peak (2068m), the Carapuça Peak (1955m), Canjerana Peak (1890m), Pico da Conceição (1800m), Three Brothers Peak (1675m) and Verruguinha Peak (1650m). It is good to notice that in order to overcome the natural obstacles of these trails, which undermine the resistance the one who dares to climb them, you must have good fitness, good motor coordination and be accompanied by guides registered in the Park.
Pico do Sol (Sun Peak):
The start of the walk to the Pico do Sol is smooth: there are 2 km to the Cascatinha waterfall, one of the pearls of Caraça. The climb starts there, exactly where the monitoring of the guides began to be essential and where the guides themselves begin to better observe and evaluate the physical conditions and skill of the people.
Crossing the creek at the top of Cascatinha, no one avoid stoping to enjoy the view from this viewpoint, with its pools reflecting the blue sky against the waterfall. It is just fascinating!
After crossing a forest and a small plateau, the more demanding climb starts. As you will overcome rocky obstacles, the degree of difficulty increases until it reaches another plateau, a great vantage point, the gateway to the Peak valley. Then the climb becomes softer, but the valley is long. Here you walk by the creek bedrock that exists there, enjoying its rapids and pools, there through the banks that draw their sinuous beauty.
Even with the physical fatigue due to the long journey and the difficulties of the trail, the lush beauty of the valley spurs and encourages us to continue. At the end of the valley, a shelter in a shell form, stop to rest, replenish their canteens and prepare for the last step, the final attack.
Again a steep climb and soon it reaches the top of the majestic Pico do Sol, the summit of the Espinhaço, after traveling at least 10 km. A mix of personal and transcendent vision permeates and envelops those who come there. "
All trails leading to Inficionado Peak cross the natural mosaic characteristic of transition areas of the Atlantic Forest to the Cerrado, interspersed by Altitude Fields and the Rupestrian Fields.
It is 5 km to the base of Peak. At the beginning the climb is steep and strong, requiring great effort and the use of hands to overcome the obstacles. This only reinforces the requirement that this path is always done with tracking by the Caraça Registered Guides. After this stage, the climb is less stressful, going through several plateaus that allow us to observe the beautiful scenery and relax before the final attack.
The last phase is also rising sharply, going through a stone slab very tilted. The effort is great, but the arrival is a sideshow. After at least 9 miles, you arrive at the summit of Inficionado. A giant sculpture!
The Inficionado is an unusual peak, cut by deep fissures in almost every direction, forming an unique landscape of indescribable beauty. Moreover, there is the biggest quartzite gap in the world: the Centenario Cave.
Really, only one word comes close to its definition: surreal! "
Cascatinha (Small waterfall):
The Cascatinha, formed by four waterfalls and 4 pools, located 2 km from the Sanctuary, is a trail easily accessible. Measuring 40 m, its headwater come from above the falls, where they come bouncing down the slope and the rocks. Its waters, pure and sparkling, have a yellow coloured aspect that increases in intensity in the rainy season, due to organic materials that descend from the hills.
Cascatona (Big waterfall):
The 6 km trail that leads to the Cascatona is all done through the Atlantic Forest, considerably dense due to the trees and paths not always very easy to be crossed, especially in the rainy season. The track turns narrowed several times and it requires a greater effort in the most rugged and steep parts. Reaching the Cascatona, visitors can go to the Oratory, where you have a beautiful panoramic view, and also going down to the wells of the waterfall for a shower or a dip in its icy waters. To get there you must go down by the stones, through a very steep and craggy way.
The deepest quartzit cavern of the world.
The beginnings of Brazilian caving in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries confused themselves with the history of Caraça. The reports of two European naturalists, Spix and Martius are from this time (1818), who cited the existence of several slits in Sierra Caraça: "Resounds the mountain at different points at the noise of groundwater flowing between cracks and stone flaws, and finally appear below as fresh springs. "(Spix and Martius, 1838). It is not frivolous to think that they referred to the "Cave of Inficcionado."
Since the nineteenth century the caves of Inficionado Peak were known. Researchers and naturalists who visited the region at that time already cited the existence of underground rivers. However, the earliest records caving occurred only in 1952, when the priests of the College of Caraça made a rough topography of the Centenario Cave.
The Cave is 3790 meters long and it has a vertical drop of 481 meters and multiple entries, almost always in the form of abisms. The altitudes of these entries range from 2051 meters in the upper entrance, 1958 meters in the main entrance to 1881 meters in the abyss of Inficcionado.
Due to its hard access ,complexity and the danger involved, the Centenario Cave is not part of the Park official attractions to be visited. Not even the Registered Guides get access there.
The Bocaina is located between Inficionado Peak and the Caraça (Caraça, big face in Portuguese, here meaning the giant shaped face on the mountain). It is a large canyon in the foothills of the Espinhaço. It is proper to say that the Bocaina itself named the Caraça as it is. In Tupi-Guarani, Caraça means gorge or, as we say today, bocaina, a great depression located in a saw. Two different and complementary meanings for Caraça. Its trail measures 5 km in average and you go there by taking the path of Cascatinha in the parking lot for visitors. Once on track, you take up right at the third entrance, cross the river and continue up ahead, always toward the Giant's throat, which is in profile, lying there in the Espinhaço. When you come through the trail at Stone of Patience, a rocky outcrop, you continue forward, down to its base, following the indicative arrows, painted on the rock until the Bocaina. Besides the beauty of the mountains and fields, Bocaina offers a series of waterfalls, natural pools and streams for rest and leisure.
Laying Giang in profile
It seems an adventure in the remote past when entering the Bocaina Valley, thousands of years ago. A primitive landscape. Just at the beginning of the valley, the amazing view of the waterfall reveals one of the hidden beauties of the canyon. The Cave is located about 1 km, climbing the rocky bed of the river. The valley is lovely and every bend in the river will be unveiling new landscapes. Just before the cave there is a "minicanyon" where the stop is mandatory to admire and photograph while sitting on the edge of a negative cliff. Five minutes walk above is the Cave. You must use flashlight to enter. The first hall is large and you notice the presence of a river inside, which incidentally runs nearly the entire length of the cave. Continuing down a narrow corridor, which will be funneled to fit just one person, gets to the second hall, where there is a small waterfall. To try and absorb the energy of the place is essentially to turn off the flashlights, listening to the sound of the water, feel the microclimate environment and meditate. A truly unforgettable ride! "
Campo de Fora (Outside Field):
The trail to Campo de Fora begins just after the Casa da Ponte (Bridge House), entering on the left. it is a 7 km walk. Campo de Fora has a great beauty, especially its vegetation, its topography and its waterfalls, which can only be achieved when monitored by the Caraça Registered Guides due to distance and the difficulties of access.