Our arrival in Lencois, just like our arrivals everywhere, came after some very long bus trips. Finding a place to stay turned out to be more of a challenge than we thought, but it worked out for the best as we ended up camping out back of this fabulous pousada built into the hillside of bedrock. Beautiful! And we paid a mere $12 to have a place to string our hammocks for two nights and eat a buffet style, all-you-can eat breakfast every morning. I think this town might be my new favorite place!
The following morning we went on an absolutely amazing trip full of caves, waterfalls, beautiful swimming holes, majestic canyons, and a hike to a mind-blowing overlook. We even got to go snorkeling in an underground cave! It was so exciting and spooky! It ´s hard to have a favorite part, but I think the last cave we went to, with formations that Jewel/Wind Cave (in the Black Hills) couldn ´t dream of rivaling, had to have been the most diverse part of the day.
Just getting to the cave was beautiful. We started out crossing open farmland, and then descended into a storybook forest with tree trunks that wound and twisted like snakes. It reminded me of Devil ´s Tower in the late fall or early spring when all the trees are bare and everything is sort of eerily quiet and peaceful. Finally the forest thickened, and suddenly we were going down, down, down through a cool jungle of thick foliage full of funnel-shaped spider nests (the non-aggressive kind, our guide assured us). Then entrance to the cave was more than majestic, and all of the formations were mind blowing. The stalactites and stalagmites were hundreds and thousands of years old, and there was even a formation that looked almost exactly like Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone!
The most interesting thing I learned that day had nothing to do with caves, waterfalls, or beautiful scenery, though. The whole area (especially a hundred years ago, but even today some huge fields still remain) is covered in coffee plants. I ´d never seen coffee at it ´s source before, and was surprised to learn that a coffee berry is a red colored fruit (when it ´s ripe) filled with a sweet pulp surrounding two “beans” – almost white in color. The beans are then dried and roasted and ground to make the world ´s favorite cup o ´ joe. Also interesting were the banana tree windbreaks – they work marvelously… and I wonder if they affect the flavor of the coffee?
That night, we indulged in the wonderful, regional street food – acajarÃ©. Acajare is “fritters made from a batter of skinned, purÃ©ed beige beans, ground dried shrimp (which taste more like beef jerky), ginger and onion. They are fried in dende palm oil and typically embellished with a stuffing of vatapa – a puree of dried shrimp, cashews, peanuts, bread, coconut milk, dried malgueta peppers, cilantro, and ginger.” MMMMMMmmmm! And only $.75!
We also had tapioca – which has nothing to do with fish eyes and is not weird at all, as it ´s reputation in the U.S. would have you believe. Tapioca is just the flour made from ground manioc root. It ´s “weird” in the U.S. because it ´s sold in “ball” form… little pea-sized clumps of flower that you add to things like pudding, etc. Here, they just sift some flour into a pan, which congeals into an omlette. Then you pick your filling, sweet or salty (i.e. ham and cheese, coconut and chocolate, banana and cinnamon), and they hand it over for $.50. This place is heaven!
On our last day in Lencois, we slept in a little, indulged again in the wonderful breakfast buffett, and lounged the morning away reading great books. In the afternoon, we finally found a healthy place to eat and had an amazing sandwich with a really simply but fancy side salad that I managed to get the recipe for. Then we went on a three mile hike along a ridge and down into a canyon where there is a gorgeous swimming hole surrounded by amazing rocky cliffs and complete with a 75 foot natural waterslide! We spent the whole afternoon swimming around the pool, working up the nerve to go higher and higher on the slide, and diving off the cliffs. Life just doesn ´t get any better than this!
We returned to the pousada to play cards, drink wine, and eat the fabulous Bahian cheese (locally produced) before meeting another American and taking him to the streets to try the acajarÃ© and the tapioca. Finally, after a refreshing shower and more card games we packed up for the overnight bus back to Salvador. I couldn ´t have asked for better, and I can ´t wait to go back!