Sunday, December 16, 2007

A place to dream about: Itatiaia National Park, Brazil

In southeastern Brazil, not far from Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, is a beautiful national Park, called Itatiaia. The park includes rainforest on the side of the mountain range, all the way up to the alpine shrub land and bare peaks. I visited this place in 2005 on a gorgeous spring day.

"This is the birthplace of mountain climbing in Brazil. In 1856 Franklin Massena was the first climber to reach the top of Pico das Agulhas Negras. Standing 2,878 meters above sea level, it that was for decades mistakenly considered the highest mountain in the country." (link)
Pico das Agulhas Negras means Peak of the Black Needles, and this giant rock really looks like its name. Millions of years of erosion has carved out deep furrows in the rock. This is in the tropical part of Brazil, but it is so high up you can get snow storms up here.

There are many trails, like this one, but they are not well-marked and not that well-maintained. We walked over this bridge and nobody got hurt, but I was happy that it was only a meter or two down to the soggy ground below, not a few hundred feet deep over a big river gorge.
The plants you see are mostly a small shrubby bamboo species. It was a strange feeling walking around in this alpine area with bamboos around you. Very different from Scandinavian mountain flora, but still similar!

This is a flowering bladder wort (Utricularia). On its leaves at the base of the plants it has little bladders that it catches insects and other small animals in, so it is carnivorous. The flowers were maybe 2 cm across. Grassy leaves, pretty nice! It might not be grass, because in the tropics there are many other monocot plant families that look like grass but are not.
Mosses, liverworts, lichens and micro plants love the wet ground. This is a Lobelia, a plant related to blue bells (Campanula). The long red flowers are pollinated by hummingbirds, and this plant grew along the road up to the peak, in the rain forest. On the way down from the National Park we passed this road stand with preserves made from local fruits. There were hundreds of kinds. The bags in the front contain limes and a local kind of pine nuts, Araucaria nuts, that are very tasty when boiled.
From our hotel that evening, looking up towards the Itatiaia peaks...

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