Wednesday, 25 November – Diamantina to Grão Mogol
We said our goodbyes again at the hotel, this time more permanently than on Monday. It was 365 km between Diamantina and Grão Mogol but it was all on paved roads, so not a problem, especially with two drivers. The first part of the journey was the same as last Monday’s and Tuesday’s: head north past Mendanha and Coutes da Maggalhaes, then past the turning to São Gonçalo do Rio Preto, and on until the turning left to Bocaiúva and Monte Claros. Much of the journey was again through Eucalyptus forest as far as the eye could see. In a way, these trees were to be thanked for the excellent roads that we were on. To get the timber from the forest to the processing plants (a large percentage find their way to the paper mill) you need good roads for the lorries.
We made one stop (S1548) as the road crossed the Rio Jequitinhonha and climbed some hundred meters to offer a superb view as the river with its snow white quartz beaches zigzagged its way through the green forest.
I remember Monte Claros as a bit of a nightmare town in ’99, chaotic with traffic, even late on a Saturday afternoon as we were looking for a hotel. This time the impression was much better as they have made a bypass with well signposted roundabouts to help keep the traffic out of town.
The next stretch of road, the BR365 was like a slow moving snake of lorries. This is the main road between Belo Horizonte and Bahia. There were some amazing driving antics as the snake wound itself up and down hill with the speed dictated by the slowest vehicle. That is until there was a stretch suitable (or not) for over taking, when these giants of the road would slowly grind past the slowcoach, sometimes with another lorry overtaking the over taker on the hard shoulder of the lane meant for traffic going the other way!
Once we had left Monte Claros behind, things calmed down a bit, but the quality of the road surface deteriorated dramatically, so that overall, our average speed did dot improve.
Before too long, we reached the turn to MG-307 and 53 km later we arrived at our destination.
But first, we made one more stop, S1549, as we were just in need to stretch our legs and thinking that there were bound to be cacti here, Wrong! We walked off in opposite directions, either side of the road, with our walkie talkies and soon reported to each other that although the presence of quartz would suggest that we would find at least some Discocactus. After 30 minutes we admitted defeat, drove on a few more km., took another look, same result.
As we approached Grão Mogol, we finally had confirmation that we were in cactus country, with Pilosocereus fulvilanatus seen regularly either side of the road. We resisted the temptation of a cactus stop and headed into town. An advert for a new superb looking hotel on a poster at the entrance of town appeared to be a promise of future development that was still work-in-progress!
Once in town, it seemed that time had stood still these last 10 years. The square with the church and the Pousada da Serra where all the cactus greats in the past had stayed were still the same as we left them in 1999. Backeberg, Ritter, Buining, Horst (as well as Bates, Grantham, Klaassen & Machado) would have stayed in these basic quarters and been glad of them.
In 1999 we had a late lunch in what at the time was a recently opened hotel, by the river. It was still there, was clean and cheap but had no wifi. Neither would the Pousada, so we booked into the hotel.
After settling in (top of the house – 3rd floor – no lift – narrow steep stairs) we went for a walk around town and again it was as though nothing had changed for 10 years. Eerie.
Tomorrow we’ll check out the formalities of visiting Discocactus horstii that now has its habitat protected in a public nature reserve. We discovered this in 1999 as this change was introduced in October 1998. Recent information suggests that the protection is being taken a little too far with would be visitors being refused entry. We’ll then explore to find the other unique local cactus flora of this area. We have allowed five nights to stay here or in near by towns to enable us to extend the range of explorations once the D. horstii challenge has been fulfilled.