The Canyon at Parque Nacional da Serra Geral, Brazil.
Parque Nacional da Serra Geral, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil. At the time it seemed like a good idea to drive our rental car from the polished town of Gramado to the rugged canyon at Serra Geral National park. It was, after all, only 122km to Cambara do Sul, and then another 22 km from there to the Fortaleza canyon. That would only take us two and a half hours we figured. So we let our little VW Gol roll us through the Swiss-inspired villages of Gramado and Canela, then past kilometer after kilometer of cattle farms, as well as a handful of small towns, each one more rustic than the last. When we finally arrived in Cambara, we noticed several signs advertising trekking guides and Landrover rentals. We scoffed at the blatant tourist traps and continued to follow signs towards the national park. At the end of town, the paved road gave way to loose gravel that was flat and even and fairly easy to traverse. I patted our little Gol on the dashboard, commending its fortitude. The VW Gol, by the way, should not be confused with the VW Golf. The Gol is even smaller than the Golf and it built in Brazil for a South American market. After a kilometer or two of fair driving conditions the road quickly deteriorated. Not only was the gravel looser but now pot holes and rocks the size of bowling balls riddled its surface. Our speed decreased to around 13 km per hour. We soon realized what was responsible for (part of) the poor road quality. Down the hill, we saw the first of three blown-out creek crossings. In each case, the water had washed half of the road away leaving just one lane behind, the tire tracks of which had been deeply grooved from the weight of heavy construction vehicles. So when our low bodied Gol attempted to cross the bridge, belly dragging like an overweight dachshund, we slowed to an excruciating pace to avoid bottoming out. At the next crossing, we had the added stress of a half dozen Brazilian construction workers that paused to watch us as we inched right past their feet (they too were positioned on the narrow bridge, beginning reconstruction on the second lane). Determined to see the canyon, and convinced that we had come too far too turn around, we continued straight-ahead….for another two whole hours. When we finally saw the sign for the Parque Nacional da Serra Geral we were filled with enormous relief and immense pride. Our little Gol had done it! Screw those suckers who rented fancy four wheel drive Landrovers. What amateurs! Our celebration and self praise continued all the way up to the parking lot where it abruptly screeched to a halt. What we saw were not Landrovers, Jeeps, Trucks, or anything remotely athletic. Before us, sparkling in the sunny parking lot, lay a fleet of silver Gols. Just…like…ours.
Practical Info: Though it is possible and common to do so, driving a two wheel drive subcompact car is not recommended, especially not when the road to the park is under any kind of construction. Park admission is free and once inside there are a few different hikes of various lengths and difficulty that offer different views of the canyon and surrounding areas. One of the trails actually takes you along the bottom of the ravine, but it is only accessible in certain seasons and it requires a professional guide. For more information on hiring a local guide or jointing a tour group check out Cambara Online (in portuguese). The park is open from 8 am to 5 pm daily, and until 6 pm in summer.