Vale do Pati, in Brazil’s Chapada Diamantina National Park, is not easy to reach. From Salvador de Bahía airport, it’s an eight-hour, 284-mile bus ride to get to Palmeiras. From there, it’s a one-hour rocky road (one hour being lucky and with a failure-proof Volkswagen van) to cover another 13 miles to Caeté-Açu.
The closer you get to the valley, the slower transportation is – and even though the distances are getting shorter, the time it takes to travel them seems to expand. For the final 12 miles, you have to go on foot and, even at a quick pace, it will take no less than eight hours to reach the Vale do Pati.
Once there, the distance from Europe is not only physical. There’s no wi-fi. There’s no hot water. There’s no meat, and no fridge to keep it in. There’s no base for your bed and no memory foam pillow. There’s no traffic, no amber lights, no horns. There’s no fear of being assaulted, robbed, beaten or shot. There are no cameras, microphones, screens, and no big brother watching you. Nobody asks what your job is, how much you make, what neighbourhood you live in, or who you hang out with. The stock exchange doesn’t rise or fall, and nobody begs on the streets. There’s no news. There are no clocks.
After a few days, you come to learn how our surroundings have shaped both our values, and the way we behave. I don’t think every person can live in Pati – I don’t even think I can live there. The people who live there have had to adapt their characters to their environment. Shopping for food, let’s say, is methodical – you know that four hours on a donkey separate you from your purchases. If it’s the wet season, you can spend days caught up in the valley, just waiting for the rain to stop. And it’s best not to think about the closest hospital.
Little by little, you realise how our development has twisted our relationship with nature. In the city, nature is present only as an ornament or an attraction. But here, nature surrounds you – you become the ornament.