By Lindenberg Junior
From the wishes and hard work of two men, Pedro Comércio, a topographer, and José Guimarães Passos, an engineer, emerged the wonderful and necessary idea of the PETAR – the Alto Ribeira State Park. As environmentalists, they would not allow such beauty to be obliterated in the name of progress.
In May 1958, the São Paulo governor Janio Quadros, signed a decree that would preserve the last strip of the Atlantic Forest, which still remains protected the present time. Sheltered by a forest know for having the greatest biodiversity on the planet, a precious treasure was found underneath; hundreds of breathtaking caves. Through thousands of years, the waters shaped what is today Brazil’s largest speleological in terms of numbers of caves. A work which, strange as it may be seen starts not in the earth, nut in the skies with the falling rain.
Nowadays, the most beautiful underground treasures are formed: walls with ornamentals ceilings, stalactites, stalagmites, curtains, flowers, pearl gardens, travertine, and crystals. It is an ageless dangling of droplets. A slow and meticulous crystallization which takes forms and shapes water turning to stone and casting a spell on whoever who see it.
However, 250 million years ago, there were no forests or caves in this region. Only the salt waters and the microorganisms of an ancient inland sea, when the world only just begun to form. Constantly changing, the earth would undergo countless changes for eons: the splitting of the continent, uprisings, volcanic eruptions, etc. It was also as a result of the earth’s internal turmoil that the region where PETAR stands, that the ocean floor began to rise to the heights of its white lime mountains, and little by little, the luscious green, humid Atlantic Rainforest began to grow.
The soil in the Alto da Ribeira is no suitable for farming or cattle rising. Its rugged landscape has also prevented any human settlement, and this has served to protect the Alto da Ribeira. It remains the largest of Atlantic Rainforest (35.000 square kilometers) in Brazil.
If the sea has a chapter about its most significant geological changes, in recent years it would have to the rivers. Beating, persisting, penetrating and digging, the river water seeps through the rock into the mountain world. From a distance, one would hardly suspect that the outer grandeur and solidity of the mountains has in fact been undermined and hollowed out by the rivers. The earth’s womb at PETAR today is moist, deeply rooted and carved, sculpted with dark caves, which speleologists (one who studies and explores caves) have passionately studied.
There are more than 300 caverns; the two most important and largest is the “Santana” and the “Devil’s” (in the State Park of Jacupiranga). Both caves are constantly investigated to find new passage ways and treasures, in a sort of competition to establish which is the largest and richest. The “Dirt Water” is a cavern with a beautiful entrance (4 meters high and 7 meters in length), the biggest obstacles, and is on the side of the Betari River.
The Park is divided in two principal areas for visitation, the known as Santana (south of the park) and the Caboclos (north of the Park). From these two centers begin the visitor trails, where visitors can be taken for a tour with guide or park employees.
The region also offers many options for eco-tourism activities and radical sports, as well interesting points of cultural heritage, as the Historic Center of Iporanga, numerous archeological sites, ruins with gold mineral deposits, and the beautiful folkloric ceramic Apiaí. Also there is important religious manifestation, like the Fiesta of the Divine Spirit Santo, and the fluvial procession of the Nossa Senhora do Livramento, where the image of the saint is place on a boat and it sails 8km down the Ribeira River to the city of Iporagy. Recommended spot to stop by, especially if you like adventure and mystery!