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Remember the Rainforest 1

 

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meadow by this low mountain range. The inhabitants of this small settlement, made up of a few rows of low huts, all of mud, are, like the Sertão's sons, badly famed for their banditry, and did not seem to possess the fine virtue of their neighbors' hospitality; We were glad to find shelter under the cover of the market until the lovely priest invited us to his home. Formigas deals with the products of the sertao: cattle and horses, oxhides, tapirs and deer, these last raw cuts, bacon, but mainly saltpeter, extracted in large amount from caves, existing in the nearby calcium mines. These caves were also of great interest to us, because they must contain bones of huge unknown animals, which we had often talked about in the wilderness.

 

In the Formigas district, there are many saltpeter caves: the Lagoinha River limestone, the Mirellis limestone (1) in Ribeirao Pacui, from which 4,000 saltpeter arrobas were extracted; Cedro, Buriti, Boqueirao, etc. But the most important one, however, seemed to us to be Lapa Grande, because there were found such bones of primitive animals. This is located a league and a half west of the village, in the so-called Serra do Vicente or Headlands of Rio dos Bois. These hills rise, at most, to about 450 feet above Formigas, and consist of three rows of mountains, separated by shallow valleys. We took the first of this series. The path led us to a small catinga, with a thicket of trees, among which the jabuticaba trees (Mirtaceas) were just loaded with tasty fruits.

Myrtaceae family, Jabuticaba flower

Jabuticaba fruit

We climbed ever higher, and after we had climbed a steep hill we found ourselves in front of a massive limestone stone, in the middle of which a black cave entrance opened wide. The same sensation, mixed with horror and curiosity, that we had experienced at the entrance of our wonderful caves in Germany, was here duplicated by the strangeness of the environment and the eagerness to discover in these mysterious bowels extraordinary breeds of extinct animals. Instead of ivy, which carpets the rocks in Germany, here there are tall and thorny Cissus; Instead of the thickets of elderberries, wild jasmine, and honeysuckle, they were surrounded by rows of huge cactus trunks; burning

Solanum amazonium

Jatropha, thorny Solanaceas, thicket of Alcaparreiras and Gardenias narrowed

Alcaparreiras, or Capparis flowers

the entrance from which came a nasty stream of colder air. The mouth of the cave was 70 feet high and 80 wide, and the dreadful blackness of the bottom was further accentuated by stalactites and

(I) We do not know if Mirellis is there instead of Meirelles or Mirales, for the author of the "Military History of Brazil"; D. Jose de Mirales, born in Spain in 1686 and died in Bahia in 1770, Portuguese naturalized, took part in inland expeditions in search of saltpeter deposits. (Rev. Note, Inst. Hist. And Geogr. Bras.).

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