Rio Sao Francisco Attractions
Rio São FranciscoPernambuco, Alagoas and SergipeLength: 2900km/1800mi.The riverThe Rio São Francisco, popularly known as "Velho Chico" ("Old Fellow"), has the largest catchment area of any Brazilian river (640,000sq.km/247,000sq.mi). It rises in the Serra da Canastra National Park (Minas Gerais) at an altitude of 1500m/4920ft and has a course of 3161km/1964mi before flowing into the Atlantic.
Between Sobradinho (where there is the Sobradinho Dam) and Paulo Afonso it forms a natural boundary between Bahia and Pernambuco; thereafter it flows for some 20km/12.4mi between Bahia and Alagoas; and finally it forms the boundary between Alagoas and Sergipe. The estuary of the Rio São Francisco was known to Europeans as early as 1501, and from there great herds of cattle were later driven up the valley into the arid regions of Piauí, negotiating on the way, with great difficulty, the 80m/260ft high falls of Paulo Afonso.EcologyThe Paulo Afonso hydro-electric station (1955), like the one at Sobradinho, farther upstream, is a textbook example of a development policy conceived only in quantitative terms. The only real beneficiaries of such schemes for the generation of power are the large industrial installations in north-eastern Brazil: in the immediate neighborhood of these projects living conditions and the ecological situation have deteriorated substantially.The river is navigable for some 1400km/870mi. The most scenically attractive stretches are the lower course of the river downstream from Paulo Afonso and the 230km/145mi between Pirapora and São Francisco (both in Minas Gerais). On both of these sections there are organized river cruises for tourists.
Bom Jesus da Lapa, Brazil
Bom Jesus da LapaSome 400km/250mi downstream from Pirapora and 170km/105mi from São Francisco small boats cross the border into Bahia and take visitors to Bom Jesus da Lapa (pop. 95,000), the religious center of the region. On August 6th, the Festa do Bom Jesus, thousands of pilgrims flock to the cave sanctuary and the nearby caves of Nossa Senhora da Piedade, Resurreição, Santa Luzia, São João Batista and São Francisco. On the last Sunday in January there is the procession of the Senhor dos Navegantes on the river; and throughout the year richly decorated calabashes can be seen floating down the river, bearing gifts to Bom Jesus, the good Child Jesus.
Xique-XiqueAfter Bom Jesus da Lapa the most important place in the region is Xique-Xique (pop. 60,000), on the east side of the lake formed by the Sobradinho Dam, which is linked with Feira da Santana by BA 052. Boat trips on the Rio São Francisco; fishing trips.
JuazeiroAt the far end of the lake are the border towns of Petrolina (Pernambuco) and Juazeiro (Bahia), rather similar in character and with roughly the same population of around 150,000. They are known as the "capitais do sertão" (capitals of the arid sertão region), since their sphere of influence extends far into the interior of Piauí, Ceará, Pernambuco and Alagoas. In Juazeiro is the Regional Museum of the Rio São Francisco, with exhibits illustrating the history of shipping, ships' figureheads, fossils and specimens of now extinct fishes formerly found in the Rio São Francisco.
PetrolinaIn Petrolina is the Sertão Museum, with a collection which includes equipment of the cangaceiros (the bandits of north-eastern Brazil), weapons and sacred objects.From both Juazeiro and Petrolina there are trips on the river, for example to the Ilha do Rodeador (20km/12.4mi) and to various waterfalls.
Paulo Afonso, Brazil
Paulo AfonsoThe town of Paulo Afonso, 471km/293mi north of Salvador (on BR 110), lies at the point where the three states of Bahia, Pernambuco and Alagoas meet. Here visitors can buy local craft products such as the carrancas, the wooden figureheads (half man, half animal) designed to protect boats on the Rio São Francisco from the evil spirits of the river. The town's main attraction, however, is the Paulo Afonso hydro-electric station, with the large artificial lake which powers it and the Luiz Gonzaga (Moxotó) and Apolonio Sales substations.Some 100km/65mi downstream is the Itaparica Dam. 12km/7.5mi away, on the road to Nova Glória, is the spa of Canto das Aguas.