Monte Alegre: beauty, history and mysteries in the Amazon

State Park in the city dates back to the millenary presence of peoples residing in the region

Ândria Almeida, from Santarém | Translated by Silvia Benchimol and Ewerton Branco (ETMulti/UFPA)

The Parque Estadual de Monte Alegre [Monte Alegre State Park] (Pema) is an open-air museum, where one can find cave paintings, trails and fascinating natural beauties. Located in western Pará, the region is home to some of the oldest records of human occupation in the Americas. With strong tourist attractions, the area brings together 5,800 hectares of pure millenary history, with 30 cataloged archaeological sites. Out of these, nine are open to the public: access to Pema is by four-wheel drive vehicles and motorcycles. Visitors are always accompanied by a guide.




In the archaeological sites there are paintings experts estimate date back 12,000 years – a  fact involved by a lot of mysteries, curiosities and studies about the peoples who have inhabited the region long before the official arrival of the Portuguese settlers in Brazil, in the year 1500.  Professor Arenildo Silva, master in Anthropology and Archeology, believes the cave paintings found in Pema date back to the human past in the Amazon, but they are registers that have become enigmas challenging the archaeological science. We are still struggling to unravel the meanings of the records left on the stones. “It is a starting point for us to know how these peoples who inhabited our region used to live. And it is difficult for you to determine precisely which people were here”, he says.

Arenildo Silva explains that, when the Europeans arrived in Pará, they registered some ethnic groups that lived in Monte Alegre at that time, such as the Gurupatuba, Carabocas, Bubuizes, Mariaus and Serranos. However, these peoples residing in the region no longer could explain the meanings of the paintings. “They were prehistoric. A research by the American archaeologist Anna Roosevelt pointed out that the deepest layer, where painting remains were found on the cave walls, date back approximately 12,000 years”, points out the expert.

How to arrive at Pema

If you are in Santarém, a municipality located in Western Pará, and intend to visit the park, it is necessary to take a boat departing from the city. The trip takes about 1h20 and the ticket price varies between R$13 Reais (ferry) and R$30 Reais (speedboat). In this first stage, the boat takes the tourist to the Santana do Tapará community, which is still part of the municipality of Santarém.

Then, it takes another hour on PA-255 road to get to the city of Monte Alegre. The stretch can be done by collective vans which are usually waiting for passengers at the time of arrival of the speedboats and ferries. The trip costs R$ 35 Reais for the passenger to be dropped at the door of the lodging place. The road is in good conditions, however, the side road that gives access to the park is pretty bumpy and has several points of flooding.

Different peoples occupied the region

Professor Arenildo recalls that the study carried out by the American researcher and based on excavations, has already identified the site was occupied by several groups. “Probably, the first paintings were made by a specific group. The findings in the excavations also indicate that the region remained uninhabited for a long time, being later occupied by another group, who also left part of their history portrayed in the rock panels”, explains Silva.

(Ândria Almeida / O Liberal)

To support these findings, the excavations have taken the paintings variation of shades  as scientific indicators, a technique that, according to Arenildo Silva, all the civilizations that inhabited the place were familiar with. Studies also show that these practices have a certain synergy with the culture of the indigenous peoples of the Amazon, as they also made paintings in gourds, for example.

Serra da Lua is one of the most visited archaeological sites

(Ândria Almeida / O Liberal)

The Parque Estadual de Monte Alegre [Monte Alegre State Park] (Pema) receives an average of 400 visitors per month, according to the place management division. Mazinho da Silva – geographer and guide of Pema – says that the Serra da Lua area is one of the most outstanding visiting points. The cave paintings found at this archaeological site are spread over 350 meters and 41 panels. The place received such name due to the various figures in circular shapes painted in the area.

To access Serra da Lua site, it is necessary to climb 150 meters along a rocky trail – the ascent is backed by a handrail which helps hikers on their journey. The walk can be carried out with up to 10 people and lasts about 20 minutes, depending on the heat and the physical condition of the visitor.

Veja o mapa da Serra da Lua:

To withstand the climb, it is recommended to wear light clothes, such as leggings and blouses with sun protection, and hats. It is also important to have a light and nutritious diet before the hike. For those who might need to buy provisions for the adventure, the commercial center of the city has good options of varied supplies, at all prices and sizes. Another important tip for the expedition is to always take a bottle of water to get hydrated and light snacks, because the place does not have these two essential items.

Casa Rochosa de Deus and its mild weather

(Ândria Almeida / O Liberal)

The Itatupaoca grotto is another visiting spot that draws the attention of tourists. The name refers to a term that means “God’s rocky house” or “stone church” in tupi-guarani language. The site is one of the largest ones in the park, located at the South hillside of Serra do Ererê [Ererê Mountain], at an altitude of approximately 120 meters.

By arriving at the cave, the climate changes, becoming extremely pleasant. That's because the roof of the cave continuously drops rainwater accumulated during the winter. In the outdoor area, some paintings in three different colors can be seen more clearly in the summer period, as the humidity turns the colors almost imperceptible.

Pilão: nature carved by nature

(Ândria Almeida / O Liberal)

At 175 meters above the Amazon River level, Pedra do Pilão [a large rock shaped like a pestle tool] has a breathtaking panoramic viewpoint, being a natural monument sculpted by nature. The site became the most visited spot in Pema, considered the symbol of the city of Monte Alegre. Mazinho da Silva explains that, for being the most visited spot, Pedra do Pilão has already suffered some damage in its paintings.

Leaving Pedra do Pilão and going a little further along the trail, it is possible to reach Painel do Pilão [Pilão Panel], which according to the guide, is the site with the most paintings grouped throughout the park. The route from this point is made by a trail inside the forest, all protected by the shadows of the trees. In the Panel, the figures drawn along the rock wall enhance the mysteries about their meanings. One of them reminds a calendar, another one is completely enigmatic, showing lightning bolts and a figure that shoes an expression but no body.

Veja o mapa da Pedra do Pilão:

It’s recommended that the visitor walk slowly not to get too tired along the tour. On the trail, it is possible to appreciate rocks, some of them are a little far from each other, and, in certain parts, it is almost necessary to climb to complete the route. Caves and shelters are also found along the way, places where you can sit and rest for a few minutes. Many of them, according to experts, were inhabited for hundreds of years.

Entrance to the park with a guide only

To visit Pema, it is mandatory to have a guide. Hiring one costs R$ 30 Reais per tourist site visited – the amount does not include transportation to the park. There are two options for transportation vehicles within Pema: four-wheel drive car or motorcycle.

Monte Alegre State Park (Pema) is a Conservation Unit in the State of Pará, managed by the Instituto de Desenvolvimento Florestal e da Biodiversidade (Ideflor-Bio) [Institute for Forestry Development and Biodiversity].

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