By Marilyn Diggs
Moonlight changes everything. I had ridden all over the expansive grassy knolls during the day. Certain privileged views of the Pirahy Ranch and coffee plantation were only to be seen seated in a saddle – like its colonial house almost lost in a 170-acre green ocean. The dry savanna is speckled with lush dark forest islands and odd boulders whose geographical origin is still a mystery to locals. By moonlight, the sun-kissed terrain changes completely, and traveling it at night on horseback only enhanced my appreciation for rural tourism. I’d come to the dude ranch specifically for this experience – a ritual that takes place only once a month, under the full moon.

Brazil: Happy Moonlit Trails To You

Horses in the Corral

When I arrived there in the early evening, a warm lantern light radiated from the open- sided ranch house on the hill, near the stables. Three senior ranch hands, sons of the pioneers, strummed songs of hillbillies lamenting their move to the big city, she-done-me-wrong ballads and the lonely life on the cattle trail – songs as old as the hills. After sunset, as we zipped our light jackets up to the neckline, a round of sugar cane moonshine (cachaa), and piping hot bean soup were passed around in small ceramic cups. Then, one by one, we twelve riders made our way down the hill to the corral to be paired up, according to our skill, with a suitable four-legged partner. Riders were anxious to begin the adventure. Experienced hired hands led the way. The horses fell into line and began meandering along the moonlit trail. As the soulful voices of the cowhands faded into the distance, so did the ranch house’s pale yellow light, while the terrain took on nuances of silver, pale blue and indigo.

Above us, a cratered full moon illuminated well-trodden paths only visible after city eyes adjusted to unfamiliar landscape. The polite chatting dwindled as each rider was overtaken by the night’s magnificence. Imaginations roamed. We were trailblazers (bandeirantes) plotting unknown territories in search of gold and emeralds. We were runaway slaves traveling by night.

Brazil: Happy Moonlit Trails To You

Fazenda Pirahy

When vision is limited the other senses take over. Owl hoots and flapping wings. Bats? Hope not. Scamperings in the underbrush. Leaves quake and grass swishes. Clip-clops on stony paths. Soft thuds on sandy dirt. Occasional far-off neighs. Odor of trees overlooked during the day:sweet smells, woody smells. Nostrils alive with chilly air. I’m glad I wore my gloves. Musty horses. Old ripe leather. Water laps against lake banks. Frog serenades. Tilt forward – the horse is climbing. Crickets chirp. We reach the crest and stop. City lights far, far away – a shimmering pool of diamonds. The trail slopes – lean back. A howl. Wolves? Our hips swaying with the horses ambling gate… a rock-a-bye. Wet snorts from tamed steeds. Riders wind their way through hill country, shallow lakes and woods for an hour or so. It is over too soon.

Horses quickened their pace as they approached the stables. In the daytime I would have let my horse return, full speed. But nightriders must be cautious… only a lively canter as we entered the home stretch. A speck of light grew to wash the knoll where the ranch house perched. We dismounted and climbed up (some with more difficulty than others) to the mess hall.

Friendly conversations waxed and waned while the enthusiastic serenaders still sang (as much for their own entertainment as for the guests.) Now other smells teased our nostrils – the backland’s home cooking over a wood-burning stove: shredded dried meat with manioc flour and baked pumpkin. The warm dinner and music ended a perfect night.

Brazil: Happy Moonlit Trails To You

Our Group in Pirahy

ASIDE: Travel agencies are calling it “rural tourism” and it is really catching on. Whether you are a history buff, a nature lover, need to relax, are after some quality family time, or all of the above, heading for the hills is an attractive option. Several fazendas (ranches) offer night trail rides. Fazenda Pirahy, only one hour from São Paulo, is near It. Visit: João at (11) 9607-7483 or (11) 4022-5311.

Marilyn Diggs is an American living in Brazil for over twenty years. She is a freelance writer, artist, lecturer and author of nine books – two about Brazilian art history. As an art reporter and travel writer she has two monthly columns in Sunday News, Brazil’s English language newspaper that circulates in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia. She has written for the Miami Herald and Museum International, a UNESCO publication. Marilyn has a degree in Latin American Studies and is often contracted by intercultural training services to give talks on expat challenges.

Previous articles by Marilyn:

Brazil: Paradise Found – Fernando de Noronha
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