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Originally published Sunday, November 23, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Travel essay

Brazil's interior life outside the ordinary

Mauricio pushes me off the platform at the edge of the cliff. Instead of plunging to the ground, I "fly" above the tree tops more than 260...

Special to The Seattle Times

Mauricio pushes me off the platform at the edge of the cliff. Instead of plunging to the ground, I "fly" above the tree tops more than 260 feet below, directly into the sunset. I've never felt this much air — air all around me.

When I look down, I see cattle grazing, golden fields and leaves at the tops of the trees swaying in the breeze.

I am on one of the longest zip lines in the world. It's more than half a mile and takes almost two-and-a-half minutes to reach the platform across the valley.

My husband is speaking at a conference in São Paolo, Brazil, and I am along for the ride. We decided to take a short vacation before the conference, forsaking the more familiar destinations to explore Chapada dos Veadeiros in the interior of Brazil.

The Chapada (literally, a plateau) features miles and miles of stark, arid savannah, cut through by a labyrinth of narrow canyons, roaring waterfalls and rushing rivers cascading over rock from one swimming hole to another.

These high plains, called the Cerrado, are where we spend the next eight days, walking through tall grass, climbing over rocks and boulders into canyons, marveling at the waterfalls, diving off low cliffs and swimming in clear, brisk waters.

The hiking is sometimes easy, sometimes not so easy, especially when the trails are steep, rocky and long. Our destination is always a waterfall and pool, usually multiples of both.

We see birds — macaws, toucans, hummingbirds, a spectacled owl, a king vulture, and others and some monkeys and lots of lizards. We eat in local restaurants and sleep in comfortable posadas (guesthouses).

One day we hike into the Vale da Lua (Valley of the Moon) where the river pours over smooth rocks formed from ancient lava flows. The effect is much like a natural water park with water slides, pools, plunges and cascades we could stand under for a Brazilian version of a hydro-massage. My husband calls it a water park on steroids.

Another excursion features a 12-mile trek through the savannah. Our destination is Moinho, little more than a cluster of farms growing corn, manioc and wheat.

We spend the night in tents at a farmhouse where Dona Leonia, a spirited woman of 80-some years, hosts us with plates of chicken, beef, pumpkin, and beets for what is surely one of the best home-cooked meals in Brazil. At night we sit around a campfire, admiring the stars in a Montana-vast sky.

The next day, well-fortified by a generous breakfast, including Dona Leonia's jams and cheeses, we hike 12 miles to Alto Paraiso, a new-age haven where a rich vein of crystals just below ground have attracted aging hippies, healers, massage therapists, and practitioners of alternative religions.

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We spend one day on an adventure circuit, which includes the zip line as well as a canopy "walk" more like an obstacle course with swinging stirrups and trapezes for footholds leading from tree top to tree top — and a long rappel down a 150-foot cliff through a waterfall, ending in a pool of cool water.

We pass on that one.

Katherine Braun Mankin lives in Seattle.

The Travel Essay, written by readers about an adventure or insight, runs each Sunday in The Seattle Times and also online at seattletimes.com. Essays, which are unpaid, must be no longer than 600 words and will be edited for content and length. E-mail to travel@seattletimes.com or send to Travel, The Essay, The Seattle Times, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111. Because of the volume of submissions, individual replies are not always possible.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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