The South American route of indigenous trails of thousands of kilometers, which connected the Atlantic with the Pacific, considered by some legends as a reflection in the Land of the Milky Way, comes to light again thanks to a series of tourism projects.
As I left Peabirú, a sleepy town, leftover fruit, including guavas, stuck to the soles of my boots in a sweet, fermented mixture.
He had traveled to the Brazilian state of Paraná, not far from the border with Paraguay, in search of the remains of the Camino de Peabirú, a network of 4,000 km of walking trails connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceansbuilt over millennia by the indigenous peoples of South America.
The Camino de Peabirú was a spiritual path for the Guarani natives in search of a mythological paradise.
It also became a route of wealth for European invaders seeking access to the interior of the continent.
However, most of the original paths have disappeared, absorbed by nature or transformed over the centuries into roads.
Only in recent years has this enigmatic route begun to reveal its mysteries to more and more people, thanks to a growing network of new tourist trails.
An enigmatic road wrapped in legend
It’s easy to understand why this intercontinental trail quickly sparks people’s imaginations.
Just think of the story of the first known European to walk all the way from one ocean to the other. It’s about the Portuguese sailor Alex Garcia.
García was shipwrecked in 1516 on the coast of southern Brazil after a Spanish mission to navigate the Río de la Plata failed. After the shipwreck, García and half a dozen other sailors were taken in by the friendly Guarani.
Eight years later, after hearing the stories of the Guarani about a road that led to an empire in the mountains rich in gold and silver, García traveled with 2,000 Guarani warriors to the Andesalmost 3,000 km away.
According to the Brazilian researcher Rosana Bond in her e-book “A Saga de Aleixo Garcia”, the Portuguese sailor became the first known European to visit the Inca empire, in 1524, almost a decade before the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro, from whom he it is believed that he was the one who made that “discovery”.
Although it connected with the well-visited Inca and pre-Inca road network through the Andes, the Camino de Peabirú has few visible remains.
This lack of physical evidence has led not only to divergent theories in academic circles about who created it and when, but also to wild speculation as to whether it was created by Vikings or Sumerians, or even by Thomas the Apostle on an evangelizing mission from India. .
Some theories place the route around the year 400 or 500 of the Christian era. Others suggest that it dates back to 10,000 years ago, to the time of the Paleoamericans.
“The Camino de Peabirú was the most important transcontinental highway in pre-Columbian America. It connected peoples, territories, and oceans,” says Dr. Claudia Parellada, a Brazilian archaeologist who has published several academic papers on the subject and is coordinator of the archeology department of the Museo Paranaense de Curitiba, in southern Brazil, where many of the remains of the archaeological excavations along the route.
Theories diverge not only about when it was created, but also about the exact route. “There will always be hypotheses,” explains Parellada. “The truth about the entire Peabirú route is difficult to know, because it changed over time.”
The name and legend, at least, live on in Peabirú, a town built in the 1940s, where local government and volunteer groups have recently created and marked hiking trails inspired by the Camino de Peabirú.
These routes are part of a ambitious state tourism plan which was launched this year, and which traces a plausible 1,550 km hiking and biking route for the Camino de Peabirú throughout the entire state of Paranáfrom the coast through 86 municipalities to the border with Paraguay.
I traveled to Peabirú to try one of them: a forest trail that runs through seven waterfalls along the course of a river. The banks of the river were almost certainly part of the Camino de Peabirú, my guide Arléto Rocha explained to me as we walked, climbing under and over fallen trees and then wading through the river knee-deep in cold water, taking advantage of like this to remove rotten fruit from the soles of my shoes.
Not content with getting his boots wet, Rocha dove into a waterfall fully clothed. Later, he pointed out the places where he had found arrowheads, mortars, rock carvings and other archaeological gems over the last decade, which are now exhibited in the newly opened Municipal Museum Way of Peabirú.
Much of the jungle walk, much like the state’s broader route, is symbolic. It is an estimate, in the best of cases, of where the original route could have been, although there is more certainty in some sections, especially where there are historical maps and archaeological sites.
This region of southwestern Brazil has been a hotbed of archaeological excavations since the 1970s in search of traces of the Camino de Peabirú, since it was once an area with a huge indigenous population (estimated at around two million people, mainly Guarani, at its peak in the 16th century).
Coast to coast
Like many others I have spoken with, Rocha is obsessed with the mystery of the path and even published his graduate thesis on the subject.
Historians, astronomers and archaeologists have also been mulling over the matter for decades, piecing together ancient maps, colonial records and oral histories to try to understand the route’s origins and purpose.
The general consensus is that the main route of the network connected the eastern and western coasts of South America: it departed from three starting points on the brazil coast (in the states of São Paulo, Paraná and Santa Catarina) that joined in Paraná, continued through Paraguay to Potosírich in silver, and Lake Titicaca, in Bolivia, continued to Cuzco (the capital of the Inca Empire), in Peru, and down to the Peruvian coast and northern Chile.
“Broadly speaking, we can say that the path followed the movement of the setting and rising sun,” Bond wrote in his most recent e-book, “História do Caminho de Peabiru,” published last year.
In it, Bond discusses a number of plausible hypotheses about the origin of the Peabirú trail, concluding that the network of trails was probably created and used by various indigenous groups over the centuries, but that the feature that What defines it was the desire to connect the Atlantic and the Pacific.
“It doesn’t matter how many people built it and where they were from, but it was a road that at a certain time was seen by the indigenous people as a specific and homogeneous path that represented on Earth the movement of the Sun in the sky,” Bond wrote.
The indigenous people Bond is referring to are the Guarani, one of the largest surviving indigenous populations in South America, living in parts of Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Bolivia.
The Peabirú Trail is a spiritual and physical path in the Guarani culture that leads to a mythological paradise called Yvy MarãEy, located on the other side of the Atlantic, where the sun rises. This paradise (whose translation would be “the land without evil”) is mentioned in Guarani oral history, in rituals, music, dance, symbols and place names.
Guarani legends even say that the road network is a reflection on Earth of the Milky Way. It is also believed that the name of the trail comes from the Guarani word peabeyú, which means “path of trodden grass”, among other translations.
From the spiritual path to the fast track of the European invaders
The Guarani’s spiritual path to paradise became a fast track to riches for European invaders – like the Portuguese sailor Aleixo Garcia – on expeditions to the New World that would eventually lead to the genocide of the indigenous populations of South America.
The legends of El Dorado and the Sierra de la Plata led the Spanish and Portuguese to cross the Atlantic, and some indigenous groups helped them penetrate the interior of the continent along the Camino de Peabirú, Parellada explained.
“Knowing the main routes and trails through the native populations became a strategic advantage, amplifying the looting, destruction and greed for new territories and mineral riches.”
Over the following centuries, successive waves of explorers, evangelizing Jesuits, bandeirantes (Portuguese slavers), merchants and settlers They also used the Camino de Peabirú to access the interior of the continent, paving it, widening it and, on occasions, modifying its layout.
“The first written records on the road date back to the 16th and 17th centuries,” added Padellada. “Among them is the story of Ruy Díaz de Guzmán, from 1612, about the death of García at the hands of the Payaguás ethnic group, on his return to the coast from Peru.”
To continue my search for road debris, I traveled to the coast of the neighboring state of St. Catarinato the Enseada dos Britos, a quiet bay where historians believe that García lived and from where he would have left on his mission to the Inca empire.
This is the starting point of another walk inspired by the Camino de Peabirú, a 25 km route that includes beaches, the dunes of a state park and a visit to two Guarani villages.
As I prepared for the 15-mile trek, I tried to imagine Garcia and his group of sunburned, unshaven castaways, thousands of miles from home, settling into their new Guarani quarters after losing their boat.
Like the previous walk, the route is only an approximation of where the Camino de Peabirú could have passed.
This route arose thanks to the research of the local businessman Flávio Santos, who carried out this tourism project after studying the history of the road and the local archaeological sites.
He, like many others, sees the potential to attract year-round tourism that benefits the local community, including nearby Guarani villages, if done the right way.
“We have this ancient trail, so why not connect the history and the local indigenous population? It is important that the local population knows this history and knows how the indigenous people lived and how they were decimated,” Santos said.
Parellada agrees with him: “Traveling the Peabirú Trail, combined with educational activities, could be a bridge to a full understanding of South America’s colonial past, its biodiversity, and indigenous knowledge.”
This note was originally published in English on BBC Travel.
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