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Post-mining on the tourism trail

Caves, waterfalls and thermal waters are some of the attractions of Parauapebas, a municipality in the state of Pará that originated from and evolved focused on mineral exploitation, but already looks at tourism as an alternative matrix for post-mining. Proposals include investments in three tourist complexes

Alice Martins

Translated by Silvia Benchimol and Ewerton Branco (UFPA/ET-Multi)


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Alexandre Mello, director at IBRAM - Photo: Glenio Campregher

Located in the southeast of the state of Pará, Parauapebas is a municipality that emerged and expanded based on mining activity. Parauapebas is where Serra Norte dos Carajás is located – the largest mineralogical province in the world. However, given the estimate that mineral resources will run out in approximately 16 years, the municipality has sought to develop an alternative economic matrix, focusing on the tourist sector, as a way to continue developing and creating employment opportunities and income alternatives for the population. The idea is to invest in ecological tourism routes, with the implementation of spaces that can attract visitors interested both in exploring natural beauties and in adventure tourism.

According to Alexandre Valadares Mello, director of Relations with Associates and Municipalities at Brazilian Mining Institute (IBRAM), which brings together the companies responsible for 85% of Brazil's mineral production, it is recommended that the planning for the post-mining in the municipalities start as soon as possible and consider all the resources of the area, with a focus on the development of the municipality, the state and the region. “Each region has a specific characteristic and it is necessary to carry out a participatory diagnosis and to start this project during the working life of the mine, when there are subsidies and resources to trace the future”, he explains.

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According to Mello, a large part of this financial subsidy comes from the Financial Compensation for Mineral Exploration (CFEM), which is an amount granted by law for the compensation for the economic use of mineral resources in their respective territories. The CFEM must be distributed for various purposes, with 60% destined for the Federal District and the other Municipalities where production takes place. Parauapebas is currently the Brazilian municipality which collects the most funds from CFEM. In the first half of this year alone, Parauapebas received R$ 545 million in compensation, according to Pará Mineral Industries Union (Simineral).
According to Simineral, this resource should be applied in projects that, directly or indirectly, benefit the local community, destined to improving infrastructure, environmental quality, health and education. The management and inspection of CFEM are carried out by the National Mining Agency (ANM), an autarchy linked to the Ministry of Mines and Energy.

“Our orientation, here at IBRAM, is that companies maintain a permanent dialogue with the government and the community to plan how to take advantage of these resources for the benefit of the territory”, emphasizes Mello. For the director, it is essential to think about economic diversification. “For example, in Parauapebas, tourism can be one of the ‘arms’, but we need to go further, bringing industries related to mining, or not, to the city”, he suggests.

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Construction of the first tourist complex has already begun and should be concluded by May 2023 - Photo: Marcio Nagano

Planning foresees construction of tourist complexes

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Darci Lermen, mayor of Parauapebas

Vale is the company that operates in mineral exploration in Parauapebas and, according to the company's assessment, mining activity in the municipality is guaranteed until 2038, and this period may be changed in the light of new studies. In this scenario, the municipality has already started investing in the first of three tourist complexes which should be concluded by May 2023.

The project includes an outdoor park for the population to do physical activities and its main attraction is the construction of an artificial lake, which will be the setting for the so-called “dancing waters”, a set of fountains inspired by existing attractions in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, and in Las Vegas, United States. “Inside this park, we will also offer a gourmet area, highlighting the local cuisine. In addition, a cable car will be built as another tourist attraction in this complex”, says the Mayor of Parauapebas, Darci Lermen.

The second complex under planning is called Parque Ecoturismo, an eco-resort in the “glamping camp” (or “glamping”) style. It is supposed to offer an experience to enjoy authentic immersion in the forest with comfort and sophistication. The proposal already has guaranteed resources but is still in the final stage of technical planning. The works of the two complexes, will be carried out with funds from the Program for Environmental Sanitation, Macro-drainage and Recovery of Igarapés and Banks of the Parauapebas River (Prosap), totaling around U$87.5 million in investment (about R$ 469 million), according to the City Hall. Most of the financing will be provided by the Inter-American Development Bank (US$ 70 million - almost R$ 375 million). The purpose of Prosap is to promote sustainable development through actions such as environmental sanitation infrastructure, urban mobility, qualification of public spaces, resettlement and relocation of people from risk areas.

Encouraging the convergence of cultures from Pará and Northeast

Tradition of the city, the June festival named “Jeca Tatu” is an event organized by Liga das Agremiações Juninas de Parauapebas (LIAJUP), in partnership with the city hall, which brings together thousands of people every year to celebrate the encounter of Pará and Northeastern cultures. In addition to typical food and dances, the program includes a beauty contest and the “carroçada”, a moment that brings together the ‘June associations’ with decorated carts and characterized jokers walking across the streets of the city.

Due to its prominence in the municipality, the festival is the inspiration for the third tourist complex planned for the municipality, the Jeca Tatu Cultural Park, whose conclusion is scheduled for 2023. We want to celebrate this union with plenty of music, culture and poetry throughout the whole year, not just in the month of June”, emphasizes Darci Lermen.

The park intends to pay tribute to notable figures of Brazilian popular music, such as Luiz Gonzaga, known as Rei do Baião, and Pinduca, famous as Rei do Carimbó. “In addition to artists personifying these figures, we want to bring a show of holograms and build spaces that represent the Amazon and Caatinga biomes”, adds the mayor.
Resources for the Jeca Tatu Cultural Park will also stem from the Program for Environmental Sanitation, Macro-drainage and Recovery of Igarapés and Banks of the Parauapebas River (Prosap).


Cooperative tries to resume growth after impacts of the pandemic

Tourism in the municipality has been developing since before these investments. In 2014, a group of conductors of natural attractions organized and founded the Carajás Region Ecotourism Work Cooperative (Cooperture Carajás), with the aim of formalizing and expanding tourism activity, thus, generating income and preserving the environment. According to Valdivino Santos, one of the cooperative tourist conductors, today around 18 people are part of the cooperative and are responsible for providing safe and well-instructed tours to visitors.

The cooperative is in constant dialogue with both the city hall and the Pará Tourism Department and Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBio). This permanent exchange of ideas has helped the cooperative to structure itself, through courses such as: Brazilian Sign Language, Customer Service and English. "Tourism today is seen as the main 'ore' of the region, which is both unexploited and endless. It emerges as a means of saving the future that will guarantee the sustainability of the city", believes the cooperative member.

For Valdivino, tourism has been a personal booster. Born in Teresina, Piauí, and now 51 years old, he reveals he always wanted to explore new horizons. He has lived in São Luís, Maranhão; Belém, Pará, and settled in Parauapebas 14 years ago. He was a salesman, worked in the commercial sector of television networks and became enchanted by tourism after touring one of the routes in the city. "When I saw what the city had in terms of tourist potential, I fell in love. I knew some people from the cooperative and I asked about joining as well. Since then, I've been studying daily, trying to improve my performance as a guide, trying to learn more about the history of each route", he says. He affirms the pandemic has shaken the cooperative plans, but this year, they are managing to raise growth expectations again. "Today, I still have side jobs, but I am in the transition to starting to live only from tourism, programming myself financially so that I can dedicate myself more to the profession".

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Thermal pools - Photo: Marcio Nagano

From waterfall cold waters to thermal pools

As the name “Parauapebas” suggests (it means “Shallow Water River”) in the Tupi-Guarani language, the lakes and “balneários” [river-bathing sites] in the city are unique attractions. Known as “the water route”, it passes through places such as the estancia “Águas de Maria” and “Recanto Cachoeira do Vale”, where you can take a cold bath in a waterfall in the middle of the forest. In addition, visitors can visit the “Garimpo das Pedras”, where mineral gemstones are sold, mainly amethysts and topaz, and visit the thermal waters, which provide a relaxing diving. You pay the entrance fee of R$ 15 Reais and you can enjoy the bath as much as you want. The water has a greenish and crystalline appearance and is warm 24 hours a day, even during the night, with the temperature between 35º and 40º C. “Since 2015, this space is part of our tourist route and has been increasingly visited by tourists”, informs guide Valdivino Santos.

Arnon Vieira, airport agent, 32 years old, was one of the tourists who visited the place recently. He traveled with a group of friends from Marabá and spent almost a whole day in the thermal waters. "Accessing it is difficult, but the place is very beautiful. It's a different tour from what we are used to and it looks very nice in the photos. We were immerse for a long time, just enjoying the water", he says.

The private property of the thermal waters is on the border between Marabá and Parauapebas and the route from either city is long (at least 1h30), passing through unpaved roads, so the most recommended option is to visit it accompanied by a guide.

Routes also promote experience tourism

The cooperative also includes the Carajás Route in the available range of options, offering visits to the forest, Vale Amazônia BioPark, caves, lakes and waterfalls, closing the trip with a visit to Pedra da Harpia, a rock formation 600 meters high.
There is also the Búfalo Route [buffalo] and the Rota do Mel [honey route], focused on activities in the countryside with local farmers, who present the process of planting, beekeeping and tasting rural cuisine. The Rota Indígena [Indigenous Route] is being prepared for people looking for experience tourism. According to the cooperative, this route will be in operation this year and will bring attractions such as handicrafts, body painting and fishing in the Itacaiúnas and Kateté rivers, using indigenous artifacts.

Hotels and bars - According to Valdivino Santos, from Cooperture, currently most visitors who take these tours come to Parauapebas for business trips and tourism is enjoyed as an extra activity. Still, the city has large hotel chains, and the accommodation occupancy rate exceeds 90% of capacity from Monday to Friday, according to Jânio Valadares, president of the Food and Hospitality Companies Union of Parauapebas and Region (Seahpar). “We have evolved, but it is a medium to long-term process. We have worked together with the city hall and other partners with training in gastronomy and hotel business, such as customer service, English for Specific Purposes course, fire brigade”, emphasizes Valadares.

Currently, 110 businesses, including hotels, bars and restaurants, are associated or affiliated with the union and, according to Valadares, there is an expectation that this network will continue to grow as the works on the tourist complexes move on. “I believe that this investment can not only attract tourists, but also attract the internal public, the local residents, to hang out more often to bars and restaurants in the city”, he highlights.

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Vale's Arenito II pit after reforestation - Photo: Marcio Nagano


Vale's partnership with extractivist cooperative promotes environmental restoration

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Sérgio Souza Jr., Environmental coordinator at Vale mining company - Photo: Marcio Nagano

Parauapebas is a city surrounded by forests. In the territory, there are three federal and two municipal Conservation Units. Therefore, thinking about the preservation of the environment is essential. According to Alexandre Valadares Mello, director of IBRAM, all mining companies must present a mine closure plan during environmental licensing, before operations begin. “Companies need to show how they plan to carry out forest restoration, slope adjustment and landscaping, among other aspects”, explains Mello.

In Parauapebas, Vale is already carrying out environmental recovery in the mining sites whose activities have ended. The process begins with the storage of 60 kg to 70 kg of seeds per month of various types of native trees, such as Jaborandi and Ipê, collected by the Cooperativa dos Extrativistas da Flona de Carajás [National Forest of Carajás]. After being carefully delivered and stored, these seeds are sent to the Seedling Nursery, where they spend about a year through various stages of growth.

According to Sérgio Souza Jr., environmental coordinator at Vale, the idea is to prepare the seeds meticulously and observe each seedling for about a year. “Care is extensive. We test every seedling from the beginning to the end of the process to ensure the best chance of success in the forest. The seedlings are currently taken to 25 areas in total, in the Carajás region, between permanent preservation areas and recovered mining sites,” he says.

In parallel with growing the seedlings, Vale's environmental team plans their destination. For recovered mining areas (spaces where previously there was a mining site in operation but whose activity has ended), the first step is to prepare the land for planting, from the recovery of organic material of the soil, “filling up the hole” left in the pit, to designing the distribution where each seedling will be placed, considering the space that each species demands to grow.

Return of the fauna - When the seedlings and the land are ready, it's time to plant. In some areas, such as the old Arenito II pit, whose operation ended in 2010, the image we currently see is entirely forest. There were eight hectares of plantation that now have many grown trees, standing. “Since we started planting, we have been monitoring the area and we can already see “onças pintadas” [jaguars] passing through this environment, which is an excellent sign. When the fauna returns, especially an animal that is at the top of the food chain, in a recovered area, it means that the forest is healthy, as we wanted. In addition, the fauna helps to transport seeds from one place to another, increasing the biodiversity of flora”, emphasizes Sérgio Souza Jr.

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“Parque dos Ipês” is one of the existing tourist attractions in Parauapebas - Photo: Marcio Nagano

Parauapebas and its various accents

With a current population estimated at 218 thousand inhabitants (projections for 2021 from the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics - IBGE), the history of Parauapebas began with the discovery of large deposits of iron ore.

Since then, population and economic growth have always been based on mining. In fact, the Vale company has been present in the region since 1985, even before the official inauguration of the municipality, which was in 1988. When you are walking around the city, it is common to find people who are originally from other states, especially Maranhão, who moved due to employment directly or indirectly related to mining.

Administrative assistant Yarena Kauana, 24, was born in São Luís, Maranhão, and moved to Parauapebas when she was a child, when her parents migrated in search of a job. Now she is married and has a young son, she reflects about the changes she has seen in the city: "It's my home now. Parauapebas has grown and still has a lot of work opportunities, but I think it's important to invest in more leisure spaces to go with the family and also in tourism, so my son could see, in a few years, a city where there are more possibilities to enjoy".