A Trip to the Lencois Maranhenses
Riding the Wind in Icaraizinho
We took the 3 1/2 hour flight to Fortaleza after a couple of nights and as many hangovers in Rio de Janeiro. This is where we started riding the wind – Icaraizinho. Traveling through northeastern Brazil requires a combination of planning, luck, cash (no credit cards at most places), some Spartugües (Spanish with a Brazilian accent for those that can’t speak Portuguese). Aditnionally, somewhere on the road to Icaraizinho, is important to leave behind expectations because what you experience is pretty unique. As we planned this trip, I looked up the original green-hued pictures on the internet that had introduced me to Brazil. I found out that the folks that had posted them are actually in the travel business and have been arranging trips to this area for quite some time.
Our dune-buggy-come taxi and all other details were arranged by Karl in Hood River, Oregon – someone that had never been to Brazil – but seemed to know his way around. The final itinerary had us traveling for 3 weeks, over 1000 KM, through three different areas: Icaraizinho (Icarai), Jericoacoara (Jeri), and Atins. The first two are known windsport destinations and the third is a gateway to the Lencois Maranhenses – one of the world’s geographical oddities and an incredible place.
Icarai is a small fishing village about 5 hours from Fortaleza. To get there you can use a combination of third world highways and dirt paths. Some locals at one of the local watering holes in town shared that Icarai was “discovered” about ten years ago because of its consistent winds and its relative distance to Fortaleza. This makes it an easier commitment than Jeri (7-10 hours away).
Icaraizinho also lacks the nightlife and the crowds that seem to have descended on Jeri in the past couple of years. It’s relaxed and quiet; in that way that someone that never gets off the beaten path might appreciate. The action is all in the water with a steady side-on-shore wind and warm waters. (A note on the water – it is fine/great but it is not the Caribbean.) As with everything on this trip, the juxtaposition of beauty and decay was always present. Beautiful day, great breeze, picturesque setting, and a fisherman cleaning his diesel engine on the shore – literally killing that around him. For us it was not enough, and after four days in Icarai it was time to head to Jeri.
On the Road Less Traveled to Jericoacoara
Because our communication skills were iffy and we were unsure of our pickup time, place, or whom we’d meet, the journey west started at 9:30 AM with the third set of knocks on our pousada’s door. A man in shorts and a promotional t-shirt of local beer asked – “You go to Yeri? Now?” Sure, why not. We looked around, gathered our things, threw them in the back of the banana yellow dune buggy and rode off west driving through endless sand dunes, mangroves, over rivers on human powered barges, dirt paths, through protected lands – seven hours of holding on to the back of a home-made Beetle. It was worth every moment. As adventures go- that are accesible to most – this was on-point.
The story goes that in the early 80’s, during the global windsurfing boom, an Israeli 18 year old with board in tow arrived in Jeri, asked a local fisherman for a place to stay and rode everyday for six months with not more than 1000 people living by the sea. It was epic, far away from everything, beautiful, cheap, empty, warm and windy. Today it’s still all those things except for the last one. The secret spot is no longer but it is worth every effort to ride it. I have not ridden better.
Jericoacoara in 2018
Jeri today is bustling in the middle-of-nowhere. No real roads get there; though there is an airport now. The old fishing village has given way to an art scene, local and foreign artisans selling their craft everywhere. Stores, supermarkets, restaurants, pharmacies, known and unknown local brands, unpaved, Jeri is a fully pedestrian town constantly fighting the moving sand dunes for their land and luck.
The town is jokingly called the next “Goa”. Music, food, nightlife, clubs, restaurants, uncouth and loud, but awesome. The sunsets and the wind, the sea and sun are even better. 25 knots from the east-north east greeted us with a 4 ft. swell that didn’t stop. The launch is protected by land with a sandy bottom- though it’s a little tricky with side off-shore winds. The place rides easy with the lineup constantly churning nice rights all day. About 500 meters north from the break you get Atlantic swells and an additional couple of knots as its unprotected by the coastal hills.
After a week of some the best riding of my life, my hands and shoulders gave out. I rode until I could not ride anymore. 4.2 – 5.0 (for a 90kg guy). Also, the best coconut flan of my life I had in Jeri (and I know flan) – all was great; but as good as this was, I was in Brazil for something else – The Lencois.