A Trip to the Lencois Maranhenses
Geographical Oddities & the Lencois
In my early 20’s I stumbled upon a cheesy guide of the world’s natural wonders that listed them by their predominant color. The green Faroe Islands, the red sands of Namibia, the mirrored salt lake of Uyuni all were blazed into my imagination. Somewhere within that book a story of a white sea of sand with incredible aqua lagoons glimmered off the page and instantly became a must see in my life. As life has it, we figured out how to get from Jericoacoara to Atins and the chance to finally visit the Lencois Maranhenses.
How to get to the Lencois Maranhenses
Brazil has always had an aura of dangerous and untamed wilderness and it was fitting that this magical place of imagination was in one of the remote corners of that nation.
There are a couple of ways to get to the Lencois from where we were staying in Jericoacoara . The most common are either through Barreirinhas or Atins. The former is a 30,000 person enclave in one of the poorest areas of Brazil. The latter, Atins, is an end-of-the-world place with equal parts drifters and locals, con men, expats looking for a fresh start, dreamers and thrill seekers and no direct road access – it also has a large estuary with consistent trade winds and a bustling kitesurfing scene. Obviously we chose Atins.
To get to this spit of land from Jericoacoara would require a 2001 Toyota Hilux, a 15′ aluminum skiff with a 35hp out board, and a Chinese made 4×4 ATV. The journey would take about 8 hours and required beating the rising tides – a condition that would make our journey substantially more interesting. In order to coordinate this journey we were pointed by some folks in Jeri in the direction of a Sicialian expat that had settled in Atins after being the “first” to Kiteboard there in the mid 2000’s- Marco.
Its never easy to get There
After going back and forth over a couple of days of sporadic email using our sportuguese, some English, and ultimately broken Italian, we were assured that each of the transportation conveyances was arranged and all that it required was the PayPal of €100 to Marco’s account. Sure, why not. We paid and all was set for the trip.
Finally the day arrived and we were picked up on time by our Hilux driver, Joao – a 20 year old jack of all trades with a surprising amount of opinions regarding diesel fuel filling stations in that area of the world. The truck was okay- it ran and seemed to be safe. So we put our bags in he back and jumped on.
This area of Brazil has some of the most consistent trade winds in the Atlantic. 1000’s of Megawatts of windmills have been installed over 100’s of kilometers by an unending number of Sino-Portuguese partnerships. Our voyage took us through interminable sand dunes,
abandoned villages, and complete desolation. It reminded me of the setting for McCarthys The Road; nothing seemed alive and what was, you don’t want to engage with.
About half way into this journey, the mangroves started giving way to millions of jagged black stumps by the sea-shore. We had been seeing, for weeks now how the dunes move everyday, but this was the first time we had seen the effect those translations have.
We learned that as the dunes move they cover everything in their path effectively choking everything underneath. What we were diving on were the remnants of 100′ of thousand of mangrove forests that took thousands of years to grow and now were no longer as the Lencois had claimed that land.
The high tide mark -4 o’clock – rolled in as we turned west in this desolate place. We boarded the skiff which miraculously appeared from nowhere as we approached the river bank. The ride was nothing extraordinary for the locals, just a large river flowing north with life teaming from it. A Guará bird, in its red camouflage, visible from 1000m away. The skiff skipping along on the incoming tide, and the sunsetting in the west. Everyone knows that the journey is what matters and this one is memorable.
And when we arrived on the delta a shirtless man picked us up on his ATV and took us to Marco’s place- the only piece of land in Atins with grass.