On Preparing to Downwind from Fortaleza to São Luis
Off the beaten-path-places tend to be off the beaten path. The Lencois Maranhenses, a geographical oddity in northeast Brazil that’s definitely worth visiting, qualifies. Below are the top 5 preparations we believe are most important before going to the Lencois Marnahenses and Northeast Brazil:
1. Get your Brazil Visa and Immunizations
Geopolitical issues are beyond my pay grade, so I won’t attempt to explain why Brazil requires tourist visas (good for up to ten years). The good news is that for a select few countries (the USA and Canada included) they have a well developed E-Visa System [External Link]. It took us about 3 weeks to go through the process which required: (1) a passport photo, (2) E- Application, and (3) Some $$. Not terrible, but requires advanced pre-trip work.
Because we were traveling Brazil’s rural northeast, we figured to be better safe than sorry in regard to immunizations. The United States’ Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is a better resource for dealing with these types of questions. [CDC External Link]. We already had Hep A and B, so we “rounded” them out with both Typhoid and Yellow Fever vaccines. We live in Los Angeles and are lucky enough to have a travel doctor [Healthy Traveller, External Link] specializing in this type of medicine/service. The process was easy but a bit costly $$$ – especially the Yellow Fever vaccine. Considering some do protect for decades or your whole life, they’re not that expensive – relatively. At the end you should receive an International Certification of Vaccination (the yellow card). [WHO, External Link].
A Note on Rabies – while we opted NOT to have the rabies vaccine (very costly and we swore not to play with animals) once we were on the ground we totally could see how rabies might be an issue. Stray cats and dogs, as well as donkeys and assorted wildlife are ever present in this part of the world. In one episode while riding our ATV in Atins, a pack of dogs literally lunged at us while we drove by at 25mph. One of them almost caught my foot – I felt him ever so slightly. While there is some medical care about three hours from Atins, it could have been a regrettable situation.
2. Hire a Reputable Tour Company to Coordinate the Over-land and Sea/River Portions
We consider ourselves to be seasoned travelers with over 60 countries under our belts. Nevertheless, northeast Brazil’s less travelled roads and paths require special attention to guarantee smooth transitions. For example, to get from Jericoacoara to Atins on the road less travelled requires a dune buggy or 4×4, a river skiff, and an ATV. There are many local tourist agencies, which normally we would use. This area of the world is in between stages of development. Not so undeveloped that the few services available would be eager for the business, but not developed enough that rules, regulations, and enforcement provide a minimum quality service. We just didn’t feel comfortable enough and as such used a well known US based travel company [Vela; External Link] with many years of experience for the first portion of the trip (Fortaleza to Icarizinho and Jericoacoara). Then, we were recommended specific arrangements by a local friend for the Jericoacoara to Atins and São Luis portion.
3. Bring Your Own First Aid Kit
Let me start by saying that we are not injury prone people. Nevertheless, minor things always do happen. Normally, you would think that if anything happens you go to a pharmacy or the local dispensary to get some help or supplies. In northeastern Brazil these are not as common as you would expect. Bring a first aid kit with all the usual suspects and anything unique to your needs or prior history.
In Icaraizinho, the noon sand was SCORCHING hot and my feet, already beaten up by the reef from windsurfing, couldn’t take it. I managed to sizzle a large hole on the bottom of my foot (blister, bottom left) that put me out of wind sports for a couple of days. Some topical antibiotic and bandages took care of it in three days, but I lost valuable time on the water.
Then a couple of weeks later in Atins, something got stuck in my ear from the estuary’s water. It took some real internal fortitude not to freak out when my friend took this picture (top right). We solved it with some hydrogen peroxide and an earplug.
4. Bring your own Electric Adapter and an Extra Battery or Two.
Not unlike a first aid kit, you should consider preparing for some long stretches of brown-outs and general power outages. We lost power in Icaraizinho, Jericoacoara, and Atins. In Atins for many hours at a time. Additionally, not every place you might go to will have accessible power outlets. Northeast Brazil is a little more off-the-grid than you’d imagine. So a good external battery for your electronics, a headlamp, and a solid outlet adapter can easily save the day
5. Bring your Own Specialty Gear
During the three weeks we spent in northern Brazil, we managed about 12 days of windsurfing and kiteboarding. While the spots we rented from were well stocked with latest-model boards, sails, booms, masts, extensions, bars, lines, [Club Ventos, External Link] the harnesses, booties, gloves were not what you would want when you ride some of the most incredible winds in the world. Bring your own personal gear. You’ll definitely appreciate it.