During one of our first weeks at UFC, our supervisor Manolisa made a comment about holidays, “you girls have to travel during Semana Santa. I don’t want to hear that you stayed in Fortaleza.” Well, never fear Manolisa, because we took your word for it and spent the week traveling in the state of Maranhão!
Anyone reading this who has traveled with me before knows that I like to plan. I like to have our transport figured out, hostels/inns/etc booked, and have a vague idea of the things I want to do. I am most certainly not the type of person who can just wing it. Well, for some reason, almost none of my usual planning happened with this vacation! As soon as I saw that we had six days off, I knew I wanted to go to the Lençóis Maranhenses, a national park filled with beautiful sand dunes, natural lakes, and incredible views. I didn’t know much about the Lençóis, just that they were beautiful and that I wanted to go. So Laura and I booked our flights in early March and that was that! Fast-forward to late March when I realize that we have no place to stay booked in Barreirinhas (the tiny tiny city where you stay in order to get to the Lençóis), no place to stay in São Luis (our other destination), and not way of getting from one place to another. All out panic ensues. Well, not quite, but there was a fair amount of stress on my part. After discovering that almost every pousada (inn) in Barreirinhas was booked because of the holiday, we were able to snag the last room and nice looking inn. Tudo bem. It turns out other Fulbrighters were also going, including the two ETAs and the researcher from São Luis, two of the ETAs in Teresina, and one of the ETAs from Recife. This was starting to look like a great trip.
Fast-forward again to the day of. Before I say anything else, I want to you to know that this trip was incredible. Despite the somewhat ominous introduction I just gave, Laura and I had an amazing time in Maranhão! So, back to the actual trip. We arrive in São Luis without any problems, head right to our hostel, confirm our transfer for the following morning, and go to sleep. Our transfer from São Luis to Barreirinhas was scheduled for 7am the next morning. Around 645, the hostel gets a call. The transfer is running late and won’t pick us up until 7:10. No worries, just gives us ten extra minutes to pack. Suddenly, it’s 7:30 and there’s no transfer. Then 7:40, then 8:00, then it finally arrives. Tudo bem, we’ll still have all afternoon in Barrerinhas. We get to a ret stop about an hour and a half away from Barreirinhas when I asked the driver if he’s going to drop us off right at our inn. He asks the name, I tell him and show him the address on my confirmation page when he suddenly says “oh. That inn isn’t in Barreirinhas. It’s in Caburé, which is a couple hours from Barreirinhas on a boat.” Say what???? At this point, full-blown mental panic has ensued. He offered to drop us off at the tour agency in Barreirinhas, saying that they would help us get to Caburé, but we didn’t want to stay 3 hours away! By the time we made it to the agency, it was 1:45. Not only did they get us the last room in the entire city at this adorable inn owned by a mom and her son (huge thanks to the guy who missed his flight and had to cancel last minute!). The women from the travel agency helped us cancel our other reservation, took us to the new inn, and once we got there (around 2:00pm) they said, “we have a tour leaving for Lagoa Azul and the dunes at 2:15. Do you girls want to go?” We obviously said yes.
So, despite some hiccups, our trip was off to a good start. We hopped on the Toyota (Portuguese for the type of truck pictured below) and went off on our way!
In order to get to the national park, we had to first cross on a ferry boat, and then drive about 30 minutes to the dunes. At first, Laura and I were concerned that we wouldn’t get enough time at the actual dunes, but boy were we wrong! It was absolutely breathtaking! And, this was what it looked liked on a cloudy day! Imagine it on a perfectly sunny one!
I admit, it didn’t quite look like what I was expecting (based on photos from the internet, of course), but it was still pretty spectacular. We visited three lagoas, including the famous Lagoa Azul before hiking back to the top of the dunes to enjoy a beautiful sunset.
We were also lucky enough to make friends on our passeio: Alan and Vitor from Minas (who were also on our transfer from São Luis) and Deborah and Angelo from Santarém, Pará (who were staying at the same inn as us).
We went out to dinner with Deborah and Angelo at one of the local restaurants called A Canoa. Laura and I ate a dish recommended by Bruno, from our pousada, called “Camarão ‘a canoa’.” As the photo below suggests, this dish was essentially a pineapple sliced in half, hollowed out, and filled with rice, pineapple, shrimp, and sauce. It was delicious. And yes, Laura and I ate the whole thing.
The next day (Friday), we decided to go on a boat tour down the Rio Preguiças (the “lazy river”) with our new friends. Our very first stop was this sand bar with Pequenos Lençóis, small dunes, and MONKEYS.
On the one hand, part of me feels awful for feeding these monkeys because we (humans) are ruining their natural insticts. On the other hand, I also love monkeys, so it was amazing.
There were also all of these tiny baby monkeys! I think that was the best part because I was a little, my mom and I would sit at the kitchen table, eating bananas, and “talking” like monkeys (she was obviously the mommy monkey and I was the baby). So I felt a connection with these monkeys. 🙂
They even took selfies!
Sadly, we eventually had to get back on our boat and head to our next stop: the lighthouse. Once we got there, we walked over to the lighthouse with Deborah and Angelo, waited quite bit, and finally walked up. Despite the drizzle, it was a great view!
On our way back to the boat, we also noticed a table set up with all of these different types of cachaça that had been filled with different fruits! It was delicious!
Finally, we boarded the boat and headed off to our final destination: the mysterious Caburé. We didn’t actually make it to the city, but we stopped for lunch and spent some time at this beautiful beach. One of the best parts of this beach (and this trip in general) was getting to enjoy our Brazilian bikinis! This applies more to Laura since I’ve loved mine since 2011, but they totally helped us fit in. In fact, when we were chatting with our friends while chilling in the water, they admitted that they when they first saw us on the dunes, they were trying to guess if we were Brazilian or American because of our bundas. (Sorry Mom). Not gonna lie, to me that’s a huge complement so, if you’re reading this, brigada a vcs!
Then, around 3:30, we hopped back on the boat and went back to Barreirinhas. Angelo and Deborah were heading back to São Luis that night, so we were on our own for dinner. We caved and got pizza. Less exciting that our delicious shrimp.
We decided to spend our final day in Barreirinhas going on another tour with São Paulo Econturismo. Seriously, if you’re planning a trip to the Lençóis, then you MUST do everything with São Paulo. They were amazing. Anyway, back to the trip. This final trip was a full day tour in a toyota to Canto do Atins (literally “the corner of Atins”). As we began driving out towards Atins, our first destination, we went through this plains-like landscape. What we didn’t realize is that because there had been a huge rainstorm overnight, most of the route was filled with water. And when I say filled with water, I mean filled…
Before we made stopped in Atins, we went up these beautiful small dunes just to see the landscape around us. Then, we continued working our way to Atins, where we stopped on the beach
Finally, another 20 minutes away from Atins (keep in mind that e left Barreirinhas at 7:30 and only arrived at Canto do Atins at 11:30), we made it to Canto do Atins. At this point in the passeio, Laura and I were feeling a little discouraged, because this was our most expensive yet, and we hadn’t really done much except sit on a bumpy truck. Once we finally got to the dunes, we understood why this passeio was worth it. We hiked about 40 minutes before we got to our first lagoa. It honestly felt like we were on a different planet.
After enjoying a short time at this first Lagoa, we continued hiking with our group (and our new carioca friends. HEY!!!) to the next set of dunes. Wow. I can’t even begin to describe how beautiful it was.
We worked our way back to Barreirinhas, via a stop at a tiny family-owned restaurant for more amazing food, and finally getting caught in the rain and getting totally soaked before making it back to our pousada.
Again, this first part of our trip was absolutely breathtaking. I couldn’t be happier that this is where we spent our break, and if you ever get the chance, you must visit the Lençóis.
Sunday morning, we made our way back to São Luis. Despite almost missing our bus (including having a taxi driver literally chase the bus down the road to make it stop for us when we were running late…oops?), we made it back to São Luis just in time to check back into our hostel and hop in a cab over to see Hank, one of the ETAs in São Luis, and eat lunch with his host family. Hank and Nick, a Fulbright researcher, live with an amazing family. Living on my own (errrr, on our own) here in Fortaleza is great, but hanging out with Hank and Nick’s host family definitely made me reminiscent for my time with my amazing host family in São Paulo.
Eventually, we made our way over to pick up Shannon, the other São Luis ETA, and went out to a Reggae bar! São Luis is the reggae (pronounced heh-gee) capital of Brazil. And not only is the music popular, but apparently reggae is also a partner-dance! We went to this bar pretty early, and the ladies quickly found partners to teach us Reggae.
We ended up going home pretty early, which is fine because I was exhausted, and made plans to meet up with Shannon and tour around the historic center the next day. On Monday, we did in fact meet up in the historic center, but it was a little rainy and everything is closed on Mondays. Oh well, just another reason to go back to São Luis!
Eventually, Hank’s host mom picked us up, we drove to our hostel to pick up two other ETAs who had just arrived, and then all went back to Hank’s house for a delicious churrasco (Brazilian-style barbecue) with his family. It was so nice to be with Erik, a friendly face from Teresina, and to meet Whitney, one of the ETAs in Recife. We spent all afternoon relaxing, eating, and just hanging out. At one point we even convinced Hank to break out his accordion and play some music! (Side note: The accordion is really popular in Brazil and is used in a lot of traditional music including forró and sertanejo. How cool that he plays). It was awesome!
Eventually, we headed out and walked along the beach and just relaxed for about an hour. We grabbed some acai, eventually made our way back to Hank/Nick’s place and then just hung out for the rest of the evening. Again, it was so nice to just relax and see our friends (and make new ones) before coming back to Fortaleza.
I know this was a crazy long post, possibly my longest yet, but this trip was so incredible. How could I not share?
If you did make it this far:
I’m traveling again tomorrow to guest teach at the university in João Pessoa and meet up with other Fulbrighters for a conference, but I promise an actual update about Fortaleza soon! PS: you can find more photos on facebook!