Crossing Lagoon Dunes: Lençois Maranhenses

We arrived in Barreirinhas with the intent of visiting the lagoon filled sand dunes we’d seen so many times on internet lists.  Lençóis Maranhenses, or the ‘bedsheets of Maranhão’, is another Brazilian national park you can’t afford to miss.   It is some of the most epic and triply scenery you can take in anywhere on the planet.  Sadly, we arrived in November, at the tail end of the dry season when the water is blown away by the wind and the dunes become a more desolate landscape.  This, of course, didn’t stop us from wanting to do a trek in Lençóis Maranhenses (but it means this is yet another place that lands on my frighteningly long ‘must visit again’ list).

lagoa preguiça, lençóis maranhenses, lencois maranheses national park

Woke up to Lagoa Preguiça after spending an incredible night under the stars.

Woke up to Lagoa Preguiça after spending an incredible night under the stars.

Lençóis Maranhenses, parque national, national park, lagoon

Lucky for us our CS host Raimundo works as a guide in the park, has an eco-aventure tourism agency that offers everything from typical treks to kayaking, biking, and kite surfing through the dunes.   The evening of the day we arrived, we grabbed a ride from one of his friends on an ATV (quadriciclo), crossed the ferry to the park, and drove out to the beginning of the dunes.   Raimundo even plucked cajú fruit off the trees that lined the sandy maze out to the dunes as we raced by.

Lençóis Maranhenses, sand dunes, dunas

Our first interaction with the dunes was in the dark.  Soft like a beach, but spectacularly white (as revealed in the morning) and glittering in the moon light.  At times it’s deep enough to sink into, like giant snowdrifts.  We camped out on the shores of Lagoa de Preguiça under a dazzlingly star strewn sky, the occasional one streaking across the infinite beyond.  Having eaten nearly five pounds of mangos that day already, we opted to eat only the pineapple we had bought in Marajó and take cachaça shots with cajú fruit chasers.  Since the nut itself is poisonous (basically burns your face off) unless cooked we had to throw that part in the fire and wait for them to roast.

With the rising of the sun we took off on our trek through the desert.  Seven hours to reach Atins, a tiny beach town that lies along the coast.  There was very little water left, but we did take a swim for around half and hour at one of the ‘permanent’ lakes full of little fishes and perfect for tortoises.  Raimundo told us the lake would disappear at some point because the dune was blowing over to cover it.

Lençóis Maranhenses, brazil national parks, barreirinhas, maranhão

Crossing one of the only lakes that was still around during the dry season. Please rain soon!

Crossing one of the only lakes that was still around during the dry season. Please rain soon!

The desert wasn’t nearly the abandoned waste you might imagine and the rolling sand dunes had many hidden inhabitants.  There’s still plenty of vegetation around where birds, foxes, and other animals make their homes, and there are fruits like buriti, murici, cajú, and coconut.   Apparently during the months where the water is there you can even jump into some waterfalls.  Unfortunately, we were only able to see around four lakes as everything had dried up in the part of the park we were trekking across.

Lençóis Maranhenses, sand dunes sand patterns, Lençóis Maranhenses national park, desert, sand dunes

Around midday, when the sun was beating down at its hardest and the sand started burning our feet, we took shelter in an oasis at the house of one of the native families inside the park.  We had lunch with them while their curious daughters peaked out from around the corners of the house at me and Phyllis.  After eating, both of us passed out in the hammocks in their yard for a few hours till the sun’s rays softened.

sleeping in a hammock, Lençóis Maranhenses

Dead Phyllis.

Dead Phyllis.
Lençóis Maranhenses, Maranhão, Brazilian people

This family was nice enough to let us hang out at their place so we didn’t get fried by the sun.

This family was nice enough to let us hang out at their place so we didn’t get fried by the sun.

During the remaining portion of our journey the sands were painted yellow by the setting sun.  Soon we could spy along the horizon the crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean that we were aiming to reach before complete nightfall.  We almost made it, though Raimundo had to pull out the flashlight for the last leg before we dumped out onto the beach at Atins.  All the better, because in the dark you can walk through a sea of stars, in a manner of speaking.  The plankton that live in the lapping waters of the shoreline splarkle like fireflies when you disturb them — bioluminescence — and unfortunately you’ll have to experience it in real life as this is a magic my camera wasn’t able to capture.

Lençóis Maranhenses, sunset, por do sol Lençóis Maranhenses, sunset, sand dunes

The time we were in the park was definitely not enough and I hope I can come back sometime when there’s water to do a filming expedition.

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