Hitchhiking: Belém to Barreirinhas, Maranhão

The Plan

Goal:  Belém, Pará to Barreirinhas, Maranhão

Distance: approximately 928km

Intended Route: Take any city bus out to ‘Marituba’, a suburb of Belém, to a gas station. Hopefully catch a ride with someone there going to São Luis, capital of Maranhão, leaving roughly 250km to Barreirinhas.  We expect this will take 2-3 days.

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The Journey

The next stop on our list was Barreirinhas, the portal city to the epic Lençóis Maranheses National Park (blue lagoons in the midst of a desert of white sand dunes — you’ve probably seen it on some stupid internet list).  We were once again back in the parts of Brazil where there is more than one road available and the main form of transport is not the Amazon River.  My previous experience in the southern parts of Brazil made me weary of going further than 500 km in a day.  Unfortunately we were also dealing with my Roraima stomach problem, which had returned in Belém and made even the five minute walk to catch the bus uncomfortable.   Phyllis and I caught one going to Marituba, the outlying suburb we guessed would be the best place to start, actually running it down as it wedged its way through the early morning traffic.  It was nearly empty this time of day so we didn’t have to struggle with our bags through a crowd.

Despite only being a little after 8 a.m. when we got to the gas station, the sun was already hot in the sky.  Phyllis and I were objects of interest within seconds of arriving at the station.  I’m almost certain that Asian + White + Girls is the most lethal hitchhiking combo in South America and this was the stop to prove it.  When we put our bags down at the exit to the station to begin hitching we started to get questions from the large number of truckers/random people about where we were going.  One guy told us he was going to São Luís, but after lunch.  Normally it’s not my style to wait for these offers — 5 hours of waiting in this case — we could easily get a ride in that time, definitely within the hour.  However, my stomach was wonky and it was hot and Phyllis was down to be lazy, so we sat down at the gas station restaurant to wait for offers to come to us.

And we waited, and waited, and waited — not without offers, just no useful ones.

Phyllis is left in mostly an ignorant bliss while I try to juggle ten people all talking at me.  Someone is going later, someone on Tuesday, you have to get off here or there, this is dangerous, do we want pineapple juice, pastel, lunch.  As soon as the word is out that I speak Portuguese there’s really no avoiding questions and unsolicited advice.  There was a huge debate amongst several of them which route we should take, who we should/shouldn’t be trusting, etc., etc.  Finally another guy offered us a ride after he has lunch.  Around one o’clock we finally got in his truck.  It wasn’t really proper hitchhiking, but for some reason it worked and to perfect execution.

Our truck driver was really great and concerned enough to let us sleep in the truck over night and heading to São Luís in the early morning so he could drop us off where the road split.  Extra points for not having to spend the night alongside the road, even if I do have a tent.

brazil tourist van, lençois maranheses transport

The tourist van stopping for breakfast.

Some kids told us it wouldn’t be so easy to get a car going to Barreirinhas from where we were, but we figured we’d town hop between the next 2-3 small cities till we got there.  Only five minutes later a tourist van stopped and asked if we were going there.  I guess they must have done a poll of the vehicle to see if it was okay to pick up to vagrant American girls and give them a lift because everyone else was a paying customer.

Barreininhas, Lençois Maranheses

Phyllis waving to random people on the streets outside our CS host’s agency

Even when we got into town and really hadn’t much of a clue where we were going worked out for us.  Phyllis stuck out her thumb for a second and the person that pulled over knew our couchsurfing host.  That’s small towns for you.  It must have been about 15 minutes after he showed up at his place to meet us that we were putting kayaks into the river to get what we’d been dying for.  After almost 6 months in and out of an inexplicably mango-less Brazil, Barreirinhas answered mine and Phyllis’s prayers… I’ve never seen so many mangoes in my life!

mango, kayak

Kayaking down the river in hunt for mangoes. Not a bad day all in all.

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