Probably one of the most sought after coastlines in the world, Brazil’s north-east coast was colonized and fought over by the Dutch, Portuguese and French between the 17th and 19th centuries.
Brazil is located between the Amazon mouth and the northeast shoulder of South America; It would take a ship around 6 weeks to reach the shores when traveling from Europe, mostly due to the powerful trade winds. Besides being beautiful, people wanted to reach the land because of the promise of gold and harvestable crops like sugar cane, indigenous trees, coffee, cotton, cacao, and tobacco. It’s a great location for a sailing holiday!
In some of the main cities, like Sao Luis, the pace of life is antiquated, and it almost seems forgotten. Many of the people living there look like they are residing at the wrong time, still under the illusion that they can prosper from sugar cane and cotton. However, there is a local fashion designer named Rodrigo Raposo, who frequently talks about dressing the members of the Maranhao State society in his gowns that cost over 1,000 Euros each. By dressing wealthy ranch owners and debutantes, he hopes to achieve a more Gone With The Wind style over a perception of globalization.
The atmosphere is extremely laid back and the pace of life is slow. With colonial buildings lining the walkways and the cobblestone streets, visitors won’t be able to help but notice the children playing in the streets, brass band music, and reggae tunes oozing out of backyards. People are lazing around under the mango streets on stone benches brought by the Portuguese who planned on exchanging them for gold. Hang around and feel the cool saltwater breeze while you drink up a refreshing can of the local drink, Guarana Jesus.
In fact, the wind is something that this area is known for and even the infamous samba singer, Alcione, who has a history here sings about it in her songs. “In this corner of the north, where the wind blows strong and there are a thousand beautiful things. Everything speaks to us of love. The wind dictates the rhythm of our daily lives.” The sea breezes in Sao Luis are well known and loved and locals in the area have a saying that goes, “When the wind comes from every direction and you can’t keep your dress down.”
Where to sail?
You should follow along with the coast and hail a boat along the Rio Preguicas, translating to Lazy River. As you sail along, you will notice fishermen out on their wooden boats with flowing sails, just enjoying their day. You can even catch a few of them taking a snooze on their hammocks that they hung up on the masts. You take in the scene and peak into the forests that line the waterways. Eventually, sail past a sand dune standing 30 meters high and you know that you have started into Lencois Maranhenses National Park. While there are plenty of sand dunes, it’s pretty obvious that the landmass is not a desert as there are glistening lagoons, wildlife like turtles and fish, and plenty of evidence of rain.
The dunes here remain a bit of a mystery as no one is really sure why they are there. Guesses are that the sediment has been carried in by the rivers, that the winds have stolen the sand from the beaches and brought them there, or that the currents of the sea have helped to create them. While everyone seems to think something different, the mystery remains one of the draws of Lencois. When you visit the lagoons, you have the opportunity to swim amongst the lovely lilies, check out the tiger turtles, and try to find the wolfish which burrows into the sand to look for moisture. People aren’t quite sure of how they lay their eggs, but many think that they burrow them in the sand, perfectly timed to hatch when the rains come or that the birds get the sticky eggs stuck to their feet, which they then deposit into the lagoons. The entire place seems unstudied and hardly visited, and as you climb up the sand dunes, it seems that no one else is even around.
Those who have done their research or have gotten advice from the locals know to skip the gateway town, Barreirinhas, that borders the park and head straight to Atins, which backs right onto the white sand beaches. In fact, it can only be reached by 4-wheel vehicles and is not much more than a few dusty roads. However, Atins has been recently called one of the most exciting new communities for kite surfing, even one of the best spots for this sport in the entire world. There are calm waters and consistent winds that are protected by a sand bar making the conditions nearly perfect.
Instead of a four-wheel drive, you can change to a motorboat and make your journey over the Parnaiba, one of the world’s greatest river deltas. The islands are huge and the mangroves are towering like the skyscrapers of NYC. There are primates amongst the forest and they are so smart that they are referred to as Einstein monkeys. They even use stone tools to open up nuts. Iguanas can be seen weighing down the tree branches and parrots fly from tree to tree. Fishermen are pulling in shrimp and you see rusty shipwrecks where the water becomes shallow. You can even watch as entire families spend some quality time together and they dig into the mud for crabs.
You can meet up with Pedro da Costa Silva, a naturalist with the nickname Dutch Pete because he speaks five languages. He is the son of local rice farmers, so he knows more about the area than most. And, he knows stories about catching anacondas and suffering attacks from freshwater rays and vipers. He even has the scars to prove it. Together, you can go off into the landscape to look for the silky anteater, which is small and elusive. Costa even refers to it as a little Houdini because it can escape boxes even when you catch it.
The walk is magical. On the way, you see a ground owl and a scorpion but no anteater. You should take a break and get some fresh coconuts at the farm of Pedro and Maria Militao, two indigenous Indians. Maria knows stories about the silky anteater that she once kept for a pet and how he was so jealous that he would bite any of the children who tried to sit with her. Their other tales consisted of their monkey who had a marijuana addiction and was always stoned.
In the town of Barra Grande, you can meet the French couple, Frederic and Sophie Fournier. Using local materials like carnauba palm and cumaru wood, they have built Pousada Chic. They strive for the destination to be a kite surfing heaven and have been making progress as some of the top names in the sport have ventured there to participate in competitions.
You can head to Jericoacoara, which is characterized by bikinis, Caipirinhas, sunsets, and sandy beaches. It is typically referred to as Jeri and is a well-known hangout for Brazilians, kite surfers, windsurfers, and all of those that appreciate a nice hippy style beach town. While it does seem a lot like a hippy paradise, Jeri actually is relatively modern and chic. There are sushi restaurants, molecular gastronomy, and plenty of local dishes like crab, shrimp, and fish. There are spas, live music in restaurants, and luxury hotels. In fact, the new hotel Essenza is making quite a name for itself with its large pool, water therapy, and renowned chef. There are only a few streets, but everything you could ever want out of a holiday destination. Plus, it’s located in a national park, which saves it from the possibility of overdevelopment.
Dadinho and the kite surfing
One of the first people to start running trips to Jeri was Ronaldo Soares e Silva or is also known as Dadinho. He has quite the past as he left his home town 25 years ago to escape from the 5 women that he impregnated. When he arrived, there was not any electricity or tourists, and he expressed that he was very grateful for kite surfing coming in and changing things. Because of the naturally perfect winds, there are now 1,000 kites each day during high season.
He explains that the place for kite surfing around Jeri is Prea where there is a kite surfing school called Rancho do Kite. They claim to be able to teach anyone within two weeks. And, since the wind conditions are always favorable, lessons will always be up and running. You can even spend some time with the team there who got you up on the kite boards within only minutes.
When you return to Jeri, you will see that everyone is out having fun while sand-surfing, riding quads, or riding horses. Drum circles form in the evenings and martial arts performances can be seen among the dusk. There is pop up shops serving cocktails and many of the buzzed residents head up to the sand dunes to hang out. Everyone gathers around to watch the unusual sunset which goes down right into the sea. If might be lucky enough to get a glimpse of the capoeira master who does nearly 30 somersaults right down the dunes into the sea. You can also watch the kite surfers in the distance trying to catch the last bit of sun and relax into the evening with the thoughts that nothing could be more perfect.