2023, Personal, Travel

Riley Goes to Brazil Day 5: Lençóis Maranhenses Wednesday August 30, 2023

Once again, I screwed up the AC and it was freezing in our room.

Breakfast was not a buffet for once, but it was great. There was a small fruit plate but a large plate of various baked goods. The entrée was our choice. Jenn got an omelet. I had eaten a “tapioca” at the Olinda pousada. It was essentially a flatbread with coconut. I had to drown it in syrup to make it edible. However, here I tried the savoury variety, filled with vegetables and meat, and it was delicious. The juice was also great. The one downside is that this place had no tea. None. Zero.

Parque Nacional dos Lençóis Maranhenses

The tour picked us up at 9:30. They were supposed to pick us up at 9. When they didn’t show after 27 or so minutes, I had a mini freak-out and got Jenn to reconfirm and literally as she was doing it they showed up.

The trucks are pickups with open-air seats in the back or the entire bed removed and replaced by seats. We got in the front row, right behind the cab, which proved to be an eventful decision.

They asked us what we wanted to eat. We had to tell them so the restaurant could get ready. Under time pressure, I chose the shrimp, not realizing I was choosing for Jenn and I. This was also an eventful decision.

Parque Nacional dos Lençóis Maranhenses contains a massive amount of sand dunes, approximately 1500 square kilometres worth, along the northeast coast of Brazil. The dunes have formed by sand being pushed there by a few rivers but then the wind blowing the sand back. The dunes can be quite high, with the highest being approximately 40 metres tall. Every rainy season, the dunes fill with water containing thousands of lagoons, and then the water slowly evaporates during the dry season. The water doesn’t drain due a layer of rock underneath, apparently. So, for part of the year, there are thousands of lagoons and no rain. This is why we were staying in Santo Amaro, why we’d come to this remote part of Brazil.

The park entrance in Santo Amaro is just outside of town. (Like just on the edge of town.) There’s a proper entrance because certain types of vehicles are prohibited and because only tours with licensed guides can enter.

From the moment you enter, you’re in another world. And driving through the dunes is, at times, like being on a small roller coaster. The truck pauses, revs it’s engine and then tears up the side of the dune. On the steepest ones you get a sense that you will fall over backwards. And going downhill (which happens more on the way back) you feel like you are going to fly over the top of the cab. They race through the dunes, as there is a lot of ground to cover, and the wind and sand (and rain) hits you in the face like you’re skiing without goggles. I spent a while looking for videos but it seems basically nobody has filmed the actual driving, they’re too busy looking at the lagoons.

This is the best I could find for how steep some of the dunes are that you drive up and down

Our first stop was a lagoon with a really steep side to one side. It was deeper than my head at its deepest point and quite clear.

The water was extremely warm. We floated around for ages, and I went for a brief proper swim which wore me out because I haven’t swam in forever. Then we got out and climbed the nearby massive dune to see the view.

Just doing so got us so hot that we went back in the water pretty much immediately. After we got out, dried off and went wandering again we were, once again, really, really hot, so we went for a third dip. I also sat in a chair in the water because that is apparently a thing you do.

After a while, we got back in the vehicle and drove south ish eventually arriving at a small river. We boarded boats and went around a bend in the river, past a bunch of huts and cabanas where other people on tours were resting, and eventually landed near a cluster of buildings. We walked for a bit and went to the restaurant.

We got beer, our shrimp, beans and a salad. The beans were good. The salad was fine. The shrimp was horribly overcooked. Jenn thinks it might be the worst shrimp she ever had in her entire life. (I feel like I had plenty of bad shrimp, so I’m inclined to think there might have been some other terrible shrimp I’ve had at some point.) We appeared to be the only people on our tour who noticed the shrimp was overcooked. (Maybe only ours was?) We were also the only people to take off the shells and legs. But then, we were the only non-Brazilians. (The water was also hilariously over-priced. We should have brought more or waited until we went back to the truck.)

We stayed around the restaurant for a while. I don’t love when tours do this but Jenn really enjoyed her hammock. They were much better hammocks then the ones I’ve tried and failed to use in Canada.

We took the boat back to the truck and there was a stand selling freezies and water. These homemade freezies were essentially just bags of frozen juice. Everyone bought one. Then we got in the truck and went back on our rollercoaster. And, um, I got my freezie all over every part of me (and possibly on the woman behind me). It’s incredibly hard to eat a homemade freezie in a seat in the backup of a modified pickup truck while it speeds across, up and down sand dunes. Just so you you know.

The second lagoon was much bigger, but also narrower. It also had a lot more obvious plant life in it.

We did the same thing here, only we went further both in the water and on land. As it got later, it got less hot so it actually became more comfortable to walk longer distances. It also became cool enough that, by the way we left, we were sitting in chairs in the water instead of actually sitting in the water.

We got back into the truck and started driving in the direction of Santo Amaro. In the distance, you could see trucks and people on these massively high dunes, waiting for the sunset. Eventually, we drove around them and came up the other side and joined them. The sky didn’t cooperate but we did get a decent false sunset before we gave up and headed back to the village.

We’re actually really high up

Once everyone conceded it was too cloudy, we got in the truck again and headed back to Santo Amaro. On the way out, the biggest gasps from everyone in the truck were speeding up the sides of steep, high dunes. So, that meant we had to go back down those same dunes in order to get back through the park gate. One of them was quite steep, feeling a bit like a rollercoaster. And then Jenn and I were busy looking at cows when suddenly it felt like we would be hurled out of the truck. Though hardly actually 90 degrees, it felt like we were driving straight down the side of the dune, as if I was skiing down a double black diamond without turning but someone else was in control. Jenn and I were laughing our asses off because everyone else in the truck had been yelling out the Portuguese equivalent of “Ohhhhh shit!” and we were looking at cows. Though there are only a few really fun climbs and drops, one part of the fun of going here is the rather crazy truck ride.

I’ve never been anything like Parque Nacional dos Lençóis Maranhenses. It’s like another planet. And visiting it was one of the coolest experiences of my life. There are people who live here and see these everyday, and for them they’re normal. And that’s really hard to imagine, because it really does feel like a completely alien planet. Why aren’t more films made here? (It’s probably really expensive.)

After they dropped as back at the pousada, and we had washed the sand off, we decided to eat at the pousada instead of in town, because we were very tired and because we weren’t exactly sure how to call taxis in this tiny place. Despite them failing to make dessert for us the night before, we figured it would be just easier to not leave the pousada.

That was (mostly) a great decision because we had perhaps our best meal of the trip, Jenn getting really nice steak, me getting nice fish in a passionfruit sauce and us splitting some great great ice cream and mousse. They forgot Jenn’s caipirinha for a while for some reason but otherwise it was excellent.

We tried to watch YouTube in our room after – as in Brazil most TV is either in Portuguese or Spanish, even when it’s American – but it kept disconnecting. (One thing I do want to know: why do Brazilian networks buy American shows and movies dubbed into the Spanish to air in Brazil with Portuguese subtitles? Is it really cheaper than buying original American shows and movies with Portuguese subtitles?)

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  1. If only you had some kind of pocket-sized device that could record video of your dune buggie ride.

    1. Jenn actually tried to take pictures but was worried about losing her phone due to how bumpy the ride is

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