Follow us on a road trip in a beautiful part of the world, a remote stretch of coast between Jericoacoara and São Luis do Maranhão in northeastern Brazil.
How did our Brazilian Nordeste Road Trip come about?
One day in London, before we left for our travels, I had lunch with a friend. She had visited Brazil some years previously, and regretted not having made it to Lençois Maranhenses, a national park in the northeast of Brazil. It’s one of the world wonders, she said. You can’t miss it. She spoke of it with such passion that I promised myself I would make it up there.
Trouble is, Lençois Maranhenses is in the middle of nowhere. To make matters worse, Jericoacoara is hard to get to, and even harder to get out of. Not only figuratively, but also literally. São Luis is 450 km west of Jeri, and there are no roads until Barreirinhas, gateway for the magnificent national park.
To get there, we had to travel for about 300 km on sandy tracks. The most straightforward option would have been to cover the distance with public transport, involving a combination of trucks over 2 days. Unfortunately, the last stretch was closed because of recent heavy rains.
Chartering a 4×4 for only two of us was also out of the question; too expensive. I briefly considered giving it a miss. It was too much of a hassle. I had made a promise, though. And the place was supposed to be amazing, especially lush after the rainy season.
Our Brazilian Nordeste Road Trip companions
We procrastinated and procrastinated our departure, enjoying life in Jeri. Then one day, while I was standing at a bar sipping my passionfruit juice, I heard two men conversing in Italian about chartering a jeep to Barreirinhas. I approached them and asked if we could join them. We agreed to meet the night before the planned departure to settle on details and prices.
When we met, we had an unexpected surprise. We were going to be a group of 20. And nothing was yet arranged. We agreed with the drivers to undertake the trip over three days to leave us the opportunity to visit the Parnaiba river delta on the way. At 5 am we were ready to leave, but we only took off after about two and a half hours. I have already pointed out that north-eastern Brazilian are a rather relaxed bunch; this, alongside Italians’ notorious clockwork organisation can result in only one thing: delays.
I can honestly said that few times in my life have I met a group of people as fun as these Italians. Most of them dentists, they had gathered in Jeri to attend a wedding, then decided to travel with the bride and groom for a few days.
It was like being in a comedy, as each and every one of them were remarkable characters. There was a family with two teenage children, the fancypants right-wing couple, the bossy-submissive couple, twin sisters and a few thirtysomething singletons.
Plus my personal favourite; Moaning Myrtle. We travelled over beautiful beaches and rivers, visited São Luis and flew over the rainwater pools of Lencois Maranhenses. Myrtle didn’t really like anything very much, instead she preferred to complain about the heat, the sand, the jeeps, her digestion.
The time spent travelling with the Italians was unforgettable, not only for the company but also for the scenery. We left Jeri and travelled along the beaches for hours, crossing creek estuaries on rafts.
There were children holding ropes across the street, letting the jeep through after we had given them a tip. We stopped for a few hours in a great town called Camocim, and wandered around the market.
Most people were only interested in buying cut-price Havaianas, and filled their luggage with as many as possible. Except one guy, Germano. He had dreamy eyes and a forlorn appearance. He bode us all farewell and collected his luggage. I am going to stay in Camocim, he announced. I fell in love with a girl.
Around lunchtime we arrived in Parnaiba, where we had an afternoon cruise on the delta. We ate crabs, sold to us by a man who carried a gigantic bunch slung over his shoulder. The afternoon was spent zipping around the branches of the delta, between reed inlets and creeks.
As the sun slowly fell towards the horizon, the birds came out, fluttering across the treetops. The most magnificent of them were slender and scarlet, looking vaguely like flamingos. They were guarà, red ibises, and only inhabit the northern coast of South America.
We then returned to port sailing under the full moon.
Beautiful Brazilian Nordeste
The following day we continued towards Caburè, which is to this day one of the most magic places I have been to. To get there, we drove through a couple of villages, Tutoia and Paulinho Neves, then we left the road and drove along the beach for a few hours. I am not a big fan of travelling by car; yet, that drive was truly amazing. The beach was broad and windswept, stretching for miles. I could have spent months there, walking and camping, lulled to sleep by the sound of the crashing waves.
In Caburè we stayed in a shack on the beach, which essentially was a spit of land between the ocean and the Rio Preguiça. There was no electricity, and the moon and starlight were unforgettable. That night, I saw the Milky Way for the first time.
We continued upriver on the Rio Preguiça to Barreirinhas, where we took a panoramic flight over the endless expanse of desert and rainwater pools of Lençois Maranhenses. Then we trekked through the national park, and I was more grateful then ever to my friend for having recommended we visited.
We finished in the crumbling city of São Luis, where we spent a day cruising the colonial district and marvelling at its faded elegance. It was a time of long lunches in the tropical heat, endless conversations waiting for the notoriously slow Brazilian service.
On the last night we waited two and a half hours for a plate of fish in passionfruit sauce. Listening to a forro band murdering Garota de Ipanema by the riverside of Barreirinhas and chatting to my newfound friends, I thought maybe I shouldn’t leave the Northeast so soon.
Practical Info: If you’re interested in travelling overland between Jeri and São Luis, but you can’t find anyone to share a jeep with, check this link for info on how to do it by public transport. Make sure you check the info is up to date once in Jeri or Barreirinhas.