It was finally time to head for the coast, for dunes and kitesurfing.
We drove to Santo Amaro to check out the Lençóis Maranhenses, a vast area of rolling sand dunes and lagoons on the north coast. We parked-up short of the town, as access to the town and the dunes beyond means crossing the Rio Alegre and requires high clearance 4x4. There is a new bridge, but it's not yet ready for traffic. Judging by the amount of soft sand around, we probably wouldn't have ventured far, even if the bridge was finished. We had a good wander round, then waded back across the river and back to the van.
The following day we took a 4x4 trip out onto the dunes. This is a National Park, so guided tours only. It was great fun and we stopped at a number of lagoons to swim and catch some sun. The tour ended at a restaurant surrounded by cashew trees. Lunch was followed by a snooze in hammocks.
Our next stop was Barreirinhas, a large town on the Rio Preguiças. We wanted to travel to Atins on the coast. At this point you can drive yourself, but knowing it requires serious 4x4, we started making enquiries around town. Trying to get information was torture. Eventually we were given the location for the daily bus to Atins and on the following day arrived at this unmarked spot..... The daily bus wasn't daily and certainly not that day. Back to the drawing board and we had a lucky break. We found a fast boat leaving midday'ish for a meandering ride down the river to Atins, on the coast.
In Atins, we were picked up at the beach and driven over the dune to our small hotel. The Santa Maria was a beautiful place to stay and only a few hundred metres along the beach from the kitesurfing. That actually turned out to be a very long walk through soft, super-heated sand. The kitesurfing was fantastic, there were a fair few donkeys and for a small sandy place, Atins had some great restaurants. Rachel did an evening tour with a local guide. There wasn't anyone else to go out so they put the tour on specially - unbeknownest to her, with a novice and yes he did get lost in the dunes. Quite easily done. Luckily she had my phone with her and taught the young lad a little bit about what direction the sun goes down so if he gets caught again, he can figure it out! There was a round of applause when they both finally returned a long time after sunset.
Returning by boat to Barreirinhas, we headed to Macapáa, where we found the Pousada Villa Bela, a short distance from the beach. They allowed us to camp for free in the front garden with shower and pool access, as long as we used their restaurant once a day. There were no shops to buy provisions and the food was great, so we had no problem with that. The kiting was so good, with choice of lagoons or out amongst the waves, that we stayed five days. In the neighbouring garden was a handsome young black goat tied to a post. It wandered around on the end of a string, eating grass and bleating quite a bit. Rachel struck up a conversation in basic Portuguese with grandma who liked to relax on the porch, asking if the donkey had a name. Clearly something was lost in translation as after a while, Rachel said to me, "The goat is called DOMINGO". Domingo in English translates to Sunday. I decided to point out that we were currently on Thursday and if I was a betting man, I wouldn't bet on Domingo seeing sunrise on Sunday! Sadly, I was correct - Domingo was Sunday lunch, as the extended family arrived for a celebration and feast.
We drove on to Camocim, a small fishing port, then took a road along the coast to Maceió, a little village by the beach. We stopped outside the beach restaurant, when one of the owners immediately asked if we were kitesurfers. It turned out that the owners (brothers) were all keen kiters and we were introduced to the Italian windsurf/kitesurf professional, who in turn took us along the beach and introduced us to a couple running small Espaço Kurupira, a pousada on the beach. And it was there that we parked the van on the beach. It was a fun week of great kitesurfing, buying fresh fish off the boat and trying not to squash the frogs/toads living in the dark corners of the pousada (guest house/hut).
One of the highlights of the week was Rachel's first kitesurf downwinder in the company of the weighty restaurant brothers. Only 5 kilometres, but a choppy experience from bay to bay, rounding a rocky headland to reach our beach. Maceió was a fantastic place, but after a week, we dragged ourselves away.
Our next stop was Moitas, where we found a beautiful campsite owned by Serge, a super friendly Swiss-French man. We were the only campers and the groundsman brought us lots of fruit growing around (cashew fruit are surprisingly juicy) and he even washed the van for us. I'm fairly certain Serge has the campsite set up as a hobby as he was also a local guide. One day he took us out to the dunes, to a tiny restaurant on the river where we ate fresh shrimp, crab and oysters. He then arrranged a tour for us and took us across the same river to a quiet lagoon and beach. We kited in a logoon, then lunched at the only restaurant (the fish was bloody enormous), then enjoyed an afternoon on the ocean, with a sandbar creating a lagoon at the far end.
A few miles to the east of Moitas, is the larger town of Icaraí. It sits at one end of a large bay and the long sandy beach is perfect for kitesurfing. Sadly for us there was a lull in the wind, so kiting opportunities were few. At The Spot, a restaurant/bar (windsurfers super welcome - kitesurfers tolerated), we met Tim and Kerin, fellow Brits, having a three-month kite safari along the Brazil coastline. The kiting may have been mediocre, but the company was good. We had a few caipirinhas and pizza, and Tim and Kerin tolerated my shaggy dog stories - Police Service adventures & misadventures. We did eventually have a short, but decent kite session from The Spot, and luckily we had both left the water when the wind died.
It was time to move on. Our last beach spot, before turning away from the coast, was Cumbuco. We spent just one night and although the kite beach looked inviting, we had run out of time - that van brake problem weeks earlier had shortened our kitesurf/beach time.
Time to head south, squeeze in a few cities before leaving South America.