Next to Barreirinhas, Santo Amaro is another access to the Parque National de Lencois Maranhenses which is becoming increasingly famous for the beauty of its vast dunes and sweet water lagoons that form a scenery of unique beauty. Santo Amaro is smaller and closer to Sao Luis, and besides, the lagoons of Santo Amaro are the most impressive and less crowded.
The village lies in the northwest margin of the park and gives the access to the largest lagoons of Lencois, Lagoa da Gaivota and Lagoa de Santo Amaro. I recommend you to make the trip with the Tourism Santo Amaro (098 3369 1180). Try to walk to the lagoons in the afternoon as the sun is lower (less strong!) and the light is much better for taking pictures.
Santo Amaro is marked by huge coconut trees, the Rio Alegre, the calm streets and the dunes which are mixed to the village. It is slowly opening to tourism through private initiative. They started to build nice pousadas and restaurants. Santo Amaro offers nice hikes by the river and there's a very relaxing feel to the village. A pleasant place to stay a couple of days.
We had quite long and hard day behind, a lot of difficulties with arranging all the transportations to Santo Amaro and back (luckily, at the end things have worked out quite well for us!), so we thought we deserved a good late lunch. They recommend Pousada Agua Doce. It is in fact a very nice place to stay, and besides, it has excellent restaurant.
Pousada Agua Doce is a family-run place with relaxed atmosphere. The house is build of bricks and has a thached roof. In front of the house, under the mango tree, is a lovely garden with chairs and hammocks to relax.
The menu has a good choice of local specialities, mainly seafood. Dishes are prepared with the greatest attention and the staff is really nice and friendly.
Favorite Dish: For starter we had casquinhas de caranguejo (deep fried shredded crab meat) and for the main course we chose grilled fish which was accompanied by rice, beans, farofa (toasted manioc flavour), piquant supplement (made of tomato, pepper, onion, coriander and vinigar), limes, and a big plate of fresh mixed salad (tomatoes, green pepper cucumber, carrot, beetroot, cooked eggs and olivs). We had a couple of beers during the meal.
A good meal should never be hurried, so we took our time. After the lunch we chilled out in the hammock and... oh, life can be really wonderful!!
The journey from Sao Luis to Santo Amaro is divided into two parts. First you have to take a bus to Sangue, a little village in the middle of the road to Barreirinhas (road MA-402). It leaves from Terminal Rodoviario. The company that runs to Sangue is Cisne Branco and the journey takes around three hours. On your arrival, a Toyota 4x4 will be waiting for you. Santo Amaro lies 34km away from the main road and it is gained only through four wheel drive cars, since the road is sandy. During the rainy season, from March to June, the road is flooded and the access is restricted to the river transportation, which takes too long and it's not very safe either.
I made this trip with my paulistana friend Sandra. We agreed about taking the 6am bus and arrived to Terminal Rodoviario early enough to buy the ticket. We did not do it in advance as we didn't expect that so many people would be on the road on the 30th of December. But to our surprise, the bus was almost fully booked; there was only one seat left. We decided to take this seat and share it alternately. Though the driver warned us about the difficulty of getting the transportation from Sangue to Santo Amaro, since only the passengers that had a seat on the bus were secured to get on Toyota. We were quite lucky as there was an additional transportation to Santo Amaro provided that day.
The first thing we had to do on arrival in Santo Amaro was finding a transportation for our next day return. As we suspected, everything was full again. After asking many local people we finally managed to arrange a car but the only option was at 4am. Since we really wanted to celebrate the New Year's Eve in Sao Luis, we did not think twice to accept it.
Santo Amaro could be easily called a village of mango trees as almost each house had at least one. And what a good luck for such a mango lover as I am, the fruit was just in season. So, one of the first things that I wanted to do soon upon the arrival was getting some of these delicious fruits. I was quite sad when I found out that almost everything was closed due to festive season. The trees were weakening under the load of mangos fruits but it seemed there was no way of getting them.
There is not much to do in Santo Amaro at night but you also can't go to sleep right after it gets dark. Pousada Agua Doce turned out to be a very pleasant place so we decided to go back and have a drink on the lovely garden under the huge mango tree with chairs and hammock to relax. We both had caipimango (the mixture of cachaca and mango fruit). The cocktail made from fresh fruit directly from the tree was really divine and we soon ordered another.
I also plucked up the courage to ask the owner if she would sell me a couple of mangos. And guess what? She brought a plate of cold mangos to have them right away, and a plastic bag full of delicious fruits. I thought I was in heaven :)))
I'm always interested to learn how the local people live. Meeting and trying to communicate with them is one of the greatest pleasures and interests of my travels. You can learn more than from any guide book. Getting to know local people and learning about their way of life is what makes the region unique and the trip unforgettable experience.
People in Santo Amaro live from agriculture (rice, beans and cashew nuts), animal farming and fishingb, using primitive techniques. Fishing is very much season oriented affected by the volume of water of the lagoons which overflow in the rainy season. The town has no plumbing. The water is pumped from wells in the resident's backyards. Beside bathing, the river also serves for washing the clothes and dishes. Accessible only by four wheel drive cars, people use also boats and horses to move around.
Although Santo Amaro (and Maranhao generally) is one of the poorest regions of Brazil and consequently suffers from social exclusion, I found the local people very communicative and friendly. I wonder how can there be so much poverty in an environment of such natural beauty. Actually, the region is just beginning a long process of consolidation as a destination of ecotourism. But until now, most of the problems mentioned before remain, and nothing has changed for ordinary people yet.
more pics in the Travelogue
The area around Santo Amaro do Maranhao and Lagoa da Gaivota can be seen in the haunting Brazilian film Casa de Areia (House of Sand), a 2005 production directed by Andrucha Waddington, his first feature since 2000 award-winning Eu Tu Eles (Me You Them).
Filmed entirely in the stunning Lencois Maranhenses desert region, it stars Fernanda Montenegro (Oscar-nominated for Central Station) and Fernanda Torres (best actress, Cannes Film Festival 1986 for Parle-moi d'Amour), two of Brazil's most renowned actresses and real-life mother and daughter, brought together for the first time in the film's leading roles. Throughout the story they share the roles of the main characters, Aurea and Maria.
House of Sand follows three generations of women, from 1910 to 1969. The insane Vasco (director Ruy Guerra) moves with his pregnant wife Aurea and her mother Dona Maria (Fernanda Montenegro) from the city to a wilderness, near a lagoon and surrounded by shifting dunes, to make a new start. Shortly after they arrive, Vasco dies, leaving the two women alone and without any resources. With a mixture of pain and relief, Aurea believes herself to be free. But her fate is in the hands of destiny.
Supported by a local son of a former slave, Massu (Seu Jorge, City of God), they learn how to get along and survive. Along the years, Aurea raises her daughter Maria (Camilla Facunders), hoping to move back to the capital someday. Her hope becomes anguish and despair as years go by, until her final adaptation to the place.
Great film, set in the stunningly beautiful area of the northern Brazil!! House of Sand cherish the memory of my wonderful trips to the Parque Nacional dos Lencois Maranhenses.
While Sandra was relaxing on the river's bank I decided to go on a hike by Rio Alegre. The landscape seemed more interesting on the other side so I crossed a shallow river and started to explore the sandy area. I came across a group of children playing in the water. They were curious about me just equally as I was about them. Some came closer and we started kind of conversation. And these children were totally crazy about taking pictures of them. Seeing the pictures brought even more joy.
I was surprised to meet so many children on the way. It seemed that they were all around. Perhaps summer holidays or the festive season was the reason? However, this resulted in two sets of photos. Playful, smiling and direct, they were adorable! You simply have to love these little creatures :)))