Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Bedsheets of Maranhão

by Leighton Gage

I saw them, first, from several miles in the air.

My wife and I were on a flight from Fortaleza, on the coast of Ceará, to Belem, near the mouth of the Amazon.
It was a clear day, not a cloud in the sky, and I looked down to see this:

A desert composed of white sand dunes, strewn with flashes of emerald green and turquoise blue.

It was, and still is, a landscape vaguely reminiscent of precious stones scattered on bedsheets.

Which is why Brazilians call the region the Lençóis Maranhenses = the Bed Sheets of Maranhão (Maranhão being the Brazilian State in which the dunes are located.)

The dunes were formed, over thousands of years, by sand deposited at the mouths of rivers and carried back to the continent by winds and sea currents.

Some of those dunes are more than 40 meters (130 feet) high, and they advance as far 50 kilometers inland from a (mostly deserted) coast.
The flashes, upon closer observation, turn out to be lagoons full of water.
That’s right, water – in the middle of a desert.

Bizarre, huh?
Even more bizarre is the fact that I wouldn’t have seen so much of a drop of it if I’d made the journey six months later.
The region records an annual rainfall of 1,600mm (more than 62 inches), 300 times more than the Sahara, and the lagoons are formed during the rainy season, which is at the beginning of the year.
When they’re full, the water in them is crystal clear and miraculously full of fish, crayfish, crabs and clams.
And, then, during the dry season, they simply disappear.

The region covers a total area of more than 1,000 square kilometers, roughly the size of the American State of Rhode Island.
The best time to visit the place is from the beginning of July through the end of September.
During those months it’s sunny, but not too hot, and you can walk up and down the dunes in your bare feet.
And then take a refreshing plunge in the crystal clear water.



June Shaw said...

Breathtaking! Thanks for sharing. Next time I want to go with y'all.

Jaden Terrell said...

Beautiful. i would love to go there when the lagoons are full. Not so much when they're dry!

The world is an amazing place.