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  • Writer's pictureMartijn

Lencóis Maranhenses and Belem (the Amazonas at last!)

On Sunday March 7th, we left Teresina (26 degrees Celsius at 8am) to fly to Belem (SBBE), over the so much awaited Lençóis Maranhenses (near São Luis, SBSL). In hindsight, stopping at Teresina was not such a bad thing because we saw the Lencóis early and in good spirits, versus late and annoyed at Brazilian bureaucracy. And they were worth every minute of delay!

We will also soon upload a Lencóis video... stay tuned!

The Lençóis is an area of 70 km of coastline composed of rolling sand dunes. During the rainy season, the valleys among the dunes fill with freshwater lagoons, prevented from draining due to the impermeable rock beneath. The area was recommended to us by Betina and Claudio Robetto from Mar del Plata in Argentina. They were the first people we met who had made a big trip in a single engine airplane: they bought an Aeronca in Colorado Springs and flew it all the way home. It is now called LV-HAY.

Betina and Claudio visited us in our beach house a little over a year ago and gave us incredibly valuable tips.

The rest of the 3.5 hour flight to Belem was also delightful:

- About 1 hour away from our destination we started seeing very tall palm trees and the vegetation looked exactly like that on the old Portuguese explorer maps

- Then, at some point we were transferred from Recife control frequency to the Amazonic control center which was a very exciting moment: I have always wanted to go to the Amazonas and now we were there! 100% exotic.

- And all along the way we enjoyed listening to Portuguese airspeak and even picked some up: “estima do pousso” means ETA and to acknowledge they understood a message, the controllers say “ciente” (meaning “aware”), the equivalent of “roger”. At some point, Alex -who speaks Portuguese which has helped a lot throughout the trip- even proudly said “ciente” himself when replying to an instruction 😊

Upon arrival in Belem we were surprised by a huge Ukrainian Antonov cargo airplane which made us feel ridiculously tiny. We already felt tiny every time we parked next to commercial Boeings in large airports, but here we were microscopic!

Once outside the airport, Alex chose a hotel in the city center via Booking – we never book in advance because we never know if and when we will arrive, even less so with Covid!- and Elias, the handler who helped us with customs and police formalities in Belem, drove us there. He was born in Belem so spoke about his city enthusiastically, showed us a few sights and recommended activities for the rest of the day: lunch at the Ver-o-Peso fish market, ice cream at the Doca and stroll around the area, but not too far because we were told it was not completely safe.

The hotel Atrium Quinta de Pedras is an 18th century colonial stone house, right out of a Garcia Marquez novel. Our room had a peculiar feature in that there were no windows, only shutters.

This was the view when the shutters were open

Here the patio

and its Amazonic Virgin

We had lunch at the market and ate exactly what Elias recommended: fried fish with Açai sauce to which we were to add manioc and tapioca flour. The fried fish was great but the sauce was not my favorite, I had higher expectations because of Açai desserts bought at the beach in Brazil a few years earlier. This açai was acid and the flour felt like little pieces of popcorn inside the liquid, I guess it’s one of those acquired tastes.

Luckily the delicious ice cream at the Doca flavoured with fruits from the Amazon made up for the sauce. I had Bacuri and Tapereba ; Alex Tapereba and Açai with tapioca (much tastier in their sweet version!).

The Doca docks on the Guama river

When we left the Doca, we bought Brazil nuts on the street and the woman showed us how she opened them with her knife. I wish I had known that when I was a child because I always struggled with those shells that were so close to the flesh that you basically crushed the whole edible part when trying to open the nut with a nutcracker. The knife worked much better!

Brazil nuts in Brazil :)

Then we walked towards the covered part of the fish market which was closed because it was already afternoon but the guard saw us and let us in. It is a beautiful old-fashioned market place with dozens of stands that all look alike, apart from the name on them and the color of the scales. Many were blue, here is a red one.

One of the entrances of the market is directly connected with the harbor where the fish comes in early in the morning, and also clearly is disposed of after the market because the smell of fish was overpowering.

Back at the hotel, we wanted to relax a little and prepare our next flight BUT Alex got a call from Elias The airport was requesting that we move the Cirrus because the Antonov needed more space to maneuver. Never a dull moment! So Alex went and got the fly out of the way of the elephant in a pitch-dark airport where ours was the only other aircraft, surreal…. Alex is still not convinced this was really necessary but probably the Antonov was and we were in no position to argue with him... I had stayed at the hotel during the whole operation, my only task was to produce a Caipirinha at the exact moment Alex returned. Mission accomplished.

This was our last night in Brazil, where we have learned a lot and in particular that everything they told us about bureaucratic complications when traveling in a general aviation plane is TRUE! And it is not at all the privilege of Brazil, it is true in Argentina and in many other places, as clearly highlighted in the various books we read about similar adventures: “On the wings of the wind” (Margie Moss), “Three-Eight Charlie” by Jerrie Mock, first woman to fly solo around the world (1964), “Chasing the Morning Sun: flying solo around the world” by Manuel Queiroz and “De Alaska a Ushuaia en avioneta” by Carlos Gonzalez (2020). Did I mention we were glad to have practiced flexibility by doing yoga in the past 9 months??

Our destination for the next day was Cayenne in French Guyana, aka SOCA.

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