Andre Penna takes a solo journey into the shifting sands and lagoons of the Lençois Maranhenses
Andre Penna is one of the lead guides for Surfin Sem Fim – a company that runs downwind adventures along the coast of Ceará in northeastern Brazil. In his downtime, he explores the coastline, seeking out new adventures and discovering hidden gems along the SSF downwinder routes. Last year, he kited from Atins to the Lençois Maranhenses national park to explore its shifting sands and hidden lagoons.
Words: Andre Penna
2017 was a special year for me. After some very enjoyable expeditions, I headed north to my work as a downwinder guide for Surfin Sem Fim. As the season progressed, I found myself with some days off between the routes. To make use of the time, I decided to visit the oases tucked away in the Lençois Maranhenses.
Back in 2014, I crossed this desert on foot. It was three long days of walking, and the return to Atins by car and boat was slow and tiresome. This time I chose to use my kite and hydrofoil board as my means of transportation. Going by kite would be less tiresome, reduce the distance that I would have to travel on foot, and eliminate the return by car or boat.
I would do the whole thing using just the energy of my own body and the wind.
And so I left Atins flying along on my hydrofoil, a small pack on my back, my body totally covered for protection from the sun — and feeling that little quiver in my stomach that I get whenever I take off for a solo adventure.
I kited downwind along a long beach for about 30 km, using my GPS to find the point closest to the first oasis, where I would start my walk. I landed in front of an abandoned barraca (fisherman’s hut). It was the perfect place to stash my kite gear and strike out for the interior (this is essential as carrying it wasn’t an option and kiting is forbidden in this area without a permit).
I found the lid of a plastic barrel that I was able to use as a shovel, and I dug a hole about the size of a person. I could have buried a body there! I covered my equipment with sand and tied one end of a kite line to the buried gear and the other end to a pole of the barraca. The sands of the Lençois are famous for being alive; they swallow all sorts of things, never to be seen again.
After marking the point in my GPS and took off on foot like a vagabond with my pack. I walked from lagoon to lagoon, stopping at each of them to cool off in the clear water. The rhythm of the Lençois: climb a dune, descend a dune, wade across a pool of fresh water. I was constantly searching for the best route through the dunes, tiny mountains of sand.
The feeling of being alone in the midst of that immensity is hard to describe, a sort of spiritual experience. The infinite space, the silence, the movement of the sand with the wind, and all that fresh, clear water really moved me.
I spent three days walking by myself, sleeping each night in my hammock with the villagers of the oases. One house where I had slept on my last visit was gone, swallowed by the relentless living dunes which never cease to move.
At the end of the third day, I returned with some apprehension to the place where I had buried my gear, which was of course my way of getting back to my starting point. I went straight to the old post where I had tied my kite line, and followed the line to my equipment. I unearthed my treasure — intact but full of sand.
I walked the 500 meters back to the shore, slowly prepared myself for a day of kiting, and made a little breakfast while sitting there on a small cliff of black clay.
The way back made for an interesting sail. The hydrofoil allows me to point upwind much more sharply than with any other type of board. For the first stretch I managed to make 20km going along parallel the beach. At one point I crossed paths with a large group of kiters making their way downwind, who were all quite surprised to see this crazy guy cruising along in the wrong direction!
Arriving in river mouth at Atins, I made a final tack and landed at the beautiful Vila Guará hotel. All in all, the return was 30km upwind, which took me about two hours of kiting. I was floating — three days with my feet on the earth, no phone, no internet, just me, the sand, wind, water, and the sky.
This sort of remarkable journey makes me feel like a very rich person, a millionaire in experiences! Everyday I fall more in love with this corner of the planet. Thank you God, and thanks to the north of Brazil and to the Maranhão!
Next place to explore? The amazon!
Andre would like to thank Surfin Sem Fim, Wöllner, Vila Guará and Atins Kite Boarding for making this mission possible.