Sail on Baia de São Marcos
Destination São Luís, capital of the state of Maranhão.
Sail by catamaran from São Luís to the Alcântara peninsula.
A very busy Saturday that was ended with street reggae until dawn, was followed by a very short night rest. At nine in the morning, we lacked time to have our breakfast, because we had to get on board of the catamaran, which was scheduled at nine-thirty…
Alcântara is a peninsula northwest of São Luís Island, separated by Baia de São Marcos.
In the 17th century, when the French set foot on the peninsula, they met Indians of the Tupi tribe. The French were then expelled by the Portuguese; the conquerors massacred the Indians. The peninsula also served as a Portuguese base for their attacks against the Dutch invaders. The colonists founded a settlement, which became a small town (São Antônio de Alcântara, 1648) with town hall and church. Sugar cane plantations dominated local economic activity in Alcântara. In 1799, the town was hit by smallpox and cholera epidemics. Tens of thousands of slaves were transported to the peninsula, in order to replace the perished. Besides sugar cane, cotton was grown, which made the local people prosperous. Due to confluence of adverse economic conditions, the town gradually became abandoned at the end of the 19th century. Former slaves occupied the abandoned farms, the houses were demolished for the construction for their houses. In 1948, Santo Antônio de Alcântara was declared as national historical-cultural monument by IPHAN.
In order to reach Alcântara, the 53 km distance should be crossed, on the waters of Baia de São Marcos. Since this bay has a direct connection with the Atlantic Ocean, the crossing is strongly dependent upon the tides. Therefore, boast depart early in the morning, and return late in the afternoon. Beforehand, we had informed about the fare and departure times. The cheapest crossing was by catamaran, for only 10 reais (4 euros). As described above, we literally had to run in order to be on time for the departure of the catamaran. We took our seats on the catamaran, we put on our life jackets. I already had put sunburn cream on my bare skin; very essential when you are on the water in the tropics. I counted ten passengers and four crew members.
I wasn’t the only foreigner, there were also some French tourists. For me it was quite obvious to observe some French tourists in São Luís. Maybe because of the French chapter in the local history? My travel companion was very talkative who easily made new contacts. We met a Brazilian scientist, who was about to spend her day off in Alcântara. She asked us if she could accompany us. We didn’t object. For Europeans, her request might sound somewhat strange, but you might receive such requests from Brazilians who travel alone. They then are accepted in a larger group. Why not, it is always interesting to meet new friends.
We quickly left the city of São Luís behind us. Less than fifteen minutes later, the city skyline was no more than a thin black line on the horizon. The water was brownish, thanks to the mud in the bay. There was a slight breeze, the crew tried to take advantage of this breeze. We regularly had to move from our seats to allow them to turn the sail. The sail was very relaxing, as a kind of remedy for the tiresome and intensive Saturday and the ultrashort night rest. Suddenly, a crew member drew our attention. A short cry, followed by a stretched arm. His arm pointed to some movements in the water. Sharks?? No! Innocent dolphins, who frolicked and leaped out of the water. Their dalliance drew all our attention, but no one managed to take pictures of them, They were too quick for us, and their movements were too unpredictable.
Fortunately, we had taken something from the breakfast table that morning. We were also lucky to have bottled water with us. A sail made us hungry and thirsty. However, you need to have a strong stomach for this sail. One of the passengers demonstrated that. He became nauseated, and he made the mistake to stare on the water and on the horizon. I drew his attention and advised him to stare in the blue sky and keep staring. This easy trick seemed to have effect: his balance organs no longer aimed at the horizon or at any pixed point, but were fixed at an infinite point. He managed to avoid throwing up.
The sail took more than two hours, before we arrived at the quay in Alcântara. We noticed some bright red dots, that appeared to be rooting in the mud of a reclaimed sandbank. Red ibises. They indeed are beautiful birds, with their bright red feathers and curved beak. Unfortunately, they were too far from us to obtain sharp pictures of them. Despite the relaxed sail, everyone was clearly delighted to step on land again. We climbed out of the catamaran and walked via another catamaran and ferry boat to the quay. We now were ready for our discovery of the Brazilian Open Air Museum of Santo Antônio de Alcântara…
By Adriano Antoine Robbesom
- Travel in Brazil: MARANHÃO (33). Images of Festa Bumba-meu-Boi (insiderbrazil.wordpress.com)
- Travel in Brazil: MARANHÃO (32). São José de Ribamar by Night (insiderbrazil.wordpress.com)
- Travel in Brazil: MARANHÃO (31). São José de Ribamar – IV (insiderbrazil.wordpress.com)