nomads of the sands

At rest stop, all welcomeThe staging point for the majestic Sheets of Maranhão Nat’l Park is the tiny, dune-invaded town of Barreirinhas, itself an enigmatic gem.

If the most rewarding and accessible parts of Brazil are at the end of long dirt roads, that dissuade most drivers from visiting, this also holds true for newly paved roads as our next destination showed. The only way to Barreirinhas, according to my several guidebooks, takes over eight tortuous hours by bus, yet by our visit the over two hundred kilometers from the main highway had just been asphalted. Dead-ending at an old fishing village, it is probably one of the remotest stretches of paved road in Brazil. [To Belém & Back, p. 188]

We arrived late afternoon after a long drive, risking that no hotel would accept Atlas as a guest. The strategy worked, as Dona Iza at the bucolic River Inn took pity on us and waived their no pet policy.

So far from anywhere and anything, Barreirinhas is a town whose deep isolation is slowly blowing away. Like much else in the Sheets of Maranhão, it is ever changing, the town at risk of burial under the shifting dunes of sand – and eventually tourists?

The sands blow and the dunes move, the village’s largest, called Ladder Hill, threatening to cut off the main road into town. [p.189]

Appropriately, the O Globo TV network had recently filmed a miniseries titled The Women of the Sands nearby, after Teshigahara’s 1964 New Wave classic Woman in the Dunes, an existential mediation on accepting one’s fate. [please hover over image for captions]

About Ben

Ben Batchelder has traveled some of the world's most remote roads. Nothing in his background, from a degree in Visual & Environmental Studies at Harvard to an MBA from Wharton, adequately prepared him for the experiences. Yet he persists, for through such journeys life unfolds. Having published four books that map the inner and exterior geographies of meaningful travel, he is a mountain man in Minas Gerais, Brazil who comes down to the sea at Miami Beach, Florida. His second travel yarn, To Belém & Back, received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. For more, visit

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