Monday, March 28, 2011

The Bedsheets of Maranhão

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.

 Leighton – Monday


  1. Wow! Looks like paradise. Your posts are always a colourful and refreshing balm on a cold Monday morning in the UK, Leighton.

  2. After the water dries up, where do the fish go to wait for the next rainfall? Why don't plants grow, if there is that much water? I love South America! It's no wonder magical realism thrived there. Where else could one see such magical places?

  3. Isn't nature wonderful! God decides each year that He is going to do some finger-painting to surprise and enthrall those who get to see if from His vantage point. Then He turns around the notion of desert and creates an oasis for the soul.

    He had fun when He was creating Brazil.


  4. I want to go there NOW!!


  5. Wow, just magical is right. South America is amazing in its variety of landscapes. thank you for these pictures.

  6. Hi Leighton,

    What a site!

    I thought it was snow, it's hard to imagine trees so green in a desert.

    The photos are stunning, your so lucky to have caught a view like that.

    How was it your camera was so handy?


  7. Jeez. Nature does abstract art. Nice to see a jaw-dropper that doesn't involve a tsunami.


  8. Leighton

    What fabulous pictures!! I want to be there too. It seems like this should be up there with the Wonders of the Natural World. Where do the crabs and fish go? I want to know more. Is there a website in English to tell us more about this?


  9. Susie,
    Thanks for the kudos about my photographic ability, but they're unwarranted. I seldom carry a camera anymore, and I didn't take the pictures. I appropriated them.

    Annamaria and Jacquie,
    On the subject of where the fish and crabs go:
    In the old days, this was regarded as a miracle. But biologists know that the eggs of the previous generation are resistant to drought. When the rain comes, they hatch. And, at the same time, a slime, or ooze of algae also blooms from drought-resistant seeds. It is upon this algae that the animals feed when they hatch. And, as they grow larger, they feed upon the smaller creatures in the ecosystem.
    It's pretty amazing.

    There's not much about it in English on the internet, but you can find a few words here:

  10. BTW, the article in Wikipedia attributes the existence of the sea creatures to eggs dropped by birds.
    This theory has been discredited.
    The eggs have been there all the time.
    That much has been proven.

  11. Evolution? God? Mother Nature? It's still magical if you ask me!

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