by Alejandro G., Grade 10
My alarm went off at 3:20 am on Sunday, September 22, the morning of my first Classroom Without Walls (CWW) trip. After some difficulty, I found the will to get out of bed and change into the travel clothes I had picked out the night before. I quickly double-checked my luggage and was out of the house, arriving at school right on time to meet up with my mentoring group in the Graded Student Center before departing for the airport.
Nearly all 10th graders embarked on the much anticipated trip to Lençóis Maranhenses, a legendary region of Brazil I had heard of many times before but had never visited. I knew the journey there would be somewhat tedious – between the bus ride to the airport, the three-and-a-half-hour flight to São Luis, Maranhão, and the long bus ride to the city of Barreirinhas where we would be staying. However, I knew that once there, I would have a great time.
After finally arriving at the hotel that evening, our guides advised us to set our alarms for 6:45 am, as we were scheduled to leave for our first adventure by 8:00 am. My group would be the first of the three to visit the famous sand dunes of the Lençóis National Park; I couldn't wait. After a long and bumpy drive via pickup truck, we arrived at the dunes that instantly stunned me with their beauty. They were unlike anything I had ever seen before. For starters, they were much bigger than I had expected, and the sand felt incredibly smooth, albeit very hot, under my bare feet. We trekked through the dunes, passing small lagoons with dramatically blue water, until we arrived at our destination: the magnificent Lagoa Azul. We slid down a tall dune into the lagoon and swam in it for a while, taking it all in. We then continued on to Lagoa Bonita. I was astonished by the stark contrast in the elements: strong winds, scorching heat, and the cold water. At the end of an incredible day. I was exhausted but exhilarated.
The next day, we traveled by motorboat along the Preguiças River to Marcelino, a self-sustaining artisan community. There, the locals showed us the entire process of using 100% natural fibers to make iconic artisan bags. They demonstrated how they extract and dye (all with natural coloring) fibers, which are delicate and malleable strands obtained from buriti plants that grow near wetlands in tropical areas of Brazil. The artisans then weave the dyed fibers with incredible skill to make beautiful boxes, baskets, bags, and accessories such as colorful bracelets. As if the experience itself weren't enough, we left Marcelino with souvenirs the artisans made specially for us. Happy and hungry, we then headed to lunch at Restaurante Casa da Farinha by the river. Upon finishing our meal, we were led next door where the restaurant owners make their own manioc flour (farinha de mandioca). We learned all about the starchy root vegetable and observed the flour-making process, starting with the meticulous peeling of the root.
On Wednesday, the last day of activities, we again left on the boats. This time we were heading towards the ocean to explore the town of Mandacaru, and we met a group of local fishermen in the fishing village of Atins. They shared with us a number of interesting stories about their profession and about the challenges they have faced since Atins became a popular kitesurfing destination. It was eye-opening to get the fishermen's perspectives on the impact of kitesurfing on the main local economic activity. After this incredible learning experience, we went to another beach and walked through smaller dunes to swim in a lagoon.
Later that afternoon, we took the boats back to the hotel. As the sun lowered in the horizon, we were able to appreciate the particularly beautiful scenery. It was an unforgettable closing to a great trip. I could not be more grateful for this opportunity, not only to explore those amazing landscapes, but also to interact closely with local communities and experience Brazil in a way that many have never done.