Founded by French explorers in the 17th century, São Luis do Maranhão is, ironically, the most Portuguese of Brazilian cities. Its wonderful buildings were for a long time in horrible disrepair and threatened with complete destruction. Fortunately, a lot of them were spared the bulldozer and today they're slowly being renovated into museums, inns, bars, and cultural spaces. São Luis (and the state of Maranhão) is home to some of the most beautiful crafts and folkloric manifestations in Brazil. Besides the capital city, there's the architecture of Alcântara across the channel, the national parks of Lençóis Maranhenses and Delta do Parnaíba, and the Chapada das Mesas and the river Tocantins in the southwest corner of the state...all breathtakingly beautiful. Can you tell Maranhão has become a favorite of ours? Here are some pictures I took while walking around São Luis...
The best place to buy crafts is the CEPRAMA marketplace.
The climate is very, very hot and humid, so remember to drink water or coconut water constantly. Wear comfy walking shoes and be prepared to walk up and down hills...The channel crossing between São Luis and Alcântara can be a bit rough; better done between January and June, July, before the winds come...Read about the bumba-boi dramatic dance and check out some music from Maranhão also.
I was also fascinated by the boats in Maranhão...and then reading a book by famous Brazilian sailor/navigator Amyr Klink, I found out that Brazil has the most diverse boat construction techniques in the world, the biggest diversity of boats, period. Isn't that nifty?
Maranhão's cuisine is a product of Portuguese and Black cultures, with a little bit of Brazilian Indian mixed in (farinha de mandioca). With such a long coast and so many rivers and mangroves, fish and crabs are a major staple of the local diet; so is rice. The most famous dish is called "arroz de cuxá." Cuxá is made with the leaves of the "vinagreira" bush (of the hibiscus family), farinha de mandioca, sesame seeds and dried shrimp and served with white rice and shrimp pie (which is really a shrimp frittata, flavored with fresh cilantro). There's also crab frittata and "caldeirada de camarão," a shrimp stew with coconut milk, serve with white rice and pirão (manioc meal mush). Yummy!!!