On our one and only day in Mangue Seco, we wanted to make sure we had enough time to take full advantage of everything it had to offer. Since we went to bed so early last night, we actually naturally got up super early and decided to wander around to get our bearings straight. Upon the suggestion of our host, we walked to the nearby lighthouse which was situated atop one of the highest points in order to best get our bearings straight. While one could technically climb up to the top of the lighthouse for a birds eye view, the framework was so rickety with the ladder seemingly supported by a few poles that I didn’t dare make the climb. After a quick walk, we headed back to the pousada for breakfast on the beach, which consisted of a tasty spread of tapiocas and sweet pastries while wild monkeys watched on.
While the tide was still low, we took advantage of the opportunity to row kayaks across the river with the intent to go through a thin canal through a mangrove forest on the other side of the bank. Heading out in the single kayaks the hotel provided, the river went from still to choppy as we rowed further from shore until all of a sudden…the sky broke open and it started to pour! There was a narrow sand bank visible only during low tide that also housed a bungalow on stilts, so we decided to row the short distance over until we realized that 1) the shelter was actually not situated on the sand bank itself, and 2) the shelter lacked steps so we also had no way of reaching it from the water. Feeling like castaways stuck on the sand bank, we braved the storm (all while getting drenched) until it passed, at which point we were too traumatized to continue further into the mangroves and instead rowed back to our shore to just explore some more. We walked back beyond the lighthouse to catch some incredible 360 degree views of the area where the river would feed into the ocean, the neighboring village, more sand dunes, and even some dolphins jumping in the river. After exhausting the area by the river bank, we took a shortcut through the village past a few locals’ homes, and up a sand dune that opened right out onto the ocean. Here, unlike Porto de Galinhas, was a completely secluded stretch of beach save for a few local kids playing soccer. While the beach itself wasn’t as stunning as PdG, it was unique in that we had a long stretch of completely unspoiled beach that was all ours.
Next up was the highlight of our day and for me, one of the biggest highlights of our entire trip. We had booked a buggy tour through our hotel, who assured us that our driver Eduardo was the best in the business. If there was a better guy, we’d be impressed because Eduardo really made the tour. Without knowing any English, Eduardo had the gift of of slowing down to explain things so well that we didn’t need to fully know Portuguese to understand him (my Duolingo lessons still helped, however). We started our 2 hour tour by driving through the sand dunes to stop at a few viewpoints and actually had the chance to stop and try our hand at sandboarding down one of the dunes. It was here where we learned a little about Mangue Seco’s history and what made the area so unique. Given the way the wind blows, the dunes retreat towards the river by a few meters each year, so that in 300 years they will move completely to the river banks, completely covering the palm trees that line the shores. Eduardo was quite the skilled driver as well, taking us through and down some steep dunes for a fun ride, then through a small nearby village, before winding our way back onto the beach. Approaching the village, we saw many more mangroves (mangues) that gave the town its name, along with piles and piles of coconuts that, in addition to tourism, are the primary cash cow for the small village of 200. In the village, we sat down with some locals for a quick beverage, sampling the juice of mangabas, a local fruit with a sweet pear-like taste.
After Eduardo dropped us back off on the beach, we got a late lunch right after escaping storm #2 at one of the rare, if not only, restaurants that we found on the beach. By this point, it was unfortunately time for us to head back to the pousada for the long journey back to Salvador. Our long journey was made even longer due to some unforeseen obstacles that inevitably rise when visiting a small village that isn’t quite up to the times. As you might recall from the day before, these buses don’t take online reservations, so after taking the river crossing and taxi to Estancia (different station than the one we arrived at since they had a better schedule), we found that the bus we wanted to take was already full. The good news following this was that there were two no-shows causing seats to open up, but the bad news – which turned to really bad news – was that the credit card machine was broken. Having not anticipated the need for extra cash (our bad – everything in Mangue Seco was cash only and there were no ATM’s in the village), we were short on cash for the trip back. The bus station was tiny, with no ATM on-site, and without being allowed to pay for the trip on the back end at our destination, the bus left without us. Also, being in such a small remote town, nobody spoke English nor were there any other tourists that could help us devise solutions. The nearest ATM was in the town center which was a 15 minute walk on a deserted, unlit street, and there were no cabs visibly available. After repeatedly trying to brainstorm solutions with the ticket counter guy, the only viable option was for him to call a “moto taxi” – literally a taxi on a motorcycle – to take one of us into town. Between getting on a random person’s motorcycle to go to a random village to withdraw money, and getting separated from one another in a remote village, it was probably one of the scariest and stupidest things Doug and I have collectively done on any trip. By some miracle, none of the worst case scenarios circulating in our head happened, and Doug got back quickly with cash in hand. Not the best way to end a relaxing and otherwise perfect day.
We took the next (and last) bus picking up in Estancia around 7pm that night, which thankfully came about an hour after the first one left. It was still traumatic, as the bus was full, freezing, and we were seated away from each other in pitch darkness, but we eventually made it back to Salvador around 10:45pm where we promptly took a taxi back to our original pousada to catch some winks before yet another adventure tomorrow.
HOW WE DID IT:
We winged it for most of the day because Mangue Seco has zero resources for planning the trip in advance. Our pousada, Pousada O Forte, provided kayaks for our use and called up a buggy company, which was the best way to organize any excursions (R170/$56). If anyone does end up going to this remote part of the world, please do ask for Eduardo for a buggy tour! The pousada also handled transportation across the river (R50/$17) and taxi (R60/$20) to Estancia. It is certainly difficult to reach but absolutely worth it.
Don’t follow our lead and make sure to travel to Mangue Seco with plenty of cash in hand. Buses leave from either Indiaroba or Estancia but the latter had a much faster route and later buses (R112/$37 per ticket) which accommodated our schedule better.