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T he year is 2008. A group of tourists heads out of São Luís, capital of Maranhão, where the beaches have been declared off-limits. On January 7, the local papers announced that researchers at the Federal University of Maranhão had detected fecal coliform levels twenty-five times above acceptable limits. With the sun straight overhead, the vacationers point their car toward the town of Barreirinhas, not far from the promised paradise of Brazil’s Lençóis Maranhenses, a national park since 1981. The road is nearly deserted, the landscape dotted by only a few villages,some scattered adobe houses,and a bar here and there. Large expanses of land have been burned off to give way to subsistence farming. Their rental car starts acting up, and the tourists scramble for their guide­­ book, where they locate the lone gas station along the 100-mile stretch of road between them and the park. Worried they’ll find themselves stuck in the middle of nowhere, the tourists press on—and breathe a heavy sigh of relief when they reach their unplanned stop. Their happiness, however, is short-lived. The gas station proves as forsaken as the rest of the area, and the attendants know nothing more than how to fill a tank. A native bird hangs in a locked cage outside a humble house nearby. Three men have just finished their lunch and throw what little is left to two squalid mutts, followed eagerly by some pigs and a chicken. One of the men goes back Introduction 4 Introduction to building a birdcage.A TV set hooked up to a satellite dish is playing a movie that stars Denzel Washington. The nearest public phone is almost nine miles away. Luckily, one of the travelers’cell phones picks up a signal and comes back to life, so they call the rental agency. Help will arrive in two hours. While they wait, the tourists amble over to the nearby house, where lettering painted on an outside wall advertises a bar inside. It’s closed, but the nextdoor neighbor is selling beverages and cookies. There’s a pool table and some chairs on the porch.The family has an old jalopy, likely a sign of great prosperity in these parts. Every once in a while, dogs and chickens at their heels, a few curious children scurry in and out of the house to peer at the strangers. One of the tourists asks if there’s a restroom she can use. Yes, around back. As she crosses the room, she sees men, women, and children crowded around another TV. The bathroom is outside, surrounded by chickens, pigs, and dogs. There’s a porcelain toilet but it doesn’t flush; a big bucket of dingy water and a small ba­ sin make up for it. The other tourists—all men—are too embarrassed to breach the privacy of the home, so they go back to the gas station and ask to use the bathroom there.The fellow says they don’t have one.“If you gotta take a dump, it’s a little ways out back. But if you gotta pee, well, it’s back over there too.” He points to the woods behind the station. There, in the spot where the call of nature is answered, the visitors run into the same pigs that had been fighting over the lunchtime leftovers, now wallowing in a rather questionable puddle. Help finally comes. The tank is filled, but the invoice will have to be issued in the town of Humberto de Campos, nine miles away, because the attendant doesn’t know how to write. The tourists continue on toward Barreirinhas, just outside the famous Len- çóis Maranhenses and its dazzling display of undulating sand dunes ribboned with blue waters. The Lençóis lie in a national park that has no entrance gate and no supervision or form of control whatsoever. The lush plant life leading up to the dunes is marred by areas of burn-off and cropland.The park itself sits amid villages that lack safe drinking water, sewer systems, or garbage service. Its pathways are cluttered with plastic bags and bottles and beer cans routinely tossed away by tourists. Naked children with protruding bellies wander around among scruffy dogs and pigs, waving at the folks in passing cars, on their way from their luxury hotels or resorts to the region’s magnificent (really?) tourist attractions. Introduction 5 The National Museum This...


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Related ISBN
MARC Record
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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