My 68-day voyage from the Southern and South Atlantic Oceans finally ends at Praia, Cabo Verde which was discovered by the Portuguese in 1456. I spend 18 days in this volcanic island country where the first European colony was established in the tropical region. I have an enjoyable time in Cabo Verde and find it charming with variety.
Cabo Verde (also known as Cape Verde)
Portuguese mariners first discovered the islands in 1456. Settlers arrived in 1462 and founded Ribeira Grande (now Cidade Velha), the first European town in the tropics. Its strategic location makes it a perfect clearing house and victualling station for the transatlantic slave trade. It has been an important stopover for coal and water and livestock for ocean liners.
Cabo Verde, a colony of Portugal, gained independence in 1975. The newly formed nation once seriously considered uniting with Guinea-Bissau till a coup in the latter in 1980. Though part of the African continent, its European legacy and influences from large overseas communities have led the nation on a different path and way of life. Cabo Verde is the most prosperous West African nation with the best-educated population and a Crioulo culture which is African at its core.
This island country with an area of 4,035km² spans an archipelago of ten volcanic islands in the central Atlantic Ocean some 570km off the coast of Western Africa. Out of the ten islands, nine (Santiago, Fogo, Brava, Miao, São Vicente, Santo Antão, Sal, Boa Vista and São Nicolau) are inhabited.
Its population of 512,096 (2013 census) is primarily of mixed European and African descent. Catholicism is the main religion. About 40% of the population lives in Santiago, the largest island.
The economy is service-oriented with commerce, transport and public services accounting for over 70% of GDP. Foreign remittances also account for some 20% of GDP. In 2015, the estimated nominal GDP of US$2.1 billion with GDP per capita of US$4,019.
The country has rich tourism resources. The town of Cidade Velha on the island of Santiago is a World Heritage Site. It is known for its music and dramatic landscape. Boasting 350 days of sunshine a year, it has been a popular destination especially for sun-seekers from Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal and the UK. In recent years, increasing number of tourists come also for the Mardi Gras in Mindelo, windsurfing, hiking in Santo Antão and climbing the newest volcano in Fogo. In 2014, the country received over half a million international tourists.
The islands are of volcanic origin and only 20% of the land is arable. Water has been a major problem: three droughts killed 100,000 people from 1773 to 1872. Harsh life on the islands has driven many Cabo Verdean emigrating to Europe and the United States. Today, the number of Verdean communities along the New England in the US rivals the population of Cape Verde.
April 28 Wednesday: Praia, Santiago (GMT-1)
Finally I was able to leave Ortelius stepping ashore after having obtained a 30-day visa from the CaboVerdean authorities at 12:30pm. I joinedAdam and four passengers from the ship on a private island tour for €68. Our car had been waiting for us at the pier since 9am.
We rushed off without delay. The plan was to drive through the main highway from the south to Tarrafal at the northwest side of the island. We had two brief stops at a botanical garden and Assomada. We passed the national park Seera Malagueta with many walking trails where one may see elusive monkeys.
We reached Tarrafal after 3pm. Just 2km outside Tarrafal is a former prison where the Portuguese authorities used to hold and interrogate political prisoners. I did not visit it as the minibus went straight to the restaurant. I had a short but nice walk along the beach watching the boat landing with its catch of the day. I had mutton and rice for lunch.
We dropped Adam off at a lovely hotel run by German with a private beach. Then we returned to Praia via the scenic coastal route.
I got off at Hotel Santa Maria in the middle of the town. I had a decent room for CVE5,200. Tonight I watched BBC for the first time since leaving Bluff on January 11 and was horrified by the devastating earthquake over the weekend which has taken the lives of thousands of people and destroyed some of the trails, national monuments and homes of the people. I must say I have not missed the news too much while at sea!
I have been to Nepal several times and love the people, culture and stunning landscape. As it is a poor country with an ineffective and inefficient government and poor infrastructure, I do not know how long it takes to recover from this catastrophe.
April 29 Thursday: Praia
Time to plan again. I love to see as many islands as possible and Fogo in particular during its annual festival which would last till May 1. At 8am, I went to a shipping office hoping to get a ferry ticket. As expected, all tickets were sold. Next, I went to the TACV office (airline) as soon as it opened its door without real hope to find a ticket. Hence both the TACV staff and I could not believe when finding a ticket on April 30. I was lucky to get a return ticket for CVE11,200.
Next, I crossed the road to a travel agent to get a ticket for Praia – São Vicente – Sal. The fare of CVE17,000 is not too bad. Cabo Verdeans are relaxed and sociable: efficiency is not important. By the time I got my tickets, it was almost noon. Next I went online to purchase an e-ticket for Sal- Las Palmas, Canary Islands on May 15 for US$182. This would give me a total of 18 days in Cape Verde!
Time for sight-seeing. I took my first aluguer (local minibus) from Sucupira Market (CVE200) to Cidade Velha. Founded in 1462 as the first European town in the tropics, the town 10km west of Praia, is now a World Heritage Site. Two great navigators had stopped here: Vasco da Gama in 1497 on his way to India and Christopher Columbus in 1498 while on his third voyage to the Americas. Cidade Velha began to decline after attacks and plunders by Francis Drake and French pirates. It lost its eminence when the capital was moved to Praia in 1770. This small town with a population of about 1,200, is not touristic and laid-back.
The main attractions are the cathedral (1693) which now is in ruin, a pillory, the old quarter with two lanes lined with white-washed stone houses, the oldest church in the world – Nossa Senhora Rosário Church (1493-1495) and a royal fort.
I had a beer and two grilled groupers for lunch (CVE800) before heading to the fort which was constructed 120m above sea level in 1590. I followed the main road as I did not notice a stone path behind the village. As a result, I walked at least 2-3 km more in the sun. Stupid!
The view from the fort which has been renovated in recent years, is excellent. I took a shortcut and was back in the old town within 15 minutes. I returned to the Nossa Senhora Rosário Church hoping it would be open for its daily service. I was right: a service with a handful of church-goers was in progress. I sat at the back imagining Vasco da Gama and Columbus praying under the same roof before their discovery voyages.
The aluguer back to Praia was quicker as the driver did not wait to fill the vehicle. Back in the hotel, I had a beer in the terrace bar and talked with two passengers from Panchius who stayed in the same hotel. They definitely had more activity days than us.
Then I saw Margaret and Colin from Ortelius walking past. They together with Elaine from New Zealand had taken a taxi for a day for only €100 and visited all the attractions on the island. We had a good chat before saying good-bye.
April 30, Friday: Praia, Santiago – São Filipe, Fogo
As my flight for Fogo left around 7am, I had to take a taxi to the airport at 5:30am for CVE1,000. It is a short flight which lasts 20 minutes (the ferry takes about three hours). I later discovered the Prime Minister and some key guests for the Fogo festival were on the same flight. I suppose I am lucky in getting a ticket that might have been reserved for this VIP group.
Consisting of a single volcano, Fogo is a hotspot volcanic island which is nearly round with a diameter of about 25 kilometers. The current topography of Fogo, with the caldera open to the sea on the east side, results from the sliding of the east flank of the volcano towards the ocean.
The large summit caldera (about 10 kilometers in the north-south direction and 7 kilometers in the east-west direction) is not located in the center of the island, but rather towards its northeastern corner. The caldera is bounded by steep near-vertical fault scarps on the north, west, and south sides but is breached to the east where lava can flow to the coast. North-northeast-trending eruptive fissures opened along the western flank of Pico, which formed inside the caldera between about 1500 and 1760. Its most recent eruptions have occurred in 1951, 1995 and 2014. It is the youngest and most active volcano in the Cabo Verde Islands. Today, it has a population of 37,000.
A taxi driver, Jack who speaks English offered to drive me to São Filipe, the capital of the island for CVE300. As he discovered I had no hotel reservation, he showed me a very basic room. He said ‘450’ in the same breath as he told me the rate of taxi ‘CVE300’. I thought it was on the low side but he might hope I would hire his taxi for a day trip. He left me at his house and returned to the airport for more business.
I walked around the town which has many colourful colonial houses, a cathedral and street food and drink stalls. The Fogo festival attracts emigrants especially from the States and visitors around this time of the year. A large stage has been set up in a park for a concert during the festival.
I tried to find a better room in the Seafood Restaurant with a sea view next to the cathedral. But it’s full. I checked the up-market Colonial Hotel which was full too. I therefore decided not to waste time to look for a better room: I would put up with the poor condition for two nights at Jack’s place. Also it’s only ‘450’ a night.
Then I took an aluguer heading to Mosteiros at the northern end of the island. This would give me a chance to go around the island. I had a long ride along the coastal road on the eastern side of the island which has many villages. At some sections, the lava flows all the way to the sea. It costs only CVE300 for the hour-long ride. I walked along the coast for a while but found nothing of interest.
Time to return to São Filipe. But there’s no aluguer in sight. Then I saw a French couple with walking poles (they had just climbed Mt Fogo) also looking for transportation back to the capital. We decided to take a private aluguer for CVE4,000. This time the driver took the well-paved western coastal road with few settlements. I paid CVE1,600 and had an island tour!
I was hungry and had a lobster in the Seafood Restaurant for CVE2,000. It is different with stronger flavour but softer texture. When I got back to Jack’s house, I tried to take a shower. But there’s no water. Eventually he gave me a tiny bucket hardly enough for a shower. I was annoyed! When I paid for the room and the taxi, he demanded CVE4,500 a night for the room. This is ridiculous for its appalling condition and service (no water nor breakfast). Even the high-end Colonial Hotel and Hotel Savana charge around CVE6,000 a night.
I am flabbergasted. Jack is cunning, greedy and dishonest: he is cheating. As I had already spread my stuff in the room and taken half of a shower, I kept my temper and paid CVE3,000 for a night. As a result, he refused to turn on the air-conditioning. But I doubt whether it works at all. I check with locals who confirm that one either says CVE4,500 or 45. When he said ‘450’, it would mean CVE450. I believe he is operating an illegal guesthouse. I would shall complain to the relevant authority as such a bad guy can harm the reputation of the honest folks.
I do not want to see his face any more. Hence I immediately left his house wandering around town before going to the concert at 10pm. The small town came to life after dark with dozens of street stalls selling BBQ meat and drinks.
I paid CVE500 for a ticket for the concert. I found a bench and spent almost three hours people watching, enjoying the moonlight and music. The Cabo Verdean music is pleasing, soft and melodic though I cannot understand Portuguese at all. People young and old were dancing. Their movements are gentle as compared to the Brazilians.
I am not a night person and prefer to go bed before midnight. I left at 12:30am when more locals were coming in. Ten minutes later, I saw fireworks lighting up the sky. The following day, I was told that they had fireworks as part of the annual celebrations. I should have stayed for half an hour to watch the fireworks from the park.
May 1 Saturday: Fogo
A sleepless night in a room without ventilation! Jack did not turn on the air-conditioning and no air came in from the tiny window. I got up early and met John, a 76-year-old Cabo Verdean who has emigrated to Boston, in the corridor. He comes back annually for the festival to see his family and spends a few months in Jack’s place.
Knowing I am unhappy with the room, he invited me to join him for breakfast in a nearby hotel. After breakfast, he saw an old friend passing by in his 4WD. He stopped the car asking his friend to drive me around to see the town. Life on the island is simple but intimate: everyone seems related to one another.
I got off at Jack’s guesthouse to pick up my backpack and checked in Hotel Havana with a swimming pool. I was in dire need of a decent sleep and good shower! Then I headed to the cathedral which had a special May 1 service starting at 10:30am. Though I cannot understand the language, I enjoy the singing and atmosphere.
After the service was over at 12:30pm, I went to Coral Restaurant, a flavourite spot for locals to join John for lunch. He had his cousin and another school friend with him. We all had a plat of the day with salad, two big pieces of fish, rice and chips. John insisted in paying – he is a lonely soul without family and is generous! I invited him for a meal before my departure. But I did not see him again.
At 4:30pm, there is the annual horse race held on the main street just outside Hotel Savana and Hotel Colonial. I joined the crowd to watch a dozen riders taking part. The announcement as expected was in Portuguese and I hardly knew what’s happening. But it is obvious that all horse riders have to take a floral ring off the rope in the first round and snatch a bag of candies in the second round. When candies fall to the ground, the boys ran out to pick them up. They seemed to have fun.
I did not go to the concert. Instead I had a good night sleep in my comfortable room with high ceiling and excellent natural ventilation.
May 2 Saturday: Fogo –Brava – Rest Day
The town became a dead city after the festival. Many people stayed up the whole night. I had a lazy day swimming in the pool and writing my travel notes in the veranda facing the main street. It’s very hot and the locals seemed to be sleeping or stay in door. I saw no one on the street.
Around 5:30pm, I met a young guy from Brava in the hotel restaurant. He lives in the States and has come back for the festival and to visit his family. When he learnt that I had not booked a room in Brava yet, he called Pension Paul Sena in Vila de Nova Sintra, the tiny capital, and reserved a room for me (CVE50,000 for two nights). All locals I have met are nice except Jack. Then I exchanged some money in a Chinese shop (US$1 for CVE95) before having dinner at Coral Restaurant.
The ferry would be leaving for Brava at 8:30pm. But I was told to get to the pier around 7pm. I took VI’s taxi and paid CVE400 for the 4-km journey to the port. But I waited an hour and a half. It is ridiculous to ask passengers wait at the pier for over an hour.
Many aluguers were waiting at the pier at Furna, Brava. I paid CVE400 and the driver dropped me off at Pension Paul Sena. The owner cannot speak English but looks nice and honest. I had a decent room with old-fashioned and heavy furniture and even hot water for a shower. I had a good sleep.
May 3 Sunday: Brava
Brave is small with a population of 7,000. On Sunday, everything comes to a stop. A few locals stopped by to say hello. A lady who has lived in Florida and speaks English came to see me. She looks ill and may have mental problem talking to herself in English and Spanish. She asked me to give her money and I refused. Later in the day, another man came in repeating similar story and asked me for money. I do not know what is happening: some families are well-off with relatives and live off remittance. A must-see here is Fajã d’Agua set dramatically between a rocky cove and impressive cliffs. But some may become a misfit or have not managed their finance well when they are working overseas. Some may simply have a drinking or family problem. Brava has a few hiking trails. One can get an aluguer to go around the island.
A man came up to me trying to persuade me to take him as my guide and arrange an aluguer to Fajã d’Agua,a must-see on the island for CVE1,000. I was annoyed and preferred to go around on my own. Anyway, he told me about a local festival and took me to the starting point of a procession. A dozen of locals were dancing and playing drums. I watched for a while before walking north.
While walking uphill along a cobble-stone road, an aluguer with half a dozen of passengers stopped to give me a lift. After a pleasant ride for a kilometre, everyone jumped off. I asked whether the driver was prepared to take me to Fajã d’Agua. He only asked for CVE800. Then I saw a French couple whom I met on the boat last night at a local store. I invited them to take a ride with me. They jumped in. We ended up having a lovely Sunday together!
The road along the north coast is very scenic with dramatic cliffs and coves. Then we stopped at an idyllic fishing village just before Fajã d’Agua for a drink. As the driver had to leave to prepare for the festival, he arranged his friend who speaks French to take us back.
This guy arranged a lunch at his relative’s private kitchen. We paid CVE1,200 for a beer, red wine, a wholesome lunch with grilled tuna and salad each. Our second driver took to Fajã d’Agua before taking us back to the capital. As none of us had bathing suit on, we did not get into the pool for a dip. But we all enjoy the scenery, the atmosphere and fresh air. I was back to my pension before 3:30pm.
Time for siesta! When I got up at 4:30pm, the sun was not too hot. I therefore walked to Maso Grande going through many stone paths and watching some local kids playing in their courtyards. They all look so happy and care free!
It was getting dark when I was back in the town square. Suddenly I heard tunes from my smart phone: the local authority provides free WiFi at the park and my phone picks up the signal. Hence, I spent half an hour in catching up with emails and messages. The only problem here is the mosquito. I had once again been badly bitten! I had a good lunch and skipped dinner. I spent the evening writing in the dining room while the locals were drinking and watching European football. This is the way the men spend their evenings.
May 4 Monday: Brava – Fogo
I got up at 5:50am and the same driver picked me up at 6am. The ferry left at 7am and I was back in Fogo before 7:45am. VI was already waiting at the pier together with a young guide Zuka fromChã das Caldeiras. I made arrangements for a hike at Mt Fogo with VI two days ago. After leaving my backpack at the B&B Seafood Restaurant, I departed immediately with VI and Zuka.
Pico do Fogo standing at 2,829m above sea level is the highest peak of Cabo Verde. The main cone last erupted in 1675, causing mass emigration from the island. A subsidiary vent erupted in 1995 and the last one from November 23, 2014 to February 8, 2015 which completely destroyed the village, Chã with about 1,000 inhabitants located inside the caldera.
The drive up to the caldera is scenic. As the road inside the caldera to Chã has been destroyed during recent eruptions, the only way to get to the village is to drive at the edge of the caldera. There is no road but sand and lava. The aluguer moved along cautiously and slowly. My heart sank when the lady sitting next to me and a man at the back were crying and wailing for the dead and what they have lost. I noticed some villagers were digging and rebuilding their houses.
Only a few houses remain standing. Zuka took me to his small house which is almost buried under the lava. When he has saved enough money, he intends to get a few workmen to remove the lava and repair it. Life is hard for a young lad like him whose father has 39 children from five wives! Zuka thinks his father is crazy. I hope his father is atypical. Otherwise, there is no future for an over-populated country with limited natural resources.
The caldera is the place where the famous Fogo wine is produced. But the winery as well as 90% of the vines have been destroyed. There are still smokes coming out from the vents and the new crater at about 2000m. The smell from the fumaroles is very strong. Zuka warned me not to go too near the crater and tried not to breath. I walked for about three hours and got back to São Filipe before 2pm. As I made the excursion on my own, I had to pay CVE9,000 (5,000 for the taxi, 3,000 for Zuka and 1,000 for the ride with the aluguer to Chã). It is expensive but I consider it worth doing. If I ever return to Cabo Verde, I would like to stay at Chã and start walking to Pico do Fogo around 3am to avoid the heat.
Owing to the heat, I remained indoor till 6pm. I returned to Coral Restaurant for the last time. I paid CVE600 tonight for a glass of red wine and a fish. I strolled around trying to discover nice B&Bs. In case I return one day to climb Mt Fogo, I know where I can stay.