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Published: January 20th 2016
Wednesday January 13th, 2016. Mindelo, Cabo Verde Islands
Cabo Verde is one of the smallest and poorest of the African nations, lying some 400 miles of tnly 9 of the 10 volcanic islands and 8 smaller islets have been settled. Mindelo is on Sao Vincente island and is the main town. Around 50,000 people live in Mindelo, representing almost 12% of the entire population of all the islands.
The islands' name 'Cabo Verde' in Portuguese derives from their position lying off Cap Vert, the Dakar peninsula of Senegal. The islands gained independence from Portugal on 5th July 1975. The volcanic scenery is quite spectacular but the islands are extremely dry and have only 10% viable agricultural land and most of the food needs to be imported. The main crops that they can grow here are maize, beans, coconuts, sugar cane, potatoes and bananas. Fish is an import export. Salt is mined on the islands of Sal, Boa Vista and Maio and is also exported. Tourism is growing in importance but an attempt to develop the east of the island with flash villas and apartments fell flat and many potential investors had their fingers burned. The
islands have a wild rugged beauty - if you like harsh dry barren and mountainous. The shores are an important nesting site for loggerhead turtues and huback whales feed in the surrounding waters.
Until colonisation by Portugal in 1462 these islands were uninhabited, the majority of the population and the labour being slaves from the West African coast. The archipelago presented much importance to the Portuguese due to their strategic position between Africa, the Americas and Europe, and for a long time Cabo Verde was one of the most important slaving stations of the region. Even when the Portuguese were forced to limit their slaving activities drastically as a result of British intervention in the 19th century, the islands continued to flourish as the centre of the slave trade between West Africa and the Spanish Antilles. The slaves were considered better 'quality' as the sick or weak ones would already have perished on the sea journey from Africa. The British influence on the island left a firm legacy in the town, not only in some of the architecture and colonial buildings, but also the odd words of the English language have become intertwined with the local Creole,
and the introduction of cricket - although interest in the game has rather tapered off since colonial times.
From 1838 until the 1950's Porto Grande (where the ship had docked) grew from nothing to a major supply depot on the East Indies and South American shipping routes. At the height of its importance at the end of the 19th century, Mindelo was servicing over 1,300 ships a year. The racial mixture is much as it has been since those 15th century days. Polygamy exists due to a combination of African tribal conditions and the acute shortage of men caused by emigration. Due to severe food shortages following years of drought, hundreds of thousands of Cape Verdeans fled the islands, emigrating to mainland Portugal, Aftrica or to America. Over the years the islans have frequently experienced famines, and many people suffer from malnutrition.
We had a posh breakfast and then packed the rucksack with the laptop and went to meet Pam and Stewart at the bottom of the gangway. We walked through Porto Grande which is a bustling container port and ferry port. Mindelo harbour grew as an important station where ships took on supplies
of coal, water and livestock and for more than 100 years was the site of a British-run coaling station. The bay on which the port is located is part of a huge sunken crater and has always been the best harbour on any of the Cabo Verde Islands. During WW2, Nazi submarines used the harbour as a naval base, with the approval of the Portuguese dictator and Nazi sympathizer, Salazar.
Once out of the port we strolled along the seafront which is lined by a long esplanade called Avenida Amilcar Cabral. Lined with palm trees and fronted by colourful colonial buildings painted in bright colours and pastel shades with balconies and shuttered windows. Some of the buildings needed a bit of work! The architecture of the town is predominantly Portuguese, although British influence is evident in the architecture of some of the larger buildings.
We had intended to find the internet cafe that we used the last time we were here but Mindelo has come on a bit since 2008 and there were plenty of places to choose from. We walked past the first couple of places as they were already full of passengers
from the ship and we figured that the numbers would reduce the band width and make it really slow. We found a place with only two passengers there and had a beer while M and Stewart went online.
Internet and emails completed we went for a stroll around the town. Most of the shops were "Fechado" (closed for siesta) - much to Pam's annoyance. We walked past the Municipal Market building which is a covered market in a huge grey and white colonial style building. Passing by several closed shops M found one open and purchased the mandatory FM. We continued on past some more brightly coloured colonial buildings until we came to the church which was a very attractive white building. Some of the colonial buildings were in a serious state of disrepair but in days gone by they would have been stunning. We found the open air market inPraca Estrela and had a stroll around. This market had rows of stalls and at the end of each row there was a tiled fresco depicting a scene from Sao Vincente's past. We strolled around the market taking in the atmosphere and plenty of photos before heading
back towards the esplanade passing the Fish Market. We arrived at the Museum of the Sea which is housed in a fortified tower which is a copy of Lisbon's famous Belem Tower. Next to the tower is a statue of Diogo Afonso a famous navigator. In front of this statue which looked out over the bay filled with local fishing boats bobbing about and leisure and sailing craft riding at anchor, most of the leisure craft were calling at the island to re-stock whilst on a journey across the Atlantic Ocean.
While we were there we were lucky enough to see a small fishing boat being launched and also a net brought in to reveal the catch. The net was laid out in a horshoe shape with the two ends on the beach. Young boys were positioned around the net to keep it in shape and prevent the fish escaping. Both ends of the net were hauled in until only the fish were left behind at the bottom. It was a pretty meagre catch though. The fish were stored in a large empty mineral water bottle (still alive) weighed down with two smaller bottles full of sea water. We strolled back along the Avenida Amilcar Cabral passing a large statue of a bird of prey (we think it was an eagle) but couldn't understand the inscription.
We had dinner in the restaurant and afterwards we listened to the Marco Polo orchestra which wasn't M's cup of tea but D really enjoyed it. Then we made our way to the deck where the show team were performing Motown Hits. It was nice to be on dry land today.
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