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Published: August 8th 2017
Greetings from Cape Verde, country number 76! And what an amazing country this seems to be. Cape Verde consists of a group of nine sizeable islands, and countless smaller ones, stretching out in a semi-circular archipelago in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. My impression so far is only of its main and largest island, Santiago, and based on this first impression, these are bleak, desolate and actually quite stunning islands surrounded by an ocean of impregnable blue. They are spectacular, and they have come as a very welcome relief from my travels in Africa. I have certainly enjoyed traveling in Senegal and The Gambia, they have offered new experiences and it has been pleasurable exploring a region of the world I’ve not yet set foot in, but in all honesty the two countries are flat and rather featureless. Whilst I have seen some beautiful places there, sightseeing marvels do not leap out at you, not like the Rift Valley might do in Kenya, or the Victoria Falls on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. You have to look hard and scratch beneath the surface I think to experience the attractions of Senegal. Whereas touching down on the
island of Santiago on Sunday evening, I was immediately struck by the beauty and awesomeness of the place, and really do feel excited to be here and to travel here. Cape Verde also appears to be a country of much more advanced development, and European-ness. This was immediately evident by the very quiet arrival at Praia Airport – despite Praia being the capital and largest city of Cape Verde, with a population of around 130,000, it is gentle, the immigration officials were not scary but welcoming, and the taxi drivers did not immediately jump on top of you, but formed an orderly taxi rank just outside the airport terminal, where people just calmly got into the taxi at the front of the queue. It all appears so gentle, so developed, and so very very welcome!
The language spoken here is Portuguese, and my experiences of the language in Brazil also ring true here: it is such a happy language to listen to, and people just enjoy speaking it in their sing-song way. Everybody seems to speak with everybody, whether they know them or not, and people are also very welcoming to myself, a foreigner. I can quite easily read
Portuguese written down, as it is very similar to Spanish, and you only need to learn a few more words to be able to understand the written basics. I do struggle with listening to it though, as the Portuguese really do eat their syllables. I am still enjoying trying to speak it though – it is, as I say, a very happy, enjoyable language. It also feels very Brazilian here, and the mixture of the people, 70% of whom are mixed race, 29% black, and 1% white reflects the northern part of Brazil quite closely. I have really enjoyed just getting to know Cape Verde as a country these last couple of days, just being open to observation on what goes on around me.
So after a lovely day of rest in the Hotel Oceanic on Sunday, I took a taxi to Dakar airport in the afternoon, and boarded a TACV International plane from Dakar to Cape Verde. The plane was very small, and felt a tight squeeze, with around 50 passengers or so – it was also an old-school, two propeller-ed contraption. It didn’t quite feel right setting off in such a humble little plane over the formidable
Atlantic towards comparative dots in the middle of the Ocean, but an hour and a half later we touched down safely in Praia and walked across the airport’s tarmac into the terminal building. My hotel was meant to send me a taxi to pick me up, but I couldn’t find the driver with my name on a board, so I ended up just taking a taxi for myself, arriving around 9pm local time at the delightful little Residencial Nazare. I couldn’t find an affordable yet decent option to stay in Praia in neither the Lonely Planet nor the Bradt guide to Cape Verde, so good old TripAdvisor came up with this little gem of a place instead, and I’m so glad to have found it.
The Residencial Nazare is a small pension-type of hotel, on the east side of Praia’s central district known as Plato, quite simply because it is situated high up on a rocky plateau outcrop, with stunning views over the Ocean to the east, and towards the mountainous, rugged and barren hinterland of the island to the west. My hotel is on the east side of the Plato, and my room on the top-most floor of
View from hotel over Praia
the hotel, so I just spent the first hour sitting on the steps outside my room, quietly gazing over the amazing view before me, infinitely added to by a full moon and its reflection in the dark Ocean below – what a difference from three weeks on the African road! I could tell my trip was going to take a more original and exciting turn from there.
Whilst the Nazare is a wonderfully comfortable place, its WiFi connection doesn’t seem to be working, so I’ve been logging on at a nearby café on the town’s extremely pleasant pedestrian street not far from here. In fact, I am currently writing this blog entry up in my hotel room, but plan to upload it and my photos onto my Travel Blog from the café this evening, as I have dinner there. I have enjoyed the last couple of days very much indeed.
After a wonderful night’s sleep, the mattress here being the most comfortable I have slept on so far, being sprung as opposed to merely a wide brick of foam, I set off in the morning to do the usual when I first arrive in a country: take some
money out from a local ATM, and try to buy a local SIM card to use in my unlocked phone I bought in India a couple of years ago, in order to be able to make local calls to hotels and other places if need be. These two happened really quickly, so I found myself also exploring the really lovely Plato area of Praia. As mentioned, Plato sits on a large rocky plateau in the centre of town, and is a lovely area to walk around. It has the main conveniences needed for a traveller, such as restaurants and supermarkets, along with some beautiful old Portuguese colonial buildings, a couple of squares, and a delightful pedestrian street called Avenida 5 de Julho. After trying some local travel agencies to see if I could join a group tour of the island, with no luck, I ended up sipping a refreshing Coca-Cola at the Avis café, blissfully watching the world and its people go by. I could have stayed there all morning, and in fact I believe I did – I returned there also for lunch. Café culture and people-watching is certainly not what one is able to partake of in Senegal
Residencial Nazare, Praia
or The Gambia, so perhaps this is why I enjoyed that morning so much.
In the afternoon, I walked down the west side of the plateau, through a local market with lots of large women selling cheap second-hand clothes, to take a local “aluguer”, the Cape Verdean form of the fill-up-and-go type of inter-city transport, but with some actually quite decent minibuses which look very comfortable. The aluguer would take me the 15km or so across the south-west corner of the island to reach Cape Verde’s old capital, originally called Ribeira Grande, but since its ruin and demise over the last 300 years or so, is now called Cidade Velha, “Old City”.
Cidade Velha has a fascinating story. It was first founded by the Portuguese as far back as the late 15th
century, so is actually very old in terms of colonial towns around the world. The Portuguese used it as a stopping off point for its trade routes to the Americas and India, and it was actually visited by Vasco de Gama in 1497, on his way to discovering a new sea trade route to India, and also by Christopher Columbus himself on his third journey to
the Americas. The town’s main church, the Igreja de Nossa Sinhora do Rosario, which is still in use today and is apparently filled each Sunday, was actually the first church to ever have been built in the tropics by the Europeans, dating back to around the end of the 16th
century. I find these facts incredible, and walking around the old city, comparing the current, lively and sociable inhabitants to the antiquity of the place was very atmospheric. Unfortunately the city was destroyed twice, first by Sir Francis Drake in 1585, leading to the construction of a fort on a dramatic rocky peak rising up sharply out of the town’s valley floor, and secondly and ultimately by Frenchman Jacques Cassard in 1712. Following this second destruction, the Portuguese decided to move its capital of Cape Verde to Praia in 1770, which was more easily defensible, where it has remained to this day. Thus for 300 years, the old capital of Ribeira Grande has been decaying and left to ruin, and is thus a fascinating place to wander around, particularly as there is still a population of a few thousand or so, living in juxtaposition between the modern and the old
and crumbling. Such a contrast was particularly evident in a local football match, which was being played on the town’s football pitch, haphazardly built on the old riverbed, which now runs dry, but back in the day used to be a full river, which the Portuguese used to provide fresh water to the many boats which used to harbour there on their long voyages to and from distant lands.
After a 30-minute journey by aluguer, I alighted in the town’s main square, seemingly the only tourist there, and a little wary of being there as in similar places of poverty and favelas in Brazil it would be foolhardy to visit as a tourist. However, although Cape Verde does feel like Brazil, I do not believe it shares the same crime issues, and the local village people were more than happy to greet me and to point me in the right direction of the various ruins scattered around the town. First up, the ruined cathedral, built in 1556, but left to ruin after it was virtually destroyed by Jacques Cassard in 1712. It was slap bang in the middle of a local neighbourhood, with a group of local guys having
a chat under a nearby tree, a few people walking through it on their daily business, and a fair number of dogs, chickens and sheep in various places. After this, a hike up a very steep, sinuous path, made more difficult by the heat of the afternoon sun, to the top of the spectacular hill overlooking the town, up to the Fortaleza Real do Sao Filipe. The hike was well worth it, and from the top you were blessed with not only a stunning view of the town and the ocean beyond, but also of the dry river bed and its valley going inland – there must be some water somewhere, as the whole valley was lush, filled with vegetation and plantations, in stark contrast to the barrenness and desolation of the land all around. Beyond there were even more distant mountains, looking very craggy and bleak, a couple of peaks with their heads in the clouds, interspersed by barren and desolate moorland. This place really is quite stark, dramatic and beautiful. After an enjoyable walk around the fort, which had been carefully restored by the Spanish a few years ago, I sat down and was refreshed by a very
welcome cold bottle of Coke in a small shack of a café overlooking the stunning valley below. Following this, and retracing my footsteps down the sinuous path back to the village, passing numerous chickens along the way, I explored the afore-mentioned Igreja de Nossa Sinhora do Rosario, simply contemplating with wonder the sheer age of the building, and a little further up the valley, the restored Igreja e Convento de Sao Francisco. It was a wonderfully enjoyable afternoon, and I felt very satisfied on the aluguer journey back to Praia, during dinner at the Avis café, and then preparing for another wonderful night’s sleep back at the Residencial Nazare, that I’d had a really truly enjoyable first day of sightseeing in Cape Verde.
Today I was hoping, as mentioned, to join an organised tour around the island, but unfortunately there were no group tours to be had… I’m hoping this will not be the case for other islands I plan to visit, but I guess we will see, and whatever happens, I am sure I will still enjoy my visit here. In any case, despite not being able to join a tour, I have still enjoyed a lovely, calmer
day today. After breakfast at the Nazare, a sumptuous delight after the bread, butter and Nescafe breakfasts of Senegal, being gifted with bread, cheese, ham, fruit, yoghurt, cereal and coffee (this was a banquet indeed!), I walked down the southern edge of Plato, along the coast to the south of the city centre, towards an isolated and windswept peninsular I can see from my terrace, and its lighthouse perched on the tip. Although the walk was hot, it was very breezy – I believe the Cape Verde islands are often very windy, which apparently makes for some sometimes quite bumpy plane and choppy ferry rides. At the end of the peninsular, I was greeted by the lighthouse keeper, Jorge, who I must say has to have one of the most amazing jobs, one which I have always wanted to have. Jorge lives on his own in the lighthouse, and often sleeps out under the stars on a balcony type of area halfway up the building. He is surrounded on three sides by the crashing waves of the beautiful Atlantic Ocean, and on the fourth side by his simple two-roomed house. Kept company only by his dog, I have often dreamed
of having such a lifestyle, so it was a pleasure to meet him, and to have him take me up to the top of the lighthouse for its stunning 360 degree views all around. Ah, maybe in another life…! From here, another kilometre or so along the coast and I arrived at Praiashopping, Cape Verde’s closest answer to a shopping mall, but actually rather disappointing, with a few clothes shops, a supermarket and a food court whose stalls were all closed. Nextdoor, however, was the plush Hotel VIP Praia, the most upmarket hotel in town, where I enjoyed their wonderful three-course lunchtime buffet, with a glass of wine and freshly squeezed local fruit juice for around £11. Feeling inevitably stuffed and satisfied, I caught a local bus back to Plato, again very developed and very un-African, with the driver taking the money as opposed to a skinny teenage conductor, an electronic ticket issuing machine, and a bell (!) to ring when you want to get off at the next bus stop – yes, a bus stop, and not just any old corner where anyone can get on and off. Ah, the pleasures of non-African travel after three weeks in Senegal
and The Gambia!!
So now, as mentioned, I am holed up in my air-conditioned, white-sheeted room with an amazing terrace and view over the Atlantic Ocean, writing this blog entry up. As mentioned also, once written, I plan to upload it over dinner tonight at the nearby Avis café, and upload some photos from my first few days here in Cape Verde.
I have thoroughly enjoyed my first few days on Santiago, one of the tiny dots in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean collectively referred to as Cape Verde. Tomorrow I fly to an even smaller dot to the south-west called Fogo, a volcanic island whose name is taken from the Portuguese word for “fire”, as apparently when it was first discovered, it was erupting, and hence the name stuck. I am booked into a delightful-looking eco-lodge there right on the beach, before flying up to the island of Sao Vicente on Saturday to continue my journey from there. I plan to either write up my next blog entry from Fogo, or from Sao Vicente, depending of course and as always on Internet connection and availability.
So, thank you for reading my blog, otherwise known as
my travel ramblings (!), and until the next time.
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