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Published: August 15th 2017
Summit of the Ribeira do Paul, looking down the zig-zag path
Greetings from Santo Antao, the second largest of the Cape Verde islands, and my third out of the four which I have planned to explore. All three so far, whilst all stark, barren, and mesmerisingly beautiful, have also been quite different, and a real pleasure to explore. Whilst Santiago was undeniably the most developed and centre of the archipelago, both politically and economically, and Fogo was the stunning volcanic cone surrounded by black sand beaches and crashing ocean waves, Santo Antao is towering, mountainous and rugged, deeply set throughout by kilometre-deep ravines and river valleys, and the north-eastern part which I am based in is by far the greenest area I have seen so far in this country.
I believe I last wrote from the serene and remote Tortuga B&B, passing away my final day on Fogo before taking my onward flight. I was initially looking forward to moving on, and thus counting down the 24 hours which I planned to just hang around the lodge, thinking it would be quite boring. In the end, I ended up thoroughly enjoying every single last hour there, swinging in a hammock, watching and listening to the waves crash, and
actually seeing both a humpback whale just off shore, and a loggerhead turtle coming on to the beach to lay its eggs in the evening. These were two stunning sightings of the two main animals which make Cape Verde famous in terms of its wildlife, being one of the few regions in the world where these two beautiful creatures can be seen, and I was able to see both of them within hours of each other. I have posted photos here. The loggerhead turtle in particular was a very emotional experience. Roberto, the owner of Tortuga, knocked on my door around 10.30pm just as I was turning in for the night, asking me if I’d like to see a turtle. For absolute sure, I grabbed my camera and slipped on my flip-flops, following him in the dark along the beach for around 200 metres, until we could make out a very vague dark outline on the shore, moving very slowly and making some scuffling noises. Roberto told me not to use a torch or take any pictures just yet, as she was getting ready to lay her eggs. In the end, she didn’t lay any eggs, deciding apparently that it
wasn’t a good spot, and started to return to the water. This was apparently a good time to take photos, so we both did. As I watched the beautiful, heavy-eyed and docile creature precariously crawl its way back to the ocean, I felt really quite emotional. It was a beautiful sight indeed, especially as she eventually became caught up in the waves again, returning to her more comfortable habitat of the ocean, I very nearly shed a tear. It was just beautiful.
After my chilling, and wildlife-spotting, I took a taxi back to the airport on Fogo. As mentioned in a previous blog, all my TACV internal flights were changed at the last minute to Binter Caboverde – I had originally booked a morning flight back to Praia, and an evening flight from there onto Mindelo, my next destination, making sure I had plenty of time for the connection, given the airline’s notoriety for delays. However, in the change of flights, TACV had booked me onto a Binter evening flight to Praia, which left me only 1hr and 15 mins to make the connection. What was worse was that I couldn’t check in for both flights at the same
Tortuga B&B, Fogo
time in Fogo (despite a Swiss travelling pair being able to do so, presumably because they had booked their flights through Binter itself, and not TACV, and thus not having one of their flight times changed), meaning that in the short space of time I had to collect my bag and check in again at Praia. This was made even tighter by the delayed departure of the flight from Fogo, by around 25 minutes. It was a stressful flight connection indeed, watching the minutes tick by as I waited at each stage of the journey, but fortunately I made it as the last person to check in again in Praia, and with around 10 minutes to spare before the flight to Mindelo was called. Phew!
In the end, the flight was fine, and I stopped off overnight in Mindelo, arriving late at around 9.30pm, and then leaving the next morning at 7.15am for the ferry to Santo Antao. My time in Mindelo was very brief, though I plan to explore it, and its island of Sao Vicente, further as I return there tomorrow morning for two nights. Still, the Residencial Che Guevara, where I stayed and where I will
Tortuga B&B, Fogo
return, was a tranquil haven of a place, and I am looking forward very much to returning.
So on Sunday morning, after quite a bit of travelling, the hotel’s owner gave me a lift to the ferry port, where I boarded the 8am departure for the island of Santo Antao (upon arrival I realised I had actually set foot on all four of the islands on my Cape Verdean sojourn within the space of just 15 hours!). The crossing only took an hour, but the journey was rather undulating as the seas around here are quite rough. My Bradt Guide book warned me about this journey, so I was prepared myself. It also mentioned what it refers to quite wittily as “the national propensity towards seasickness” amongst Cape Verdeans, quite surprising given the people’s close relationship with the ocean. I noticed this first when my flight from Dakar came in to land at Praia, there was someone towards the front of the plane being sick. On the ferry to Santo Antao, a family with four children sat opposite me – three of them were sick for pretty much the whole journey. I took the advice of my Bradt Guide,
Tortuga B&B, Fogo
and kept my bags well and truly off the ferry floor…
An hour later we docked in Porto Novo, the largest settlement on Santo Antao, and I boarded a local aluguer which was going to my final destination, the final village along the north-eastern coastal road of the island, a place called Ponta do Sol. The journey was absolutely stunning, following the dramatic and sweeping coastline as ravine after ravine ended up meeting the ocean, and our vehicle navigating the numerous bays and headlands, seen with their caves, arches, stacks and stumps, all created as a result of centuries of sea and river erosion. One of the headlands even had a sphinx-like appearance to it, and I have included the photo here. I shared the aluguer not only with some local Cape Verdeans, but also an older couple from the USA, both with Cape Verdean heritage, but neither having visited the country before. They were also on their way to Punta do Sol, not for tourism, but to meet some family members whom they had never met before – they seemed very excited, it was nice to talk with them.
Upon arrival in Punta do Sol, I checked
Tortuga B&B, Fogo
in to the delightful Casa d’Mar B&B, located on a quiet street of the town directly overlooking its old airstrip (there are now no flights to this island, hence the ferry journey, as the crosswinds are too dangerous), which itself overlooks the crashing waves of the Atlantic below. It really is a spectacularly sited town, as are many here in Cape Verde, sitting on a flat promontory jutting out of the north-eastern corner of the island, one side bombarded by the crashing waves of the Atlantic, the other surrounded by cliffs and mountains well over 1000m high. Bradt describes it as “the end of the world” in location, and it really does feel like it. Still, it is a town well-equipped for tourism, with numerous hotels and restaurants, mostly catering for a largely middle-aged, French hiking crowd. This island is indeed renowned for its hiking opportunities, and is considered to be the definitive spot for such outdoor pursuits in West Africa, and to both my mind and that of the Bradt Guide’s author, one of the best in the world.
Hiking is what the visitor generally does when arriving in Santo Antao, and this visitor has not been any
Tortuga B&B, Fogo
different. I have enjoyed two days of walking two of the most popular hiking trails here on Santo Antao. The first one, yesterday, was actually much more taxing than I expected, my legs still aching from it, and the second one, this morning, much more relaxing. Both were incredibly enjoyable, with spectacular views to be had at every turn in the hiking trail – I had to sometimes tell myself to just stop taking photos and enjoy the walk. This was difficult though, as every turn in the road presented even more exciting views and vistas.
Yesterday I did the most popular, and the most challenging, part of the walk through the Ribeira do Paul. This involved taking a taxi up to the summit of the ravine which starts at an old volcanic crater called the Cova de Paul, at around 1500m high, and walking down from there, heading for the coastal village of Paul around 9km away. Other people do this walk in reverse, starting at the coast and walking upwards, but I chose the “easier” option of walking down. After traversing the stunning volcanic crater, now covered across its base with agriculture and verdant fields, I was
Tortuga B&B, Fogo
reminded that walking downhill can actually be just as challenging as walking uphill. Upon leaving the crater, I was greeted with the most extraordinary view of the Valley of Paul below me, 1500m high, and being able to see the mountain path which I was going to take, seeming to zig-zag infinitely below me and as far as the eye could see, before either the path disappeared from view of the naked eye, or a passing cloud obscured its view. I was above the cloudline there, and it was amazing to watch the clouds come up the valley, and actually crest the very lip of the crater which had brought me to that summit in the first place. I could have stayed there for hours, gazing at the marvel in front of me. But I realised that that path ain’t gonna walk itself, so I set off. The path was vertiginous, and not for the faint-hearted – it clung to the mountainside as it wound its way down, every 20 metres or so making a switchback on itself. It was also very steep, and had to be taken slowly. As I was making my way down, I wondered how on
Ferry to Santo Antao
From Mindelo, Sao Vicente
earth one could make one’s way up it, it was challenging enough going down. The descent lasted around two hours, and towards the end both my legs, particularly my right knee, were crying out for mercy, and I had to stop every five minutes or so to rest. I walk quite regularly back in the UK, often distances of around 8 miles (13km or so), but this going downhill constantly was much tougher than I have experienced or expected. Once the zig-zag (eventually) met the main road at the bottom of the valley, I walked (hobbled) around 15 minutes further to a lunch spot recommended by the manager of my B&B, Guillaume from France, taking up a seat overlooking the rest of the valley below me, and immediately removing my walking boots to massage my aching feet – gosh it was tough. After a lovely lunch of a simple omelette and bread, with piri-piri sauce, I decided to continue walking until the next aluguer came along, to take me the rest of the way. This was not to my mind lazy, but wise, as I think my legs had had it for the day. Around a kilometre later, said transport
passed by, and I hopped in, making the final descent by aluguer, changing vehicles at the coastal village of Paul, and then again at another town called Ribeira Grande, before boarding my final vehicle to take me back and rest my poor and aching legs at the Casa d’Mar for the rest of the day. Perhaps I’m sparking on about it a bit too much, but my feet and legs ached me well into the night and this morning. Despite this, it was a wonderful walk, and again the views, and the nature of the mountain path itself, were just incredible – sights to be remembered.
This morning I decided to take the less-taxing, but equally magnificent, trail along the coast southwest of Ponta do Sol, towards the spectacularly sited village of Fontainhas. The route left the town by its highest point in the southwest, and hugged the coastline at an altitude of around 300 metres, dropping on the right side straight down to the sea and its crashing waves below, rising up on the left side to the stunning peaks of 1000 metres or so. After passing a pig-farm on the outskirts of town, a ravine with a
Ferry to Santo Antao
telegraph pole hanging down from its cable 200 metres or so in the air, presumably as it fell down from somewhere, and then another ravine with a huge drop which in the rainy season must make for a really spectacular waterfall, the trail took me onwards to the fairy-tale village of Fontainhas. Here, the main “street” through town goes along a knife-edge ridge which juts out dramatically into the ravine itself, its houses precariously clinging to the edge of the promontory, with 200 metre drops on either side. I enjoyed a very welcome Coke in the only café in town, an unnamed building with a couple of seats outside, before returning along the route I came from, back to town – probably a 4km round walk in total. After a delicious lunch of ratatouille, fried egg and chips, I am now chilling in my non-air-conditioned room for the rest of the day, writing up my blog entry, and contemplating what a wonderful time I have had on Santo Antao, and what a stunning island this is!
Tomorrow morning I have an aluguer picking me up at 7.30am to take me back to Porto Novo for the morning ferry back
Ilheu dos Passaros
Bird Island, near Mindelo
to Mindelo, where I am booked back in again at the Residencial Che Guevara for two more nights. I am looking forward in particular to the air-conditioning there, and indeed all my hotels from now on until the end of my trip should have air-conditioning - yay! These will be my final two nights in Cape Verde, before I plan to fly back to Dakar on Friday to round off my West African trip 2017 from there. These have been an incredible few days exploring three islands of Cape Verde, and I look forward to exploring my final one tomorrow.
Until the next time, either from Mindelo, Sao Vicente, or back in Senegal, thank you as always for reading, and bye for now.
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