Sao Nicolau

Sat 4 Apr 2009 10:52
Having been joned by Gary Aiken and Flicky Laxton in Sal, we finally left for Sao Nicolau. A relief to leave the very rolly anchorage at Santa Maria as we headed out in the late afternoon sunshine on a WNW course to take us across the 60M gap to Sao Nicolau then along its south coast. The wind was mainly around ENE F5, making things a bit uncomfortably downwind so that Amoret kept trying to round up despite two reefs in the main. The only incident in an otherwise benign night was when Olivia and I sighted a ship's lights which came nearer ... and nearer ... and nearer. It became fairly clear that it was a freighter coming over to see what we were but getting dangerously close. After showing us both sides and then his bow, he made a very non-col-regs turn to port, passing about 200m ahead of us, then slowly vanished into the night. Scary! We rounded the southern peninsula of Sao Nicolau in early morning then headed along the SW coast towards the main Port of Tarrafal. The port is protected by a mole providing berths for freighters. We anchored off the beach side of the harbour just outside a small German yacht.
Tarrafal is a sleepy town in which everyone seemed friendly, including the maritime police and other officials. After Criolu and Portuguese, French seemed to be quite widely spoken, which was handy.During a shore run Flicky and Gary arranged an aluguer to take us across to the capital, Ribiera Brava, and back next day. The girls sat inside and the blokes outside, and we headed out of Tarrafal, the colonial-era cobbles eventually giving way to asphalt, into hills that seemed to have the moon and the Dakota badlands as parents.
After we crossed the highest ridge, efforts at farming started to appear; even during the dry season of late winter, some patches of bright green stood out among the burned hills as we headed down to the valley of Ribiera Brava.
Ribiera Brava had a pleasant main square adjoining a small hotel with an excellent restaurant, an outstanding bakery and a waitress with one of the warmest smiles that we had ever seen.
Our driver, Julio, suggested a detour on the way back to visit the fertile village of Queimadas, complete with distillery making grogue from fermented sugar-cane juice. Queimadas was beautifully green and shady, growing everything from bananas through papaia to coconuts. The distillery looked a bit basic even by the standards of the average Irish poteen set-up and the barrel of fermenting goop was distinctly unappealing, but the final spirit was clear, strong but clean-tasting and smooth.
A memorable day that left us filled with admiration for the ability of the Cape Verdeans to make a life with plenty of affection, good humour and dignity in such a fearsomely hostile landscape.