Serenity of Swanwick
Phil and Sarah Tadd
Sun 13 Dec 2015 22:03
Santo Antao is a surprising and very interesting island to visit. We caught the morning ferry across the 9 mile wide channel on Friday morning and were met by our driver, Frank, who took us up to Cova, a volcanic crater in the northern part of the island. It was very arid around Porto Novo, the ferry port and capital, but got greener with altitude, and in a reversal of what we were used to we drove into the trees as we got higher.
Sarah had expected the volcanic crater also to be barren, but it was fertile and well cultivated. We walked up the side of the crater, followed up the path by a boy leading 3 cattle, and reached the rim from where we could see our footpath down the Vale de Paul - zigzagging almost vertically down the mountainside at our feet to the sea at our destination of Paul Mar 6km and 1400 meters of descent away.
We have seen mountainsides terraced for agriculture in Madeira and the Canary Islands, but here it was taken to new heights - literally - with terraces going almost to the top of the mountains and on the almost sheer cliffs. At one point we saw two men repairing a terrace wall, and they were using a rope to hold themselves on because it was so steep, at another point we saw a team of men dragging a pole down the mountainside to be set up to support the new electricity supply wires that are being installed, no mechanical help anywhere. The whole mountainside was also being actively cultivated with sugar cane, bananas, yams, beans, sweet potatoes and tomatoes, so there was lush greenery everywhere.
On reaching the road we came into the villages, which started off as just a few small houses, but gradually the buildings became larger and more sophisticated. There were a number of villages spread down the road and each seemed to have its own school and shops. The total descent to Paul Mar took us about 4hrs.
Our hotel, when we eventually found it was quite new and very clean and our room on the first floor was right above the beach where the waves were crashing in on the shingle. Phil quite expected to wake up during the night thinking that we were drifting ashore and about to be shipwrecked. Sarah enjoyed the first really private shower since leaving the UK, Marina showers are very variable and some a bit like old fashioned school showers.
Our evening meal was another experience. There was a choice of three restaurants, one attached to the hotel, a pizzeria and a ‘local’ restaurant offering fish with vegetables. We went for the pizza and were the only two customers. Excellent meal with unexpected extras, passion fruit served like a boiled egg in a cup with the top sliced off, after eating the fruit from inside the empty skin was filled with a serving of Ponche the local firewater, Groque, made from sugar cane with the addition of honey.
After an excellent nights sleep we were collected by Frank for a tour of the area looking at two valleys, lunch in Ponto de Sol, where we watched the local fishermen, and returning to Porto Novo for the ferry back. The drive back was along the old mountain road with sheer drops and stunning views all the way.
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