Santo Antao

Sun 27 Jan 2013 17:43
What a magical day. Chock full of sights, sounds, smells, tastes... back on our boat at the end of the day I felt really privileged to have seen something of this Island and it's people.

We took the ferry over. It's seen better days, a second hand Canaries ferry, with only one of its two engines working and it has a hard job. The 8 miles or so between the islands is quite rough, what with the swell channeling down and the wind acceleration zones off the mountains. I was thinking it would be happy to swap with the Isle of Wight ferry any day. As soon as we got on board the crew started to hand out sick bags, which about 50% of the passengers used, even though it was only about an hour long journey.

As you approach the Island the mountains are shrouded in clouds so it's hard to get a good idea of the scale of them.

The four of us went with Natalie and Tim from Limbo, so we hired a little mini bus which took us up a beautiful Portuguese cobbled road straight up the mountains. The landscape was stunning: different layers of volcanic rock in reds and yellows and ochres, dramatic dry river beds cutting into the hillside. As we climbed higher the temperature dropped a little and we found ourselves in cloud, and started to see more vegetation: sand coloured rough grass, small wind bent trees. Cottages, the size of goats huts, started appearing above terraces clinging onto steep hillsides, hardly more than a couple of metres deep, with maize cultivated on them. The wind was really strong up there and it was hard to imagine how anyone could eke out an existence in such hard conditions and with so little arable land. But as we rose to the top of the mountains, and so over to the other side, a dramatic transformation took place. There were trees, not dwarfed, wizened brown trees but pine and eucalyptus, there was actual grass along the verges, long and lush. One felt like one had entered a new land, a magical valley, like finding some hidden valley where dinosaurs still roamed or stumbling into Rivendell after braving goblins in the misty mountains.  Vertiginous valleys spread out at our feet, with terraces stepping down their sides.


 The cobbled road snaked along outcrops of rock like flint knives, breathtaking drops on both sides. I felt a tad... edgy.

We wound down the valley to the sea and had some lunch in the delightful little town of Ribeira Grande, wandering through we bought fresh local cheese and fish samosas from the street vendors and watched the primary children tumbling out of the school gate, dashing to the lady selling sweets and lollies on the pavement, running and pulling at each other as kids do the world over.


We carried on along the coast to the very North of the Island, Ponta do Sol, and watched the fantastically brave fishing men dodging the surf to bring their boats into the tiny harbour. The whole community seemed to be there, helping to launch and land the boats, sorting the catch or just sitting playing board games in the shade.


We took the tarmac road back to the port, tired with so much to take in and the continuous rattle of the wheels on the cobbles, but stopped along the way to see the "grogue" being made. They squeeze the juice from sugar cane, using oxen to drive the press,  then ferment it. It's about 40% alcohol, so a bit strong for my taste but they also sold a very nice punch made with it which will be excellent as a nightcap. We must be a real ship now, as we have grog aboard!

We dozed on the ferry coming back, keeping one's eyes closed seemed a good idea when all around a chorus of barfing was going on. It was bad enough hearing it and smelling it without seeing people being sick! But it was a good chance to process all the wondrous sights we'd seen, and to marvel at the glimpses of such different lifestyles the island folk live. I tell you though, if I was bringing up my kids in those little mountain top houses, I'd tie them on with string!