The Cape Verde Islands - Paradise Found

Mina2 in the Caribbean - Where's The Ice Gone?
Tim Barker
Sat 28 Nov 2009 22:25
Position: 16:53.14N 024:59.48W

Date: 28 November 2009


For those in search of Paradise – look no further. The archipelago nation of Cape Verde consists of ten volcanic islands in the shape of a horse shoe about 170 miles across. Located 450 miles west of Africa in the middle of the Atlantic, the uninhabited islands were discovered in 1462, and settled by the Portuguese who controlled the islands until independence in 1975. The inhabitants are of mixed race origin from the black Africans who were brought here as slaves, either to work the land here or in transit to the Caribbean, and the Portuguese settlers. In colour, looks, height and temperament they are totally different from the Senegalese. Unlike the pushy, over-familiar, generally insincere “you are my best friend” approach of the Senegalese (as a prelude to trying to sell something you don’t want, or to rip you off), the Cape Verdeans generally ignore the few visitors who come to the island. It is not that they are unfriendly, it is simply that they are very reserved. When introduced to you by a local, they slowly thaw and it is then that you see the beaming smile, the contentment and the warmth of these delightful people.


The inhabitants of the islands total only 400,00 but there are a further 600,000 CapeVerdeans who have left the islands for Europe and America. However, many are now realising that the lure of money in distant lands has deprived them of the contented lifestyle in their beautiful country and this trend is now reversing.


The official language of the islands is Portuguese but most of the population speak the local dialect of Krioule. Whilst all the islands are volcanic (Fogo still has an active crater) they are all different in terms of terrain and rainfall and the isolation of each individual island means that the Krioule dialect also differs from island to island.


Surrounded by the ocean, the temperature is less hot than Africa and it varies little during the year, ranging from a pleasant 25 - 29 degrees C. The one problem that some of the islands have is lack of water. But whilst Sao Vicente (where the marina is) has so little rainfall that it is officially a desert and relies on desalination for its expensive water, San Antao just 15 miles northwest has much more rainfall and springs which flow year round.


The one thing which unites all Cape Verdeans is their rich musical culture. Their music has links to the mournful Portuguese Fado but is also strongly influenced by African, Caribbean and Brazilian music as well. Most bars and restaurants in Sao Vicente’s capital of Mindelo reverberate nightly to the sound of music being played by anything from a single artist to a band of eight or more musicians. In the Club Nautico on the waterfront, the resident artist plays a right handed guitar left-handed and his party piece is to play some of his numbers with his teeth! The international musical star of Cape Verde is Cesaria Evora. Get her CD's!


Before we arrived we were all in trepidation at the news that there was an epidemic of Dengue fever ( in the islands and we would have to spend our time here in long sleeves, long trousers and socks to minimise the possibility of being bitten by Dengue carrying mosquitos. In the event it transpired that whilst there was some Dengue reported in the southern islands it was on the wain, and there were no incidents in the northern islands where we were. Indeed it would take a very determined mosquito to hang on long enough to bite anyone in the strong trade winds which blow here day and night. In fact, having rigged ourselves out with voluminous mosquito nets, taken expensive anti-malarial drugs and loaded the boat with gallons of Deet, we have not seen one mosquito down the entire coast of Africa – not even in the delta.


But mosquitoes are not the only source of danger. One rally member broke her ankle badly a couple of days ago and has flown back to Switzerland to have it operated on, whilst another member broke his leg horrifically, simply slipping down a ramp in the marina. He has flown back to France for an operation. So everyone is creeping around mindful of how the adventure of a lifetime can turn to dust with just one slip. And there has been a bout of stomach bugs going round the fleet. The latest victim is Neil who took to his bed this morning just as we were starting the big spring-clean ahead of the arrival of Venetia and Peter on Monday. But whilst the bug normally lasts three days, Neil had a miraculous recovery this evening just after I had finished cleaning the inside of the boat from top to bottom, and just as the music started to thump out from the concert the marina are putting on for us this evening. Neil is now down below getting into his party gear.


The friendly xenophobic banter between the French and the English continues. Patrick the garrulous Frenchman who runs the rally was asking Phil from “Minnie B” what

names the British had for the French apart from “Frog”. Phil told me later that encapsulating the meaning in French of “Cheese-eating Surrender Monkeys” was quite challenging. I wish I had known about this conversation before I introduced Neil, my latest crew member, to Patrick describing Patrick as “Le Grand Fromage”. Given his very recent conversation with Phil, and that Patrick is a fine figure of a man (c 25 stone), the thin lipped response suggested that the soubriquet may have been misunderstood.  I had to back-pedal furiously explaining in my best broken French that “The Big Cheese” in English simply meant the Top Man and was one of the highest compliments one could possibly bestow on a Leader of the Universe. This did the trick and we left Patrick beaming with pride. The entente was cordiale once more.


A couple of days ago we went to the island of San Antao with the English-speaking members of the rally. I’m running out of time (as ever) so I am taking the unusual step of simply copying from the blog of Phil & Norma on “Minnie B” who have perfectly described the trip. My thanks to them, and if you want to read a properly written blog their website is .


They write “Words do not do justice to the amazing visit to Sao Antao. We had been told it was superb, but it was an SEE rating – that’s substantially exceeds expectations, and it doesn’t get better than that.

So what was it? Well, the island is a short ferry ride (one hour) from Mindelo and the intrepid group under the leadership of Marta (African Seawing) was up at dawn on Tuesday to catch the 0800 ferry. The company (some say bad company) comprised Marta and Frank, David and Suzanne (Suzie Too), Andy and Sue (Spruce), and Tim and Neal (Mina 2) – all with varying amounts of luggage for our two nights on Sao Antao. It seemed that we had enough for a week, whereas we were unsure what kind of odours Tim and Neal would be giving off as they had so little baggage.

We were met by our guide, Sonya, and a bus for twice the number of people. Porto Nova, where we landed is not up to much and the southern side of the island is quite barren, albeit the main scenic feature is the vast number of new houses springing up. The approach to building is get some money and get started – this means there are lots of part-built houses that are grey because the breeze blocks and cement have not been plastered and painted. When they do get enough money to paint then the colours are vivid greens, blues, reds and yellows.

Our bus straightaway climbed the cobbled road towards the ridge that splits the island in two, and what a treat – there were forests, gorges, ravines and the near-perfect volcano caldera into which we walked. The views were spectacular. Some of the houses now changed too and were of stone walls, with roofs thatched in banana leaf and sisal. The land became more cultivated and we had our first views of the extensive planting of sugar cane (more about this later). Sonya kept stopping the bus so that we could take photos and make a small contribution to the local economy by buying drinks and snacks at the tiny one-room shops that appeared to be everywhere.

We stopped at Ponta do Sol on the northern coast for lunch of fish, rice and yams and had a walk round – lots of new developments in housing, but also some new shops that are modern but mostly waiting for occupants.

Then it was off to our hotel. Phil had been looking forward to a gin and tonic on the veranda. The first we knew that we may have to adjust our expectations on this one, was when the bus stopped beside a narrow stone path and Sonya introduced the porters who would carry our bags. She said it was a short 15 mins walk. She did not say that the path was near vertical. However, as we had decided we were intrepid, off we set. By the time we all gathered at the Casa das Ilhas it was clear that there would be no gin and tonic, but the views up and down the valley took our breath away – actually, it was the climb that took our breath away. We recovered quickly and met Kate who is Belgian, and runs the place. Here is the website casdasilhas {CHANGE TO AT} yahoo {DOT} fr – visit this place. No, not just the website, the actual place. The bar is the fridge for beer or grog (and soft drinks) and Kate operates a trust system so you take what you want, record it in the book and pay at the end of your visit. Our rooms were simple, but spotless and oh, the view from the window. We had more fish for dinner with all of us sat around one big table. We were joined by Francois (Pilhoue V) who was travelling alone, but by 2000 it was clear that everyone was tired and waiting for someone to be the first to call it a day. By 2015 we couldn’t keep going so we apologised and started the rush for bed.

Dawn brought cocks crowing and the views. Sonya arrived with another guide, Ronnie (pronounced Honey) and we set off for what we understood to be a three-hour walk. We were walking though a highly cultivated valley with dry stone walls creating layer upon layer of terraces. We saw a very rich diversity of crops that were new to us: breadfruit, manioc, yams, papaya, coffee, and sugar cane with its feathery flowering tops. There were four hundred years-old dragon trees and round nearly every corner we came upon stone houses with thatched roofs. This side of the island gets lots of rain between August and October, and the steep valley sides have many dried up waterfalls bearing testimony to just how much water falls here in this period. Everywhere there were people working their crops or just hanging out – they were polite and friendly, if a bit shy. Many go barefoot and they are essentially subsistence living, working the main fields for absentee landlords and raising crops for themselves on small parcels of land.

We stopped for lunch in the courtyard of Senhora Vittoria’s house and she made coffee for all of us. We visited other houses and many had electricity and running water. After lunch we were to head for a small village and meet our transport back to Casa das Ilhas. This was when our walk gradually changed from a rating of Moderate, through Difficult, then Very Difficult to You Have Got To Be Joking. Basically our guides stopped being guides and became guessers. We had three ravines to cross to get to the village so we ended up experiencing canyoning, rock-climbing and cutting our way through the sugar cane - well, the last is a bit of an exaggeration. We eventually arrived at the village, found a bar and quenched our thirst with copious amounts of beer followed by tasting the home-made grog (not for the faint-hearted and remarkable how something so pungent can be made from something so sweet – the sugar cane). Andy, Tim, Neal and Frank decided they had not had enough and walked back to Casa das Ilhas while the rest of us wimped out and got on the bus.

We had bought wine from the bar, and this washed down our dinner of chicken and chick pea stew. Then people who shall remain nameless bought bottles of grog and Francois bought punch for the ladies. James, Adam and Yvonne (Vita) had arrived that afternoon and they joined the party. Now, it’s very interesting that home-made grog does not produce a hangover. We should all have had serious headaches but remarkably there was just a small degree of fatigue this morning. We caught the 1000 ferry and were sad that our short vacation was over. Sao Antao was a big hit and we would (a) go back for another visit, and (b) recommend it to everyone.”


So the Cape Verde Islands, their people and their music have stolen the hearts of all of us. Whilst Phil & Norma’s words brilliantly describe our time here, words alone can’t describe the beauty of this place. Here are some photos (mainly mine – some of Neil’s) which will give a further feel for the place, but the only way you will really find out is to come here yourself:




Norma & Phil (“Minnie B”) with some prat in the background




David & Suzanne from “Suzie Too”





The going gets interesting




 Let’s plant another banana tree










Neil, Su, Phil, Tim, Norma, David, Suzanne, Andy, Frank, Martha







Your humble skipper







The perfect volcanic crater




Cape Verdean farmhouse







Pigs in shit




Spiders’ webs in sisal plant




Getting the firewood



Senhora Vittoria with her mum…



… and her grandchildren



 Frank helps our guide Sonya with the coffee