Ilha de Santo Antao in the Cape Verde Islands
Moonstone of Aberdour
Allan and Claire Foster
Sun 6 Apr 2014 15:16
The southern side of island, like many in the Cape Verdes is a barren lunar-like desert but to the north and north east it is stunningly attractive with rugged mountains and deep green alpine like gorges where the islanders grow sugarcane, bananas, coffee beans, tobacco, cabbages, potatoes, lettuce, runner beans, tomatoes and lots more.
The hotel Cavoquinho, run by a charming young Spanish couple, has only four rooms all accessed by external staircases. All the rooms had stunning views looking down the valley. The other guests staying were German, Romanian and French couples, the Germans and Romanians were great company but the French were….french! After breakfast and depending on fitness levels the hosts gave us recommended trails to follow with written instructions as the paths were poorly marked. There are no signs, you just ask people the way and they tell with a smile (probably thinking tourists are crazy). There are no rescue services and walking after dark would be exceedingly dangerous!
Boy was this island vertical! Most of the tracks were steep stone pavements laid to carry human, donkey and mule traffic bringing farm produce down from the mountain small holdings. Motorised transport can only reach a few of the larger villages so we met lots of men, women and mules carrying sugar cane down into the valleys. We saw a girl grinding coffee in a hollowed out tree trunk and came across a party of ladies collecting coffee beans from the trees growing in abundance on the mountain sides. We were reduced to climbing on all fours up a very steep crumbly ridge some 500m above the valley floor when were embarrassingly overtaken by a middle aged local lady balancing a large basket of fruit on her head whilst walking perfectly upright and evenly paced – like all the locals she patiently listened to our garbled request for directions before helpfully pointing out what transpired to be the safest route for a pair of British pensioners…..and without removing or touching the precious cargo on her head.
Santo Antao remains unspoilt and largely untouched by modernity mainly because of its inaccessibility - the only way there is by boat. There is a runway on the north of the island but following a tragic crash fifteen years ago it has remained closed. The European visitor has to fly to the Islands of Sal or Boavista before another flight to Sao Vicente and then the ferry from Mindelo. Connections are not brilliant so additional overnight stops on Sal or Sao Vicente often adds to the journey time. The EU funded a road to better connect two of the island’s towns, Luxembourg has funded primary schools (children walk 1.5 hours on mountain paths to reach them) and we heard that the US is funding energy improvements – the island is fortunately self-sufficient in water from the mountains.
We were enjoying ourselves so much that we stopped for an extra night, the hotel was very quiet and peaceful and after many months on the water it was good for the bed not to move at night! The hotel served excellent food and the Fogo wines were stunning, we also tried the local ‘grogue’, a sweet rum made from the sugar cane.
On the second day we took inter-village rides on the island’s public transport, the ‘alughers’ or pickup trucks, to Ponta do Sol on the north coast where we made a long coastal walking walk beyond Fontainhas to Corve before one of Allan’s leg muscles seized up and we returned to find a bar where it was miraculously cured!
Before heading back to Mindelo we decided to make a final climb up towards the top of one of the Island’s redundant volcanic craters. The hotel owners asked if we would take their dogs Luna and Dorro for the walk and they ran we us without leads all the way without being any trouble, the dogs being local mongrels are well known and we were happily greeted by the residents of the mountains’ small holdings. On returning a ‘collective’ minibus had been organised to take us to the ferry port. After first collecting us from the hotel the driver then headed further up the mountain where we backed up to the rear door of a little house and sacks of vegetables probably in excess of 400kg were loaded onto the minibus roof; the vendors elderly mother and her grandchildren climbed in with us and after finding another half dozen passengers we headed to the port, the journey took nearly 2 hours but only cost us £3 each.
Sao Antao has been by far the most attractive and unspoilt place we have been to - ever! If you get a chance you must go there. The islanders are refreshingly open and friendly and once they have gotten over their initial shyness, so innocently helpful......it is a shame to leave but the Atlantic and Brazil beckon us on!