After seven days at sea in sometimes exasperatingly light winds, we were excited to see land loom up in front of us.
Cape Verde is an archipelago of ten islands, some more geared up to tourism than others. The island best equipped for visiting sailors is Sao Vicente, which has a good sized marina in its capital, Mindelo. As we neared we were greeted by a barren rocky landscape of jutting rocks. “Uncompromising” as Cathy put it. We went straight to the fuel dock to top up the 200 litres or so that we had used up on the last day and a half and were immediately greeted by a yellow shirt, one of the ARC (Atlantic Rally for Cruisers) staff who welcomed us and explained the checking in process. He asked us if we needed any repairs doing and it was so nice to be able to say that we didn’t! This is part of the ARC organisation that we definitely appreciated. For our first landing outside Europe it helped to have the support and background information to smooth over our stay, all too short! Only three full days! The ARC provides the paperwork in advance to check you in with immigration. Registering at the marina was a simple five minute job. There was a lady selling SIM cards at the marina (even though these failed to work until the next to last day) and a very welcome bar selling the most delicious shrimp and cocktails.
I was expecting Mindelo to be relatively poor, but not expecting it to be so small! Although it boasts a university and several cultural centres, it is basically composed of two main streets and a few little side streets. In fact, coming back into the marina which was bustling with ARC boats as well as the French boats doing their version of the ARC, “La Rallye aux îles du soleil”, I had the impression that the marina was bigger and busier than the town. Mindelo did not disappoint in its reputation of being a vibrant cultural centre. Every night we saw something going on, whether a drum group, live music in the restaurant or dancers practicing in the town square. Although it was only a flying visit I got the glimpse of a very young, vibrant town which took its sudden influx of alien fair skinned yachties in its stride. At night the town square is full of young families and children eating candy floss and taking pony rides. The average age of the population of Cape Verde is only 18!. We ate out at the Elvis bar in town (although the music was decidedly Cape Verdian) and I discovered the delicious pleasures of the local caipirinhas with lemon (a rum cocktail, rum being produced in the Cape Verdes of course).
With such a short stay I was glad that we had booked the ARC daytrip to the neighbouring island of Santo Antao. A half hour ferry trip took us over to the greener island across the water. We were met by combi vans and had a qualified guide who took us all over the island from the western slopes where only the voracious acacia grow (apparently so prolific that their roots burst up through the toilets of local people like triffids) to the summit with its microclimate of clouds and its stunning views over terraced valleys. The Atlantic facing coast was suddenly lush and rural, boasting a rich variety of crops from mangoes and bananas to sugar cane and bread fruit. Our guide, Carlos, answered our many questions about life on the Cape Verdes and gave
us a real insight into the history and challenges facing this country. He became very animated when talking about the country’s recent deals struck up with the big players of mass tourism which he feels to be a bad move for the country given the state of the infrastructure in the country. Big hotel resorts such as those built on Santiago push up the prices for locals without bringing in business for the local economy as they keep everything “in house” and discourage their punters from doing so much as taking a local taxi. We saw that the island’s infrastructure was struggling to cope with the ARC influx in the marina as the shore power (electricity) kept cutting out. Roger who had not joined us on the day trip spent the whole day trying to do one machine wash.
Our trip included a short hike up to a restaurant which served delicious locally grown produce (bread fruit, cassava and manioc which I had never tasted before , all delicious) and of course we had a trip to a local distillery to buy some local “grogue” (rum).
Our last day was spent provisioning and getting ready for our big departure. We had a very eager self-appointed guide called Caesar, who showed us where to buy apples and bananas. We bought a huge bunch of bananas to keep us going across the Atlantic.
On our last morning, who should we see but Chris aboard Free Cloud. He had motored for the last two days to get down to Mindelo as soon as possible as his engine had apparently sprung a leak! Any excuse…
So we got Chris to take our final picture of the Princess Arguella crew before heading off for the longest leg of all, stocked up with bananas, grogue and in my case, Stugeron.
See you in the Caribbean Chris!