Total miles so far: 3018
Miles since last blog: 169
After landing in the Cape Verdes, we walked the dirt tracks around shanty towns, half built houses and litter strewn beaches, with thoughts of the area’s reputation for thefts and muggings, we felt a lot further from Europe than the 750 mile sail from the Canary Islands. Travelling by small boat allows you to access a country through a back door, you no longer arrive through the same sterilised airports or cruise ship docks and are fully immersed in a country from arrival. Although always a great experience, occasionally it can cause a culture shock.
Whilst waiting most of the afternoon for the local police to turn up and check us into the country, we spent some time sitting in the town, getting our bearings and people watching. Eventually, feeling less guarded, we were able to see that the locals were friendly, welcoming and had a great sense of community. A few spoke English so we enjoyed finding out more about what it was like for them living in the Cape Verdes.
Made up of 10 inhabited and many smaller islands, Cape Verde was a Portuguese colony until 1975 when it gained independence. Cape Verdeans are outwardly happy people who are proud to be one of only two countries in the world who have made the leap from a ‘3rd world’ to a ‘developing’ country status. The average age is around 18 yrs and two thirds of Cape Verdeans live overseas to find work. Tourism in the archipelago is very isolated, creating a large divide of wealth in the islands, but also meaning that many of the most beautiful areas remain unspoilt by crowds and large hotels. Due to the mostly arid land on the islands, over 90% of food has to be imported and is therefore fairly expensive.
Our 3 week tour of the windward Cape Verde islands started in Sal, where we were stuck for a week in a very crowded anchorage due to strong winds. Although Sal is one of the least picturesque islands, it has the main Airport and therefore the largest concentration of tourists at the Santa Maria resort in the south of the island.
Ready to leave Sal as soon as the weather improved, we set sail for Boa Vista and the beautiful anchorage of Sal Rei, by far our favourite anchorage so far. We were met by miles of beautiful white sand beaches, sheltered turquoise water, and a small uninhabited island to explore. It was easy to spend several days sailing the dinghy, snorkeling and exploring the beaches. The nearest town to the anchorage is still fairly traditional, with many homes collecting water from a communal tank. Wishing to conserve our fresh water onboard, we joined the locals and paid a nominal fee to use their communal laundry area. This seemed to amuse both the locals and visiting tourist tour groups.
The next island on our course west was Sao Nicolau, a very mountainous and much greener island than the previous two. We set off at night to allow for arrival in daylight and were very glad we had as, when we rounded the headland into the anchorage we had gusts over 40 knots. There was very little space in the anchorage and many of the boats there were constantly having to reset their anchors after dragging. Even though our anchor held, we did not feel comfortable leaving Florence for long, so did not venture far ashore. The small part of Sao Nicolau we saw had no tourists (black sand beaches), and huge impressive ravines we would have loved to explore further.
Fed up with the howling gusts and sleepless nights, we cut our losses with Sao Nicolou and headed for Mindelo on Sao Vincente, the main port in the Cape Verdes. The anchorage off of the town was was packed with boats preparing for the Atlantic and we met up again with several boats that we had become friends with along our voyage. Amongst these were our hiking friends Brian and Debbie on Dawn Treader who promptly invited us to join them for thanksgiving the following day. It was a real feast and fantastic meal, even more so when you realise that it was all cooked on a single burner kerosene stove.
When we headed ashore we felt like we had arrived in a different country as Mindelo was a very different experience again. The town is very affluent by Cape Verdian standards with plenty of fre food available, a modern marina, new cars and shops with glass fronts and air conditioning.
Whilst we were in Mindelo we took the ferry across the strait to visit Santo Antao. This was by far the most beautiful island we have seen so far on our travels. Protected from tourism by the lack of an international airport, the soaring peaks surrounded by a green and fertile soil are home to a prosperous population who still work the land and provide fresh produce for sale through out the islands. The mountains were serene and we could have sat there all day drinking in the view and listening to the birds.
Back in Mindelo, the marina and anchorage were bustling with other yachts stocking up with food fuel and water for the crossing. Every day a few boats would be waved off with their friends boat horns blasting across the bay. The bay was filled with a festival like atmosphere which was infectious, we made many new friends who we hope to bump into again somewhere in the Caribbean. As the trade winds improved and more boats disappeared over the horizon, we grew increasing excited for our own upcoming departure.