Thursday, March 4, 2010

Less is more

Mindelo was a welcome port that catered perfectly for 4 boys after over a week at sea. The town is vibrant, people friendly, food good, sun hot and beer cold. Having heard mixed reports about the place we had little idea on what to expect, however were pleasantly surprised on all accounts.
One thing immediately obvious about Mindelo was how the place is geared to cater for cruising sail boats. This is largely due to a German cruiser who, about 10 years ago, saw the potential and built the only marina in Cabo Verde – The result being an almost complete monopoly channelling any sailboat related business through his enterprise. While it is easy to imagine what the local people think of this, the positive of the whole thing is that 90% of the cruisers in the CV’s are all in one harbour ;-)
Excited about what lay ahead we set out to explore the other 8 islands in the archipelago. On route to Sal (where Richie was to fly back to the UK) we stopped at Sao Nicolau, 60 odd miles from Mindelo. With smaller villages and far less development we enjoyed some great hikes, fishing and diving.
It was here that I had one of the best dives I can remember. In a sheltered uncharted bay, Rich and I were completely surrounded by thousands of fish as soon as we entered the water. On my first dive I found a school of kingfish, one of which later became dinner.
The other highlight of the island was a little village called Caracal. Easy to miss we only saw it as there was a handful of tree’s on an otherwise baron coastline. Anchoring just in front of the village I’m not sure if we looked like rock stars or aliens, but all the village children stopped what they were doing and came out to welcome us. It was a great afternoon, such warm and friendly people and they even opened the village bar for us.

We tried to imagine the equivalent scenario in the developed world. Four black guys who haven’t washed in a month come off a boat into a small school and start playing and taking photo’s of the kids – Somehow I don’t think our countries would be quiet as welcoming…
Carrying on with the trip we had a funny experience on route to Sal. We were motoring along just after dark when the engine suddenly stopped and at the same time we had a fish on the reel. It turned out we’d snagged a huge fishing net, a floating eco-system home to a dozen big dolphin fish.
Dan hauled a nice sized one into the boat and it was very tempting to jump in the water with the speargun to get another (however the thought of sharks and what Ludo and Neptune would say talked me out of the idea). After an hour we’d cut the net free and hauled it aboard to donate to the next local dinghy watchman.
'It's a big NET, right?'

Our arrival in Sal saw the departure of Dan and Richie (Dan at short notice having to cut his trip short for fishing commitments and rescuing his boat in Tunisia). We could tell immediately this would be a good place for our last few days with the boys. While easily the most touristy place in the CV’s, there is loads to do day and night. Santa Maria is best compared to Cabarate in the Dominican Republic with world class wind and kite surfing being the main attraction.
While sad to see the boys go Ludo and I wasted no time recruiting new crew.
'' C'est bon mon Capitain? Ca roule ma pou'le!''

Bring on Sach and Cinzia from France and Italy (friends of Ludo we’d met in Mindelo)
And fun loving Zuzana (representing Slovakia) who we kidnapped from a bon fire on the beach.The plan although very vague was to sail around the remaining islands and return to Mindelo in time for Carnival, one of the biggest festivals in the CV’s.
We enjoyed perfect white sand / turquoise waters in Boa Vista
And markets, culture and few tourists in the islands capital Praia on Santiago
Kevin's England hat now proudly warn in Praia
But the highlight was certainly climbing the archipelago’s largest and most active volcano, ‘Fogo’.
Pulling into Fogo’s only harbour we quickly made friends with a local boy who helped us get out to the volcano, about an hours drive from the boat. As it was late in the day we were invited to stay with a local family and climb to the 2800m peak the following morning.The whole experience was very humbling. Here we were treated to a lovely meal, homemade wine and cheese, rum and grog while listening to a local band playing in the packed general store, all by a family who had so little yet were willing to share everything with no hidden motive or agenda. It was one of those nights where you just wanted to enjoy the moment, impossible to capture with photo’s and even trying may have changed the vibe.
The following day we climbed Fogo, and as always with these things, the hard climb was soon forgotten when we enjoyed the breath taking views. Tiny loose stones and a steep slope made it tough on the way up, however fast and fun on the way down.

Calling William from the top of Fogo, fulfilling a promise from Pico (Azores)

Having left Sach and Chizia in Praia, we picked up a travelling Austrian student Johannas to join us for the 120mile sail to Mindelo and ….
The Mindelo Carnival
We were cheeky anchoring and got a spot in 2m of water right in the front of the bay. It was an incredible few days, the atmosphere absolutely fantastic with such a buzz around town. The festivals and parties started early and finished late, and as good as it was by the end of it I think we were all ready for some deserted beaches and fishing again.

We had a short stint sailing with Simon, a very well travelled Italian, before Ludo, Zuzana and I took our time doing the windward passage back to Sal, enjoying many beautiful uncharted anchorages along the way.
Ludo 'El Secondo' always playing while 'El Capitan' hard at work doing boat jobs
Now back in Santa Maria we’re having a great time doing water sports, socialising and very occasionally boat work. Ludo and I did think we were very clever sending Zuzana off to work so we could eat bread again and maintain our unemployment.
However the plan backfired a little when she quickly rounded up 7 holiday makers for a day sail, seeing us working again on what became the DB’s first charter trip (beats building substations though) ;-)
Having seen almost all the islands now I think its funny how people’s impressions on the place could be so different. We’d heard several stories in the Canaries about sailing the CV’s, mostly that it was unsafe and also that there was nothing to see. Even the cruising guides don’t sell it, often complaining about lack of facilities and safety, and perhaps recommending 1 day to see something we’d like a week. It appears the island group is seen as merely a launch pad for sailors crossing the Atlantic.
There is a tendency to think that because the Cape Verde’s are a developing country in West Africa it must be unsafe. The idea that because people have very little they will want to steal from the white man who appears to have everything may be true in some cases, but I have also been robbed in both London and Barcelona, supposedly places where we enjoy a high quality of life.
I don’t want to sound nieve as I’m sure the papers here have plenty to write about, but there are good and bad people in all corners of the world. I think perhaps it’s more peoples attitude to a place that defines their experience than the place itself. Here you go a long way with a little common sense, a smile and some friendly conversation.
I like the quote ‘You think you want more than you need, and until you have it all you won’t be free’. My experiences here I’ve found the people kind, friendly, sharing and almost always with good intentions. Here less is more, the locals know they live in paradise - Cabo Verde is muito fixe.


Steve and Carol said...

Great to read your updates, keep them coming

Linda said...

Looks like a beautiful and amazing experience Wilde :)
very inspiring

Daniel Patterson said...

Yeah baby, fantastic pics and brilliant writing. You the man Johnny.

Renae & Shane said...

Great entry Jonboy, LOVE the photos and sooo wish we were on some of these adventures with you again. Cant wait to catch up, luv Nae, Smarty & Quinn xxxx

Yoke and Graham said...

Hi Jon,
Cabo Verde brings back lovely holiday memories to us. We loved the people too and saw Sal and Boa Vista. Great trip you made, what is next? We like your updates and are looking forward to more!
Yoke and Graham

Frenchy said...

Amazing Johnny boy, loved the pics, some are really brilliant and just make me feel visiting this island and meet the people... so true, the less they have, the more they give us...

Karen said...

Fantastic stuff Jon you lucky lucky duck! Delighted you kept your promise to William... Thoughts of climbing Pico full of happy days memories. Enjoy it all and come back to irelands shores again some day soon. Keep photos and scribes coming.. They make for uplifting reading :)

Admin said...

Jon, you tosser! I can't believe you left me with such a mess! Can I have my sail back please?

Just kidding. Miss ya.