Our next stop was Tarrafal de São Nicolau, a small fishermen’s town, with cobbled streets and colorful houses. In contrast with the white sand of Santa Luzia, this beach was pitch black basalt stone, yet once more quite steep on the approach. There were at least 5 other yachts on anchor. The bay is protected from the predominant winds, making the arrival by kayak less tricky than in previous spots.
Upon arrival on the beach a few youngsters swarmed around the kayak, offering their services as guides, kayak carriers, guards, or anything else we might wish. We asked one to keep an eye on the kayak when we went for a stroll. Our first recce made clear we did not have to worry about theft as everyone knows each other and the general atmosphere is friendly and welcoming towards cruisers.
We discovered several small supermarkets on the main road. 90% of the shops, bars, restaurants are Chinese owned. The Chinese seemed very well established on this island, not only because they own most of the business, but because we saw them greeting, laughing, joking, being friendly and interacting with the locals. This is in contrast with the Chinese shops in other countries where they usually keep to themselves and have a distant and sturdy approach to all their customers.
During our time in Cabo Verde, we resorted to eating local food: fresh fish, rice, pasta, fresh vegetables, chorizo, local bread and biscuits. And we bought a fine sift to get rid of any unwanted extra protein in our rice, pasta or flour. All bare necessities were covered and even more. One pleasant surprise were the packets of pre-mix. Just stir in cold milk, drop in the freezer, and it turns into delicious ice cream overnight. It worked brilliant when using our Greek milk frother. Having ice cream on board made us think of the crew member that decided to hop on another boat out of concern the daily portion of salami or dried ham and cheese would not suffice. The same one that jumped on a boat with no watermaker, no electronics, and we suspect way too little food… Life is a cruel teacher. How humans have the ability to wriggle themselves in the position they dreaded most…
On the small fish market huge tunas were carried off the local fishing boats. They were loaded on the back of a bakkie, to be carted off to the capital and other parts of the island. Arthur also spotted a big wahoo, a slender but vicious hunter endemic to these islands. He set up with a local guy to go and shoot his own. He spent 5h in the water, at the south western corner of the island, where the sea bottom drops off to unknown depths. It took some time for his eyes to adjust to the deceptively clear water but after two unsuccessful attempts on large king mackerels, goal accomplished, a 40 kg wahoo on the dry. As our freezer space is limited, we chopped off the tail, which is the tastiest bit, and gave the rest of the big fish to the locals.
While we were lying on anchor, we met some other cruisers. There was a young French couple with their 5month old baby, an elderly French family taking up cruising again after several years with their 35yr old son joining them for the Atlantic crossing, the Australian Craig and Judy on the Hullaballoo of Normandy who were picking up crew in Mindelo and crossing as well.
Sao Nicolau is one of the more fertile islands, noticeable from far as the mountain slopes carry a faint green gauze cover. At the feet of the mountains there is lush foliage of trees and shrubs assorted. Attractive enough to warrant a trip inland to the capital, Ribeira Brava. A wild local taxi (minibus) ride over winding roads brought us there, trailing up and down the green mountains, staring at the impressive ravines and the big blue ocean behind each corner. Views on huge papaya trees, sugar cane fields, corn, banana plantations on steep terraces. Here and there a modest village. What strikes is the cleanliness. And the immediate after thought: “this is what Africa could be like with a tad more discipline and motivation”. There are sanseverias growing high up the mountains, defying gravity and loose footing, holding up straight victoriously. Acaciatrees, with their fine leaves, red flowers and seed pods line the road. Meantime, the melancholic songs of Cesária Évora, the barefoot diva, about her beautiful country, flow out of the taxi’s speakers. Ever so fitting…
The capital itself, was tiny, as far as capitals go. Coulourful building, well maintained streets, gardens, beautiful mountains as a backdrop.
As people climbed on and off the minibus, Gitane remarked: “mom, somebody smells like they washed really well”. A reminder of the general cleanliness of the Cape Verdian people and their surroundings as opposed to our olfactory memories of most of mainland Africa, where local transport equates exposure to various aromas, many of them rather unpleasant.
Cape Verde has the best educated, healthiest, longest living people, and highest living standard of Africa. Primary school education in Cape Verde is mandatory and free for children between the ages of 6 and 14 years, resulting in high literacy levels. It constitutes an example for the surrounding countries, as the country is poor in resources yet manages to make things work. In 2007 it moved from underdeveloped to developing country. The specific heritage might have something to do with it, where the melting pot of Western and African genes leads to a unique new product.
In the early days, Spanish and Italian seamen were granted land by the Portuguese Empire, as well as Portuguese settler, exiles and refugees of the Inquisition. They all followed the Portuguese style of assimilation, resulting in a mestiços population that boasts all shades of white and brown in any possible combination. Mulatto with green eyes. Latte complexion with pale brown eyes. Brown face with blue eyes or with sharp big nose and bushy eyebrows. Pale brown with natural blonde curls. Light brown with deep brown freckles. We even saw a brown boy with bright red hair (supposedly that was not Portuguese DNA but rather Irish). Sometimes the weird combinations give a stunning result, other times they are not so successful… Just like Gitane who currently colours all the people in her colouring book brown, even though most will be fitted with blond hair and red lips.
São Nicolau to Maio
Sal and Boa Vista are said to be beautiful. Yet they are the most commercialized of the Cape Verde islands. Therefore we decided not to go there and cut straight across to Maio 107 nm further south. We left at 14u30 to catch the afternoon wind, and sailed through the night, taking turns watching. The easterly trade wind blew between 11 and 17 knots, resulting in a 6-7 knots hull speed on a mainsail with two reefs and the genoa full out.
Sailing along Sao Nicolau obviated it is a long island with a T shape. There are volcanic rocks and volcanoes of varying shapes and sizes. Like an artwork which the skillful artist had great fun creating over millions of years, scooping off a bit here, trimming a bit there, adding on some strange looking rocks like lone statues, making sculptures out of sand, sprinkling the side of the mountain with stone, adding some scrubs and playing around with the colouring not to end up with dull brown, but adding pinks, blacks, greys, whites, ochres, greens. The end result is stunning…
Not only were the contours of the island a treat for the eye but also the sunset. It had been a partly clouded day and the artist had taken out his full palet of colours to make sure we would remember this sunset. The intensity of the colours was that much that we didn’t even bother to make a picture as it would not do reality any justice. The descending sun dipped behind the clouds and triggered a full scope of colours, announcing the onset of a spectacular sunset. Yet it was only when the sun cast its final rays over the oceans and shrouded the clouds with golden laces that we realized where the terms goldfingered sunset came from. The golden laces turned into a wild zigzag over the evening sky. It looked like a kitsch painting where the artist has slightly overdone it. Just a tad too much gold and colour for it to resemble reality. Then the golden glow changed intensity and smoothed over into dayglow pink.
Not a bad way to say farewell to yet another beautiful island…