We saw a very small portion of the Cape Verde Islands, only two of 10 islands to be exact. And, of those two islands, only one was very interesting, although that single island was extraordinary.
I’m not sure I wrote much about the Canary Islands. In fact, we were slightly underwhelmed by the three islands in the group we visited. There were some lovely white sand beaches and some interesting past volcanic displays (fumaroles, lava fields and calderas), but for the most part we didn’t find them super interesting. They were, for us, a convenient stop with good provisioning, they provided some pleasant beaches to relax on, but they failed to impress us as a destination. Most of the natural harbors now have marinas in them and there aren’t many places to anchor in beyond city fronts. From a previous trip, I knew it would be barren looking, which has its own charm, but I think I thought it would be more like the Sea of Cortez; a desolate, remote beauty. Not so. It is busy, there are timeshares and tourists everywhere. It doesn't feel very authentic, but then we can’t rave about every place we visit can we. And, to be fair, we didn’t visit any of the western islands. We did run into a kid boat we had met in Gib and we did have a lovely few days hiking, playing and hanging out with them. Now that we are moving south, away from the Med, we are starting to see some of the same boats we’ve seen in previous anchorages. In the end, for us, the Canaries were great as a last stop before a big crossing. Without a language barrier to hinder us we were able to get many things crossed off the list without much trouble. We were happy to stop, but we don’t necessarily need to go back.
So, I got off on a tangent. I wanted to talk about Cape Verde and how the island of Santo Antao, the most western island was utterly unbelievable. After arriving in the Cape Verdes we took a day to relax and explore the town of Mindelo on Sao Vicente, where we were anchored. It was windy, very windy, 25 knots sustained and gusting to 40. It wasn’t love at first sight! On the second or third day in Mindelo we decided to take a ferry from Mindelo, across the very windy straight, to Santo Antoa, and of course we didn’t have much of a plan from there (as per our normal way of land traveling). Upon arriving the taxi drivers surrounded us (one of my least favorite aspects of traveling and one of the reasons I like arriving incognito by sailboat), each professing a better tour than the next and ultimately we had to step away, find a quiet corner and decide what we actually wanted to do on the island. The five of us traveling together don’t fly under the radar very well! Mike wanted to tour the island, see what it had to offer from the window of a car and stop when we saw something interesting. I really wanted, actually I needed, to do some good hiking before we got on a boat for two weeks. The best hiking was on the other side of the island, so we compromised and had a driver take us around, but drop us off and wait for us at two trailheads, with a walk of about 2 hours each. The port of Porto Novo was not very impressive upon first glance and when we got in the vehicle our driver said “welcome to paradise”, and my first thought was, he definitely needs to get out more! It was dusty, everyone was hustling business from the half a dozen foreign tourist groups that had arrived by ferry and it was windy and nondescript. My expectations plummeted for the day. We piled in the car, drove up the winding cobblestone road to the top of the island and into the interior. We passed old women and men carrying firewood from higher elevations, bundled up and carried on their heads, we drove by scrawny goats and scrawnier kids (the human kind). Passing into higher elevations, the landscape suddenly changed and in place of arid scrubland, we were in pine forests interspersed with terraced farmlands with productive looking soils (not like the dusty wasteland we arrived in). Our first hike had us circling an extinct caldera. The caldera was fringed by forests of pine and rock outcropping and the inner caldera was farmed and villagers were hard at work cultivating their small plots. Santo Antao, at about 4500 feet is just big enough to generate some weather for itself and the North part of the island gets substantially more rain than the rest of the whole island group. It also is cooler and makes it much more enjoyable to wander around. Later, our drive brought us past one view point after another more stunning than the last. The steep slopes are terraced with small rock walls for farming and they look ancient, although people have only been farming the area for about 400 years. It felt like we had been dropped into the Andes, and we were visiting Machu Picchu in it’s heyday. Every ridge has a goat herders trail, small villages crept of the valleys and people were toiling away in their gardens everywhere. The road that crossed the mountains was an engineering feat of its own. Later in the afternoon, after a roasted goat lunch, we took another walk along an equally impressive road along the coast to the Fontainhas. Again, the scenery was breathtaking and my pictures just don’t capture how beautiful it was, indeed a veritable paradise.