Undiscovered Cape Verde – 15th – 30th December 2011
I had read earlier blogs on the Ramblers website about this holiday. A wise person had written that this superb destination was not for the faint hearted: it was hot, arid, steep and remote. She might have added that it is also beautiful, breath-taking, fascinating and inspiring too, for all of these superlatives ring true. And, of course: the most fabulous walking experience.
My Bradt guidebook was additional preparation. I had been on Ramblers Pioneer holidays before and was thus prepared for the unexpected; as it turned out, things went pretty much according to plan, not least because of the brilliant leadership of Stephanie Cooke.
The flights out (via Lisbon) went like clockwork, and the first hotel, at CidadeVelha at the southern end of Santiago island was peaceful and beautiful. From there explorations of the capital city of Praia and the nearby cultivated ribeira (dry valley) eased us into the islands.
On by plane to Sao Vicente island and the cultivated city of Mindelo, home of the late celebrated Cape Verdean singer, CesariaEvora. The fish-market there was a fascinating insight into the subsistence economy of Cape Verde; additionally, the huge harbour at Mindelo is actually an ancient volcanic cone that lies submerged under the Atlantic. The harbour was awash with tall-ships from all over the world.
We caught a ferry across to Santo Antaoisland; I would counsel future Ramblers to take their sea-sickness tablets for this crossing as it is a rough one. Indeed, one of the ferry hands distributed polythene bags as we sailed out of Mindelo harbour…….
The walking on Santo Antao is staggeringly beautiful. We did five or six of these in dry valleys, along coastal paths, up mountains and into volcanic craters. It is the most amazing photographic terrain: I took nearly two thousand pictures on my digital camera. Most impressive was the way the locals eke out a living on their terraced hill-sides, cultivating crops using the most sophisticated irrigation methods to utilise the sparse water supply optimally.The town of Ponto do Sol was a calm and relaxed base for these jaunts. The local fishing fleet provides the inhabitants with a healthy protein-rich diet that, along withlocal vegetables eked out of the hillsides; the local children all looked a picture of health.
We returned to Sao Vicente briefly by ferry before flying back to Santiago, this time staying up in the hills at RueVaz. The altitude lowered the temperature there markedly: at night, it was hard to believe we were actually in the tropics! The walking there was again great, but for me the highlight was a day-trip up to Assomada (with its colourful market) and Tarrafel (with its fishing fleet). On that particular day I took nearly three hundred photographs…
And so home with lots of sweaty socks in my bag and many happy memories. Was it a good holiday? Yep: superb, not least because of a marvellous crowd of people in the group and Steph’s inspired guidance. And would I recommend it? Again a strong yes: but take a walking pole, a good hat and Euros (as Sterling cannot be changed there). And go with an open mind (though Ramblers tend to have these anyway, don’t they?).