Cape Verde took me by surprise. You see, I had imagined a kind of Canary Island light. But there were no British newspapers in the shops, no Scandinavian cheeses on the menus, and most importantly – no neon colored beach toys or beach towels for sale. In other words, this is no Canary Island.
How do you picture Cape Verde?
I’d struggled to imagine what Cape Verde must be like before going there myself. I’d seen the movie, Out Of Africa (which was loosely based on reality and shot in South Africa so that gave me very little to go on), it focused on a coffee plantation and left little to my imagination as far as current affairs, landscape, and things to do in Cape Verde.
You may not even have heard of Cape Verde before, and I don’t blame you. It is an archipelago consisting of ten islands, situated off the coast of Senegal. It used to belong to Portugal, but gained independence in 1975.
Upon entering the country, I found sand banks after sand banks followed by old volcanoes topped with multicoloured drapings of more sand. It’s one of the most yellow and vast places I’ve seen. The scenery was so beautiful and the surroundings cleaner than anywhere else I’ve seen out of Europe, and the rest of the world, for that matter.
If you find yourself there, know that it’s a small island that doesn’t take much time to traverse, but there is still a wealth of activities. These are some of my most treasured experiences in Cape Verde;
You can see the whole of Boa Vista in less than a day, and if you take part in an organized tour, you’ll be taken to the famous ship wreck Santa Maria, then whizzed off by a 4×4 to the Santa Monica beach which is the island’s most spectacular stretch of sand. Along the way you’ll stop off in some remote villages where life just seems to be going by without anybody taking notice. You will also be shown around the capital Sal Rei which has a lovely bay for kiting and sunbathing. Oh, and you’ll see plenty of flat, hard moon like landscapes which is what this island is all about.
Rabil, a small village in the west of the island, impressed me with its classic African cuisine and cafes, it’s wall art and design scene. Everywhere you go you can hear the sound of drums. The roads are full of elderly men and women smiling and laughing. However, it’s hard not to notice the houses falling apart and how poverty stricken this place really is. Rabil has a population of only 1,248 people and many of them work at the local hotels earning a 6th of the average wage in the UK.
Sal Rei is a town on the northwestern coast of the island of Boa Vista in eastern Cape Verde. Sal Rei is the island’s main urban settlement, and the seat of the Boa Vista Municipality. It’s population in 2010 was 5,778. Sal Rei was laced with culture and stories on every street. Old maps on walls, photographs and painted buildings showed just how interesting this city was. The people of Sal Rei were so welcoming and interested as to where I’d come from and about my nursing career. I felt a connection with the people of this happy city, maybe it was because we shared the same positive way of thinking towards life or because I felt more at home here than I imagined I would.
I was fortunate enough to visit the Migrante guesthouse, The first ever guest house to be built on Cape Verde in 1822. It was stunning. It was tiny and it has 4 guest rooms at €80 a night, it wasn’t cheap but it was worth it for the beauty it held inside. There was a large bar as you walked in, displaying colourful bottles of African liquors and old polaroid photographs covering every wall.
The courtyard outside was idyllic, it had a slightly Moroccan feel to it. Stained coloured glass and weathered walls!
Stay here if you want idiosyncratic, something with character.
In Sal Rei, a group of us visited the local school to see the children (7, 8 and 9 year olds). It was a tiny building consisting of 4 classrooms, a concrete courtyard and 2 toilets which linked onto a kitchen. The teacher, Gabriella, told us just how little food these children ate throughout the day (mainly beans with a tomato sauce) and it’s all because their parents earn around about €250 per month – that’s £212. The economy is a complete mess in Cape Verde, Gabriella spoke as though it was the norm and like it’ll never change. I could feel my heart hurting as she told us her stories. We all gave the headteacher some money (about €30 each) so she could go to the local farmers market to buy food and water for the pupils at the school. What amazed me was how happy and excitable the children were. My feeling was that they’ve never known any different so they were happy with what they had. Humbling really!
Santa Monica Beach in Boa Vista is one of Cape Verde’s wonders. It is sublime. golden sands as far as the eye can see. It has only a handful of people on it which makes it perfect for relaxing. Palm trees and wicker umbrellas make the view even more special. It has an off shore wind that makes the sea very choppy but it was still warm and you are able to go about 5 metres in if you’re careful of the current.
I’m currently on Santa Monica Beach as I write this blog post – have a copacabana cocktail in one hand and a travel book in the other. What more can a girl ask for?
I can’t wait to return to this wonderful island and explore even more!