Along the western shores of Santiago

Travel

The shores of Santiago were the first to face the Portuguese colonisation in West Africa. This is why this one of the ten islands of Cabo Verdean archipelago boasts the title of the historically most relevant. Santiago has been ‘competing’ for ages with São Vicente island, given that the port in Mindelo received a lot of traffic and was an important place for encounter of many nationalities, for trade and on the way to more distant lands. Whereas the history of Santiago is often more related to searching of the cultural identity of Cabo Verde, and the rituals over there considered more connected to West Africa.

I had a chance to explore the shores that faced the colonisation, slave trade and trying to empower European, or Portuguese rules over this strategical island in the middle of the ocean back centuries ago. One of the most magical places is Ribeira Preta: a wide beach with the black, volcanic sand. To get there you need to hop on one of the colectivo trucks – forget about the safety, but don’t forget about admiring the mountain and ocean views on the winding, cobblestone road.

If you are lucky, you will notice the egg nests of the turtles, that picked this remote location for their reproductive purposes. It is now a protected area, as Cabo Verde is trying to preserve its ecological richness.

There are many fishermen villages on the way, such as Chão Bom, or Ribeira Preta itself, that are an ideal destination for the surfing and nature-seeking lovers.

Other than that, it is not too far away from the mountain side of Santiago Island, with a very interesting town of Assomada.

Last but not least, if you are in Praia, don’t miss visiting the UNESCO side of Cidade Velha (‘Old Town’) which was the first capital and port of Cabo Verde in the colonial times. You can find here the oldest road built in West Africa: the colourful Banana Street as well as Parochial Church and Cathedral.

I would like to end up the Cabo Verde saga with the memories that stay with me even after 3 months: the sound of the magnificent waves crushing on the remote shores, the smell of cachupa, the taste of wine and the sunsets over the neighbouring volcanic Fogo Island, the openness and hospitality of the locals, regardless of the poor conditions, and sound of crioulo – language, almost as gentle as the music that made its origin on this very special place on Earth. I hope to revisit these magic islands sooner or later, orbigadu e te logu, Cabo Verde!

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Poeira de Deus

Travel

My journey to Cabo Verde is not over. After having visited the islands Santiago and Fogo, I started researching about the whole archipelago more and more and it seems that the journey through the available material is endless. Each island represents a very unique history, culture and even more often: a dialect.

So during the cold evenings in Berlin, drinking the flowery moscatel and refreshing white wine from the volcanic soil of Fogo I managed to find a documentary about the Rebelados – a community that inhabits the mountain ranges of Serra da Malagueta, and refuses the catholic religion, that was historically imposed on Cabo Verde by the Portuguese colonisation that lasted until 1974. I find it particularly interesting to see the beautiful mountain landscapes and fascinating celebrations, such as batuque.

I have spent one day hiking around the Serra Malagueta range, and nearby towns such as Assomada and São Domingos, that are the centre of communication to/from Praia and Tarrafal. Also, they offer a bustling marketplaces with food, clothing and what-not. Having in mind that Cabo Verde is a remote archipelago with the majority of its population living abroad, and scarce possibilities for agriculture, many of the goods taken for granted in the Western societies, here are often a basic need to be fulfilled (such as food, or even water).

In some places rain has not appear in years. Even though Santiago is considered the island with the most tropical climate (and hence: cases of dengue, malaria and ultimately – zika are rare, but contrary to other islands of archipelago, may happen due to the presence of the mosquitos).

The magnificent views, however, and the hospitality (morabeza  – the word originating in Portuguese creole) can make up for the certain hostility of the climate on these remote islands. There is a beautiful story to it called ‘God’s powder’ (Poeira de Deus): on the 8th day after creating and sculpting the world, God threw the rest of the powder into the ocean, creating 10 islands of Cabo Verde. Believe or not, I think there is some truth in it.

 

Ilha de saudade – the sad stories from Cabo Verde

Travel

I have written quite a lot about the cheerful, colourful and paradisiac side of Cabo Verde. I believe there are even more adjectives to describe the archipelago, given that there are 10 islands, each of them of a very special characteristics. Yet there is one thing they have in common: the remoteness, from the African continent, not to mention the other parts of the world.

I was always attracted to remote islands, and even more when I read the book from Judith Schalansky. As she said in one of the interviews “Islands, especially those that seem most remote, are perfect places. They capture your imagination. For people who feel stressed, the island is an ideal image of a place where you can find peace, and where you can finally concentrate on what is really important. Maybe that’s where the question originates: What would you bring to a desert island? Each utopia wishes for a new beginning, for a chance to do everything differently. All it takes is untrodden territory and an answer to the question: Is another, better life possible?”.

Is it always the case though? Cabo Verde was uninhabited until the discovery and colonization by the Portuguese explorers in 15th century. Since then, they became an important shipping and commercial route, also when it comes to the shameful slave trade. This shed light on many people of Cabo Verde asking for their actual origins.

During my stay on the Santiago island, I was also faced with rather unusual place to visit during holidays: a concentration camp. I never heard about the concentration camp on the beautiful location like this, and more about the camp that was running for over 40 years. It was build in Tarrafal in 1936 by the authoritarian government of Salazar and was torn down only with the independence of Cabo Verde in 1975. There is an interesting documentary (“Memories from the camp of the slow death” – due to severe and dry conditions) about the survivors of the camp, mostly political prisoners from the former Portuguese colonies, e.g. Guiné Bissau, São Tomé or Angola:

The feeling of saudade – longing, separation (knowing that the majority of the Cabo Verde inhabitants live in diasporas outside of the archipelago: mostly in Paris and in Lisbon) is also reflected in mornasthe musical style originated in Cabo Verde or in the look of homeless dogs, wandering around from the town centres to the beaches, and all you need to do is to carefully get acquainted with them as you go along.

Thinking about it a bit more in-depth, Cabo Verde lays nowhere and at the same time, at the crossing of the routes from East and West, North and South and the influences of other cultures and political issues were reflected on this very special islands.

 

Tarrafal, o paraíso remoto

Travel

After my first two days in Praia, I followed up with a short trip to the neighbouring island of Fogo (port. fire) and Cidade Velha, the first colonial settlement in West Africa, but the real treat was only waiting for me on the other side of the Santiago Island.

We boarded North on the Christmas Eve, hoping to get to the other tip of the island before the dusk – not only because we wanted to have a traditional feast, but to safely cross the picturesque, yet dangerous Serra Malagueta mountain range. Dangerous if you drive in the pick up together with some other, 20 people inside (and a duck, in this particular case).

So we made it to Tarrafal, a town on the Northwestern tip of the island, the destination for the hippie families, laid-back wanderers who love watching the sunsets (if the weather conditions are great, you get to see the sun setting over the Fogo volcano – I didn’t take my camera when it happened, oh well), drinking coconut water, or surfing. There are three beaches in the bay of Tarrafal, and all of them offering white sand: a rarity on this island.

Tarrafal is also a very popular holiday destination for the Cape Verdeans – there were many families, often travelling all the way from France (where the biggest diaspora of Cape Verde is currently based) that were spending time until the festivities of Santo Amaro (happening on 15th January).

Having spent over 5 days in Tarrafal, I got accustomed to the local community: having visited both the church, as the local festivities (in the cultural centre with the Anonymous logo :)) of batucadeiras and eating out in the local bars and restaurants and celebrating in the Mercado Central. Contrary to Praia, here the time passed slowly, peacefully in the shadow of the funny Monte Gordo (eng. Fat Mountain) and I reflected back on it, talking to the fishermen, surfers, or homeless dogs on the beach and simply enjoying to learn about life in this little, remote paradise on Earth.

 

 

Badu is always comin’ for real

Music, Travel

This is not a post about Erykah Badu’s new mix. Badu is a creole name for the people of the biggest island of the Cape Verde archipelago: Santiago, and to them I would like to dedicate this post.

Crowd, chaos, waiting: in three words that could summarize pre-Christmas time at the arrivals lounge of the Nelson Mandela Airport in the capital of Cape Verde, Praia. The guards, customs and military at the airport mingle so much that it is not that easy to distinguish who is working there and who is ‘just chillin’. I still have a lot to learn: but beyond words and gestures I catch the first meanings of morabeza, famous hospitality and relaxed attitude of Cape Verdeans. On the top of that, my luggage is lost, but oh well, after 2 hours of waiting for visa stamp that does not even surprises me.

What surprises me though is that the owner of the apartment I briefly spoke over e-mail, waits patiently in the arrival lounge though and shows no trace of being nervous, or upset after over 3 hours of waiting. He took this time to chat with some other people waiting over a midnight coffee. On the way we take some other people, just for the sake that they’ve been heading the same direction, no matter that it’s long after midnight. Even though I am tired like never before, I am so happy it’s 3 am and the temperature is over 25 degrees. And I slowly see some logic in the what I defined as chaos.
After I wake up and have a breakfast with my beloved mangoes and papaias, I head to the biggest market of Praia: Sucupira to get some ‘essentials’ that were left behind in my registered luggage. Sucupira is a labirynth where you can get anything from chinelos (aka ‘Havaianas’) to running piglets. Not surprisingly, clothes are rather expensive: as there is close to nothing produced in Cabo Verde, most of them come from Paris where, according to the estimations, there is the biggest diaspora of caboverdianos. Next to bikinis, there are figures of black Jesus and black Maria, someone fries chicken wings in piri-piri and the sounds of funana are all over the place.
I leave Sucupira to find some quiet shelter in the uptown district Plateau, historically second settlement in West Africa after Cidade Velha which I will describe in the forthcoming posts. There, in a bar 5al da Musica I take a musical tour through the history of Cabo Verde: from B’Leza to Sara Tavares. And in the meantime, visiting musician from Angola and Lisbon practice their evening jam… I get goosebumps while hearing the fresh sounds and inspirations I would never hear about in Berlin. And so my first 24h in Praia are gone, I order my last coffee, chat with the musicians feeling very balanced, inspired and happy, almost like Bad’u. 
Si ka badu ka ta biradu!

Téra Lonji – a distant land

Music, Travel

Tired of the 2015: corporate year end’s closure, and pointless rush around Christmas festivities in Berlin, I am counting days to teleport myself to a very distant and different place: Cape Verde’s (port. Cabo Verde) island of Santiago.

Why Cape Verde? First of all, because of its creole music: morna, representing very melancholic sounds of the islands lost somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Once very strategic location given the geographical discoveries, sad history of colonialism, and slave trade. Now left remotely westbound of Africa, the art and music is depicting this lone feeling. I am very much looking forward to hunt for some rare records of yet undiscovered, powerful voices of the afrobeat.

Secondly, because of the ocean, the wind and the scorching sun. Climate of Cabo Verde might get very rough, given the strong winds blowing in this area, but I can’t imagine a better weather, especially if the waves make it perfect for the surfers.

Last but not least: for the language – the most outspoken language on Cabo Verde is crioulo (creole), and given its French and Portuguese roots, is especially interesting for me to encrypt. And so within one week I will be boarding my flight to Praia, the capital of Cabo Verde, full of the sodade e bondade (longing and goodness) feeling. Stay tuned for the stories from the Ilha de Santiago upon my arrival in January!