CAPE VERDE ISLANDS
Log, December 13, 1998
Hello Everybodeee!!! Welcome abored (sic) the Tammy Norie. I realize that it's been awhile since you've heard from us. We've been too occupied lately defining our new roles on the boat to give ya'll an update. Thanks to all of your good input we know that one of us is a turkey, one of us is a dodo and one of us is a slacker but there's some debate as to who's what. Hmmm...
This island, Sal, is quite a place. I've honestly never seen anything like it. If ever there was a landscape that I could paint, this is it. Just a flat line with a three spiky hills, a few patches of scruffy acacia trees and surround it with ocean. Bob Ross eat your heart out. The people are very cool everyone makes eye-contact and greets you. My first few steps ashore, I was taking it all in, I admit I must have had a guarded expression on my face, feeling a little like a sore thumb- But I passed a small group of little boys, the nearest one to me and I locked eyes, I think he was mirroring my expression- Sort of furrowed brow curiosity, an ambiguous face. But after we passed he reached back and touched my arm very lightly, I turned around and he gave me a goofy grin and a thumbs up. I laughed, and gave him thumbs up back. It was such a neat thing for him to do, and amazingly perceptive of the little guy. I relaxed so much after that. I think that this is an inherently good place, despite its bleakness...
Yeah. We're in the Cape Verdes. What does that mean to you? To us it means, Africa and lots of it. 350 miles off the coast of Senegal, the islands had been a Portuguese Colony since the mid- Fifteenth century, they peacefully won their independence in 1975. But Portugal hasn't exactly been a financial superpower in a really long time and these islands seem to have been left to more or less fend for themselves. And they seem to have done a fair job of it from what I saw. They are completely different from anywhere that I've ever been. I'm sure the U.N. classifies them as a 'Developing Country', as in people are really poor- Please understand that this is only my impression of things from what we've seen thus-far, which amounts to two of the ten islands and the second-largest city in the group, I've heard no numbers, or done any research, basically, I'm just spouting- (WHALE!) All of the houses are cinder-block and many of them have pigs, chickens, goats- you name it milling around their doorstep.
The streets and roads are cobblestone, and everybody's wearing last year's styles. The island of Sal our first stop was really dry, one of my friends there said that it hadn't rained in two years- I have no idea what they did for water before they opened the de-salination plant. The island is basically just a desert of red dust and rocks- the wind is constant and blowing hard enough that all the stunted acacia trees that have managed to survive are all bent to the Southwest, it seemed to me like the whole island was being relentlessly blown into the sea. That's the other thing- the wind has a name- it's called the Harmattan. It blows from mainland Africa and is filled with fine red dust, that fills the air and plasters everything it hits- It's more passive than a sandstorm- the air feels heavy but you can't actually feel the dust on your skin- but you can see it on everything- the boat is covered with it. Anyway I must say that the people of Sal were welcoming and friendly- Very rarely would I make eye contact with someone who didn't say Hello- or Hola or the equivalent- And I met some really good guys there who were my age they spoke English well enough that we could communicate fairly well, and Rum, the universal translator is only 30 cents a glass here, so conversation flowed. Anyway I was really impressed by how content these guys were, they had their family and friends, their health, most of them had jobs- and I think they realized that was really all they needed and were thankful for it. None of the dispossessed confusion that seems to affect a lot of people my age at home, receiving mixed messages about their responsibilities and roles in life from our over materialistic and pseudo- spiritual culture. Ah but enough of that.... Here we are on our way from Santiago(beautiful harbor, nice beach, sweet fishing boats painted Rasta-style) to the island of Fogo. And how appropriate for me to be making this entry as the name Ilha do Fogo means- Island of Fire- in Portuguese (remember my last entry??). How they keep it lit surrounded by all this water remains to be seen- because even though our chart tells us that it's only 3 miles away, thanks to the Harmattan (cough!), we have yet to see it. Supposedly there's an active Volcano on the island somewhere that last eructated in 1995- We hope to go check it out, cause we're that hard-core. We've also heard that people who go all the way to the top of the cone have to sort of hop, prance and dance in place because the ground's so hot- So wish us luck- Hopefully we'll live to tell about it. And if you hear about any explosions in the Eastern Atlantic any-time soon, remember this- we didn't touch nothing.
Talk to ya later- Joel
P.S. To the second-graders- We just saw a pair of whales, a big one and a little one, the little one was playing and leaping out of the water! We think they may have been Sperm whales.
Merry Christmas to all from the shores of Africa, where there are no Christmas carols on the radio. On the other hand, Christmas trees and turkey are in pretty short supply. We are winding up our tour of the dry dusty barren Cape Verde archipelago, in a village described by everyone as the greenest, wettest place on the greenest, wettest island at the extreme western edge of the Cape Verdes. That is to say, if you drill deep enough, you can find water, enough for the 100 villagers here and the 8,000 inhabitants of the rest of the island to drink, do laundry, and even irrigate crops in a limited way. There are even a few flush toilets on the island. And in Faja de Agua palm trees and papayas can find enough water to grow, which gives the eye a small patch of green on which to rest, amid all this expanse of brown rock and dust. At one time, we are told, there was even a stream here running down from the mountain, year-round. Now there is a brief flow of water after a brisk rain, all of which is carefully diverted to reservoirs and cisterns, lest it be squandered by running uselessly into the sea.We actually had rain here last week, for several hours, which completely cleared the Harmattan dust out of the air. Hallelujah.
Water is a central theme in the Cape Verdes. The first island we visited, Sal, is entirely dependent on a desalination plant (ironic, since the island used to make and export salt), and there is no excess for fields or even family gardens. Apart from the tenacious acacia trees, there is simply no vegetation on the island, not even cacti, and the island generously contributed to the load of red Harmattan dust from Africa whenever the wind blew hard, which was almost every day when we were there. (Actually, we shouldn't make too much of this dust business: overall, the climate here is delightful, with no mosquitoes and the breeze quite cool except in the middle of the day.) Palmeira, the town off which we were anchored, had one source of water, a building called the Fontaneira, with 4 taps, connected to the desalination plant. For a few hours each day, the gates were opened and people streamed in with whatever battered plastic jugs they possessed to pay 1 escudo/gallon (about a penny), and then stand in a long line until the battle axe superintendent admitted them to the communal faucets. One false move, or any wasted water spilling over, and she was in their face, screaming. Mad Max, Tank Girl, Waterworld and all the other post-apocalyptic movies we have seen had nothing on this scene, played out daily. We did get some water there, but believe me we didn't spill any.
Sal had other redeeming features, which kept us there almost a week. We went to a wonderful concert by Cesaria Evora, the queen of Cape Verde music, held in a large concrete amphitheater with walls and doors, but no roof. (Why bother, with rain once every 10 years). People were also very friendly, and we felt like we had really made human contact, not just as tourists and not just with crews of other yachts, for the first time since Flores. We also enjoyed meeting crews of some of the other boats: at one point there were 35 of us in the harbor, which is the most protected anchorage in the Cape Verdes. Very few American and British boats, almost all we have met are French, Belgian or German. As in all the islands, we were able to get excellent, fresh-baked bread at 5-7 cents/loaf, and our grand total for harbor and entry fees for the entire month in the Cape Verdes was $10. Overall, a very inexpensive place to cruise.
The Cape Verdes are an interesting mix of Portugese and African culture, in proportions that vary from island to island. The first 2 islands we visited, Sal and Santiago, were much more African in terms of dress, color, and language, speaking mostly an African/Portugese Creole. The islands of Fogo and Brava have been much more Portugese in flavor, more like the Azores, with a more recognizable Portugese being spoken. Here we are seeing more intensive cultivation with irrigation levadas and terraces, houses that tend to be more of finished and painted stucco, and lighter-skinned people with more European dress. Still quite the rainbow of skin color compared with Maine. All the islands are appallingly poor, with an economy based on low-technology fishing from small boats, subsistence agriculture (where water can be had) and lots of informal aid from relatives abroad in lieu of exports. Tourism is talked about, and there are apparently a few small hotels on the nice beaches, as in Sal, but this is in the fetal stage at best. There are about 300,000 inhabitants of the Cape Verdes who actually live here, and another 400,000 or so abroad, mostly in the US. Brava's population is even more distorted, with 8,000 on the island and 37,000 in the US. This was a major port for the New Bedford whalers, with an excellent protected harbor in Porto da Furna, and close ties have been maintained between the 2 communities ever since. We have had a royal welcome here on Brava simply because we are the first American yacht anyone here has seen in a long time.
While we were in Porto da Furna, the other harbor on Brava, the Prime minister of the Republic of Cape Verde came to the island to visit. There is a tiny airport but it is almost never used because it is so dangerous, so he arrived aboard the Cape Verde navy, which is a 100-foot patrol boat with no guns. He went ashore in a rowboat rowed by local teenagers, like every other cargo which arrives here including cars, and walked into a political hornets nest. It seems the Bravans are chronically unhappy about the fact that they get more public works accomplished using dollars from New Bedford than with Escudos from the capital in Praia. I met the minister of state the next day, and he was still a little shaken up. So Bill Clinton is not the only one who don't get no respect.
There is much more to say, especially about Santiago and Fogo, and one of us will get around to it soon. The boat is ready for the next big jump, probably starting tomorrow, weather permitting of course, although there isn't much weather here other than the northeast trade winds this time of year. All that's left to do is have Christmas Dinner, get a few eggs, some fruit, maybe a chicken, and we're off to Tobago, 2100 miles to the westward. So it's out with the Old World and in with the New.
from Shifra, Christmas, 1998
We are now on Ilha Brava, the smallest and western-most island of the Cape Verdes. I don't know how much you know about the Cape Verdes, but they're essentially little pieces of Africa floating on the ocean. Actually, this island and the one next to it (Fogo- it's an active volcano!) are a little more Portuguese than the first ones we visited, but not much. Anyway, the anchorage that we're in now is incredible. There's a small black pebble beach fringed by brightly painted stucco houses which give way almost immediately to steep hillsides. The hills rise into steep jagged peaks all around us, but near the shore it's pretty much your classic paradise (a bit drier than usual though, they're just starting to recover from a 3-year drought).
Apparently there are a lot of Cape Verdeans who live in America, but come back here to Faja de Agua for vacations. We met one of them, Henry Rodriguez, who has been showing us around, he has a pretty sweet piece of property. Up behind his house there are terraced fields of sugar cane which he uses to produce his own Groque/aguardiente/rum/moonshine in his little backyard distillery. He showed us how he makes the rum (110 proof), it's all the old fashioned way too, he uses horses to run the press for the sugar and has basically all the old Okie bootlegger equipment to process the cane syrup. It's really neat. On top of that he has a few fields of white sugar cane for eating, palm trees for coconuts, mango trees, and a few scattered banana trees that look like they're only a few years old. Walking through the shades groves of mangoes with this loud semi wealthy American I could almost forget that the rest of the island- even the rest of the country- lived in a state of pretty god-awful poverty.
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