Mindelo on Sao Vicente Island: preparing to cross!

I arrived on Sao Vicente by plane on November 26th. Weighed down like a pack mule with 46 kilos of baggage in the hold and carry on allowance maxed out! The flight provided a fantastic aerial view of Madeira, then the islands of Sal and Sao Vicente: Rugged (read inhospitable) coastlines, cloud encircled mountains, and a touch of green forests on jagged mounds of barren volcanic rock. The plane came in low over the sea to land, and my first impressions were not good! Peter had told me there was little to see, little to do, and provisioning places were scarce. I admit I wasn’t really looking forward to my time here.Peter greeted me at the airport, where the Visa procedure took forever, even though I’d purchased it ahead (a huge RIP-off, you can get it at the airport for 12€). We got a cab back to the marina, and I got settled in. Mindelo marina is a large structure, and when the sea and wind are up, it can be pretty uncomfortable. When Peter arrived there a couple weeks earlier, he said the pontoons were bucking and swaying. Not one to lose his balance, he found himself ejected from the pontoon for an unexpected dip the day he arrived. Our friend Juan from sailboat Ophelie X also took a similarly impressive spill at the same location, taking not only his new iPhone, but also the electrical meter in with him!Peter wasn’t very enthusiastic about what he’d seen of Mindelo thus far, though over the next few days, we explored and found the busy night market, the local jazz club, and music, music everywhere! There are talented musicians singing and playing every night in local bars and cafes. Everything we heard was local music, in Portuguese or the local Cap version creole, very melodious and easy to enjoy.We dropped by the art gallery/bar of local (internationally acclaimed) artist, Alex da Silva. I loved his work.

I think Basquiat is the artist that comes to mind for many when they see his work. I asked Alex about the kind of easy comparison, and rolled his eyes and smiled and said “that’s what people say, but I am much better than Basquiat”. I think he’s probably right!

In the same gallery/bar, there was an exhibition of cavhaqui (ukeleles) made by Luis Batista the next evening. Cap Vert is known as the place to buy handmade ukeleles, and Peter had his heart set on one. I was hoping to make it his Christmas present. He had already visited the workshop of Alceste Gomès (whose instruments are also on view at the night market) and we had a chance to compare. The exhibition was lovely, with the instruments suspended on transparent threads from the ceiling. Sadly, we weren’t able to get ahold of Luis Batista after the exhibition and before leaving, so no Christmas ukelele for poor Pete. I’m.working on it, though!We visited the Plaia Grande on the other side of the island, which is really the only place you can swim (you wouldn’t want to dip your little toe in the water at Mindelo marina!) then had a really tasty lunch at The Hamburg in the small village of Caheau.After that, peter took me to a beautiful swimming spot, where a lader had been set into the rock face leading down to a natural pool on the sea front. Great swim! At the back of the natural pool, the rocks form a blow hole, as you can see in the photo below.On our way back, we took the local mini van service, which was a great way to get a feeling fif the place. I wish I had photos, but our phones were dead. The van stopped at different places all along the route, picking up the young and lively members of a local soccer team, visibly on their way to a match. These kids were so gorgeous! They were laughing and teasing one another, and every time the van pulled over, they’d somehow manage to squeeze in just one more passenger. Those kids were a lot of fun to ride along with. Just normal teenagers off to their match. Meticulously coiffed, well-dressed, with beaming smiles, these young people were clearly among the more well-to-do families on the island.The truth is, Cap Vert is poor. Real poor. Life there is hard. The volcanic rock is by and large barren and unforgiving, and the population of these islands has had to fight to live. The first inhabitants were the Portuguese in the 15th century, closely followed by the unwilling captives of the slave ships that passed through here. Some slaves were brought here to work the island plantations, while others escaped and hid in the hills and eventually integrated the local population. Here they say thay everyone is of mixed blood, there are no pure blacks and no pure Europeans. This metissage and the hardness of life here has surely given rise to the very rich artistic and musical culture and a strong sense if cultural identity, forged through struggle.One night walking home, we walked by a young man holding a hand drawn portrait of Cap Vert’s best known singer, Cesar Evoria. Peter and I smiled and walked on by, but then that kid called after us, in a rather desperate voice “Dont you have a son?” You know that stopped me dead in my tracks. Ashamed to just ignore a young person. In the end, we didn’t buy his drawing, but gave him a couple of Euros and he was so grateful. He asked for a hug and thanked me profusely. Then as we went to walk away, he asked if we’d take a picture of him with his drawing.Thing is, when you’re born into a less fortunate family here, you gotta have a hustle, or you may not eat. And I mean hustle in a respectful way. There’s not enough real work. Everybody seems to be doing what they can to get by.

In spite of this, the place seemed safe to me. In some countries, I’m uncomfortable walking alone in the streets, but not there. Everyone was very polite, friendly and respectful. Although on Peter’s first day, at the fish market, he felt someone lifting his wallet with all his papers from his backpack! Luckily, he managed to grab the guy and got his stuff back. In the meantime, a large crowd of concerned citizens had gathered, including local police. It doesn’t seem to be a normal occurence.People get hungry, they get desperate, and they resort to crime. It’s bad, but when you see the poverty, it’s understandable. I had a young man just ask me to buy him a bag of rice because his mom lost her job and they had no food. You do what you can.The local shops are limited in their offerings, but we managed to load up our provisions. The most difficult part of that for me was that there was no more butter anywhere on the whole damn island. I had to buy margarine!!! If you know me well, you understand the depth of that statement. 3 weeks with a tub of margarine and no butter in sight!

One comment

  1. Dear Sara, thank you for the description of your arrival..Peter had sent his cards from a shelter so they did arrived… he was longing for you on this rocky island in the middle of the ocean. You are there now and on boat.. have a nice crossing to the new world..Big love to both of you and if you cross the Tropic line, dont forget to have a thought to Poseidon, the master of the océans..
    Clarisse

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