Dodging turtles and covid
As in most countries, weekends in Cabo Verde are a thing to be celebrated. For us ‘fin de semana’ starts at lunchtime on Friday, one of two days where the Ecole Francaise (more on the peculiarities of a French education in a Portuguese speaking nation later) which the boys attend finishes at midday, providing two ‘play days’ for family activities. On Wednesdays we typically hit the only swimming pool in town at the apartment complex of Vila Cabral. With no tourists we always have the pool to ourselves. Both boys were confident in the water before getting to Cabo Verde but have now blossomed into fully-fledged human porpoises. Zeb was snorkeling on his first day in the sea and, despite not being able to technically swim, he’s worked out how to float and now ditches his arm bands at every opportunity.
Living on an island, it goes without saying, that the bulk of our lives revolves around the beach. It’s our garden and playground. A cheeky morning dip before school, windsurfing and kiting sessions whilst the boys are ‘learning’, post school snorkel, a paddle board at sunset. We couldn’t be luckier, we couldn’t be happier. The sense of freedom is palpable and only heightened by what’s going on around the world. Comparing the BBC news from home to our local facebook group which publishes daily COVID-19 statistics for Cabo Verde across all ten islands - the contrast is stark. Today on Boa Vista there is only one active case, some islands have none and the total across the archipelago is less than 350 - most of these concentrated on the main island of Santiago in the capital city Praia. At the time of writing Cabo Verde has reported less than 10,000 cases, and 103 deaths related to the virus.
Lockdown here was certainly tougher than back home but it’s paid dividends.
Cabo Verde shut it’s borders immediately in March and dispatched the military to support police in maintaining strict adherence to the rules. People were allowed to leave home only for essential items and to exercise within 100m of where they lived. Beaches were out of bounds. Schools closed. Workers were quarantined at the island's three hotels for up to six weeks to ensure they were symptom-free. It sounds extreme but the reality is it was the only way – Cabo Verde’s limited infrastructure and health service simply would not have coped even with the mildest of outbreaks.
And therein lies the conundrum for Cabo Verde. It relies heavily on tourism, some estimates put the contribution to the economy as high as 45% of GDP. The much-needed return of international flights and the tourists they bring is chastened by the knowledge this will invariably deposit covid-19 at volume. Boa Vista has one small provincial hospital with limited facilities. Primary care is only available in the more populated islands of Sal, Santiago and Sao Vicente. Anything more serious than a mild fracture necessitates evacuation by plane. Mothers-to-be choose between Mindelo and Praia to give birth. There isn’t an ICU bed or ventilator in sight.
Keeping in mind the absolute requirement to avoid an unnecessary trip to hospital - weekends are full of adventure. Our 4x4 explores every corner of Boa Vista, from the windswept northern coastline and its shipwrecks, picking its way across Deserto de Viana, through to the unspoiled stretches of golden sand leading from Ervatao in the north to Lacacao in the south. We regularly travel the length of the island without encountering anything other than the occasional donkey, diving Boobie or turtle lazing in the waves.
Cabo Verde is home to one of the world’s largest and most important habitats for nesting loggerhead turtles – 90% of which choose, with exquisite taste, the fine beaches of Boa Vista as their maternity suite.
During the season which runs from late June until October the national foundation for turtles enlists the support of volunteers who establish camps across five remote beaches - patrolling some 30km of nesting grounds protecting the turtles from poaching and maintaining a census. Each night over four months the patrols count the nests – which this year numbered more than 120,000! Ed regularly dodges surfacing loggerheads on his windsurfing board, whilst the boys take shifts on ‘turtle watch’ from the beach.
Amongst the joyous sense of liberation which we have been afforded – there is an omnipresent sense of catastrophe hanging over us. A man-made, engineered calamity – which has enveloped our world spreading like a virus and which will endure long beyond any vaccine. Plastic. Something which will feature prominently on this blog, in the lives of the boys and sadly the diet of many a turtle for years to come. For now - we'll just give obrigados for our present freedoms.