Sodade. Sao Vicente. Longing.
Updated: Sep 21, 2021
Having visited seven of the ten inhabited islands of Cabo Verde, our final pre-summer adventure was to take us to the two westernmost islands in the Northern Barlovento - Sao Vicente and Santo Antao.
The French school closed for the Easter break on Thursday 22 April - and so on the morning of Friday 23rd we jumped in the back of Vava’s pick up and headed to the airport 5 minutes out of town - COVID-19 negative tests in hand.
We checked in behind a couple of heavily pregnant women who looked like they were ready to give birth in the departure lounge.
It’s a familiar sight on every flight in Cabo Verde to see mums-to-be heading to the main hospitals on Praia or Sao Vicente. The flights are funded by the state equivalent of national insurance (INPS) but only allow for mum to travel - so dad either follows by the vastly cheaper boat, or more often than not, stays at home enjoying a few last days of freedom.
Bang on time the TICV turboprop dropped down onto the runway at Rabil. Within 15 minutes, precious cargos stowed safely aboard, we were airborne and headed to the capital Praia. With a few hours to kill before the connection to Sao Vicente we jumped into a taxi and headed up to the Plateau for some lunch. The driver deposited us in the pedestrianised zone with its beautiful tree lined avenue providing ample shade from the searing sun. It was the week of the General Election and the capital teemed with Cabo Verdeans in yellow and red t-shirts campaigning for the two main parties PAICV and MPD. Music blared as people danced, chanting anthems of their respective party whilst Zeb and Oz munched contentedly on their second punnet of strawberries since the UK.
Suitably satiated, we made our way back to the airport and the 30 minute flight to Sao Vicente. A tingle of excitement brewed as touched down in Mindelo, the cultural capital of Cabo Verde. Our residence for the next 5 days was a delightful colonial house in the historic quarter just up from the port. We dropped our bags off and dragged the boys screaming, away from the courtyard pool - bribing them with promise of pizza.
Waking to an empty house, the Cabo Verdean family hotel-sitting for the English owners greeted us with papaya, jams and fresh bread for breakfast by the pool. Zeb and Oz immediately became acquainted with the water and we spent many a joyful hour splashing about in the enclosed courtyard. Following coffee and Pasteis de Nata (Portuguese custard tarts) at a rather delightful patisserie (possibly the best in Cabo Verde...) we hailed a taxi for an impromptu city tour culminating in a climb to a viewpoint above Mindelo. From here the natural geography which has made Sao Vicente such a draw on the chart of mariners for centuries was easy to appreciate. The bay was formed by a volcanic caldera breached by the sea to the Western flank - with the remaining crater rim rising proud to the North and East, providing shelter from the trade winds and creating a natural harbour which even the best engineers could not emulate. Directly across the straits, the majesty of Santo Antao and her lush green mountains was clearly visible.
These features provided Sao Vicente with everything needed to become the go-to port of call in the mid-Atlantic. For merchants shipping everything from spices to slaves between Africa and the Caribbean, whalers fromt the US East Coast spending months at sea, and European traders en-route to South America - Mindelo provided safe haven and a critical replenishment stop. By the late 1800’s with the introduction of floating bunkers housing the finest coal shipped direct from Cardiff, alongside fresh water and fruit brought across the channel from Santo Antao - the population of Mindelo had exploded. Today Sao Vicente is the second most populous island of the archipelago, home to around 85,000 residents, 93% of whom live and prosper in the city.
Mindelo is considered by many as the beating cultural heart of Cabo Verde - giving birth to poets, writers, composers and musicians including the most fabled of all, singer Cesaria Evora. COVID had robbed Mindelo of some of its normal vibe - the streets were quiet, Carnival had been cancelled for the second year in a row, outdoor music and gatherings were prohibited. Nonetheless we ambled around the cobbled streets inhaling a more cosmopolitan air than we had breathed since leaving London six months prior. That evening beating drums were heard in the streets once more as a procession of MPD supporters partied late into the night celebrating their party’s win over PAICV in the elections.
Sao Vicente is a small island - just 15 miles from North to South and about 25 miles at its widest point. It took us just a morning to navigate in entirety - important as it was blowing a gale and Ed wanted to hit the beach at Sao Pedro, famous on the professional windsurfing circuit as a speed course. The windsurfing centre was located in a deserted hotel, and with no guests, the boys had the pools to themselves as daddy hit the sea.
The Surf Tribe windsurf station is run by Ronnie, a young Cabo Verdean of Santo Antao descent, and friend of Sean from the Wind Club on Boa Vista. Kitted out with the latest gear and with Ed being the first surfer since December, Ronnie was only to happy to oblige. By now the wind was topping 40kts - funnelling down the narrow gap between the airport and the beach with the mountains squeezing the airmass to create a powerful katabatic effect. Ronnie suggested Ed take a 3.9m sail (a size which he hasn’t used since a storm force hurricane in Portland Harbour in 1991). Ed scoffed at this, pointed at his belly and promptly reached for a 4.7m and an 80litre slalom board. The boys could barely walk across the beach upright as daddy braved the shore dump and launched into the white spray. He might be 41, but he flew like a 20 year old (so he imagines) with the board barely touching the surface - so overpowered he returned after 20 minutes conceding to Ronnie on his wisdom.
After a couple of beers we drove back to town, dropping Ronnie home. Gazing out across the Canal de Sao Vicente to the towering massif of Santo Antao we were excited as to what the moro may bring - or as Cesaria might sing in Creole ‘Sodade’ - longing.