Two boats, one missed plane and several meltdowns
Approaching the island of Brava atop the deck of Praia d’Aguada we felt a tingle of excitement rise in our tummies - this being distinctly better than Katherine’s normal sensation when travelling by boat. Not many folk venture this far west to Cabo Verde’s smallest inhabited island.
Just 10km long and 10km wide - this tiny stratovolcano was discovered, and promptly forgotten, by the Portuguese in the 15th century in favour of its older and more fertile volcanic sibling, Fogo. This all changed when Fogo erupted in the 17th century - depositing ash across the island and forcing its inhabitants to head to Brava for safety and sustenance. Today the island’s population stands at less than 5,000. Tourists rarely visit - not helped by the closure of the island’s exposed windswept runway in 2004. It was thus, with a rather proud spring in our step that we descended Praia D’Aguda’s gangway and stepped foot on Brava.
The lack of hassling aluguer (taxi) drivers at the port was a prescient reminder of the few tourists the island has seen since covid hit. We jumped into a Toyota hi-ace minivan and patiently waited for it to fill, before being driven up the steep winding road from Furna to the hilltop capital of Nova Sintra. Topping out in the clouds, 1500 feet above Furno we were greeted by what is perhaps the most genteel and perfect Cabo Verdean town. A wide avenue lined with acacia trees brought us to the town’s impeccable square. The Portuguese colonial influences were easy to see and appreciate – beautifully maintained merchant houses, a 19th century church, the historic music pavilion. Our preconceptions were totally misplaced.
Our impromptu decision to get the boat from Fogo meant we had nowhere booked to stay. With Katherine supervising the boy’s mini monster truck race in the town square I ventured off to scout potential accommodations. The delightful colonial B&B was closed. The Eco Lodge of Djabraba's resembled more of a youth hostel. The Nova Sintra hotel felt like something out of Fawlty Towers without the guests. With hope fading, the son of the owner of the Nova Sintra hotel showed us to their sister pousada – a delightful traditional house just up from the square. After switching the water on (no guest for 6 months) and depositing our bags – we headed out to explore.
We don’t half put the boys through it. ‘The virus’ kept them confined for much of 2020. In October without any real explanation for a 4 and 2 year old, we packed up the only home they’ve known into 12 bags and shipped them 3,000 miles via 3 planes to some islands in the mid-Atlantic. Once there we expected them to adapt without complaint to their new surroundings. To attend a school which teaches exclusively in French in a Portuguese country, where the local language is Creole. To exist on a radically different diet of fish and limited other produce. They’ve changed apartments three times in six months. Endured mosquitoes, spider bites and searing heat. Been dragged from island to island as mummy and daddy ‘Ed-norated’. Brava was the well overdue limit of their tolerance. Our wander around Nova Sintra was reasonably punctuated by meltdown after meltdown. Following a swift dinner in the house of a fascinating Bravan who had spent 40 years in the USA as part of a road building crew – we retreated early to our pension hoping a decent night’s sleep might give dawn to a better day.
There’s not so much to explore on Brava – particularly with kids. The island is only navigable by pick-up or the well-timed minivan. Accordingly, we hired an aluguer and headed from Nova Sintra, through the interior to the Northern town of Faja D’Agua – in the hopes of bathing in the delightful natural swimming pool which juts out into the Atlantic. Not to be. The waves were ferocious, the wind blowing a gale – a reminder why Brava’s short-lived attempt at an airport on this side of the island had been thwarted.
Transport between islands is heavily reliant on the inter-island ferry services run by a government subsidised conglomerate CV Interilhas. Operating a fleet of fast catamarans and roll on roll off ferries. These boats criss-cross the archipelago on a well-orchestrated, if somewhat unpredictable timetable. Brava is served infrequently and if we missed the morning sailing there wouldn’t be another boat for 5 days. Heading down the mountainside from Nova Sintra at 0630 we saw the Kriola tied up alongside – beyond the harbour entrance a veritable gale was brewing with the seas a good 2 to 3m. This did not bode well for the proposed 7-hour sailing via Fogo to Santiago.
Boarding Kriola the steward issued the ubiquitous plastic bag should we wish to deposit the contents of our breakfast at any point. Rounding the breakwater the boat shuddered as it slammed into the waves. Katherine promptly reached for her bag.
15 minutes into the short crossing to Fogo Zeb deposited his breakfast on daddy.
We had to get to Santiago today, or miss our flight back to Boa Vista the following morning. With only 2 weekly flights on a Friday and a Sunday, if we missed it, we’d have to wait until the following Friday to get home. We quickly realised that 7 hours of this would be unbearable and totally unfair on the boys. Arriving in Fogo we admitted defeat and disembarked the boat. It was Saturday morning, the next flight from Fogo to Santiago wasn’t until Tuesday. Ah well – back to La Fora it was! Every cloud has a silver lining!