L1602 – A day on the tiles

Following our final port call in South America at Recife, documented in my post L1602 – Back to prison, we spent four days at sea crossing the Atlantic Ocean, crossing back into the northern hemisphere in the process.

Early on Friday morning we sailed into our next port of call – Mindelo on the island of São Vicente in the Cabo Verde Islands. You may remember that I visited Praia on a different Cabo Verde island, Santiago, on the way to South America – documented in my post L1602 – Praia engagement.

I went up on deck very early to watch us sail in at dawn, and I was greated with a scene quite unlike the sun, skyscrapers and sand that I had become so familiar with in Brazil. Instead low clouds and mist swathed high cliffs and mountains, and ahead the sun peeping through some breaks in the cloud was beginning to illuminate the port, which was in the middle of a wide bay. Just outside the harbour we turned around, and a small ship slipped into the port ahead of us before we reversed into our moorings, just inside the harbour wall:

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There was just time to grab a quick breakfast and apply some suncream before it was time to check in for my shore tour, called ‘A taste of the island’. As the name implies, this tour was to explore of parts of the city and of the island, partly by coach and partly on foot. I had been told that Mindelo was different to Praia, with less African influence, and I was interested to see this for myself.

As we left the ship to board our tour coach (thankfully no port terminal building here), we could hear a pounding of drums, so it sounded like some local musicians were on the quay to welcome us, but as the quay was so narrow and congested it was impossible to see anything. As we drove off our local guide informed us that it was a local carnival band, and the coach slowed as we passed them for us to see:

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Although I keep using the word coach, in fact the coaches in Cabo Verde are very small, really more like busses, and they don’t come with luxuries like air conditioning. However they did have a second door at the back, making entry and exit so much quicker than on the South American coaches with their single door at the front:

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Our first stop was a short photo stop in the centre of the city where there was a low quality beach lined with fishing boats, and some fishermen sorting their nets. Here we should have seen the face of George Washington facing upwards on the top of a mountain, but as you can see in the second picture, the mountain in question was hidden in the low clouds. Here a dog had found a convenient pothole to curl up for a snooze in:

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We then drove just a short distance further on, before disembarking the coach for a walking tour. Our first stop was the fish market. Our local guide explained that as water and therefore ice is in short supply on the island, the fishermen bring fresh fish to the market every day, which is bought and consumed the same day. He also told us how China had invested heavily in the islands, building and improving the infrastructure, but in return had negotiated the rights to fish freely in the local waters affecting the catches of the locals; and also the rights to import goods without duties, making it hard for local traders paying the duties to compete. While the islands needed the international help to improve their infrastructure, I did wonder whether long term they were paying to high a price for it in terms of the impact on local people.

In the fish market I noticed several tiled images on the walls, a legacy of the time the islands were a Portuguese colony, and these tiled images were something that would recur during my tour:

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Next we passed by a fruit and vegetable market, on our way to the Amilcar Cabral Plaza, where an African market was located. Here we had some free time to shop, but my eyes were more drawn to the tiled images of historic scenes of the island, which were located on the end walls of the market stalls:

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In one corner there was also this striking feature – part relief, part statue:

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We then reboarded our coach for the next part of our tour, which took us out of the city to the mountains and then the coast. On the way our local guide told us more about the island and the way of life of the islanders – and how that is changing. An example is family size – that is now typically quite small, but he said his grandfather had 55 children from 21 women, including from one woman, her sister and her sister’s daughter! The guide explained that in his grandfather’s time, wealth was defined in terms of how much land you owned – and as his grandfather owned lots of land he could afford a large family who in turn provided the labour to work the land. His grandfather is still alive, is in his nineties, and has countless great-grandchildren.

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We drove half way up Monte Verde – Green Mountain – to a viewpoint giving views back across Mindelo and the port, and also across the island. The name Green Mountain came as a surprise as everywhere the land looked so parched and brown, with very little vegetation. Our guide told us that the island was the driest of the Cabo Verde Islands, and the rainfall is so low it very nearly qualifies as a desert. The wettest period is between August and November, with virtually no rainfall on average for the rest of the year. It depends on how much rain actually falls in the wetter season as to whether the mountain does become at all green. On the way up the mountain we did see a flock of goats, although it wasn’t obvious what they would be finding to eat:

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From the viewpoint we could just about make out Mindelo, the port and our ship in the misty haze, but the top of Monte Verde was obscured by the low cloud:

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In this picture you can see the typical cobbled road surface on the island, as the road heads further up the mountain. Our guide told us that the road got very narrow from then on, and was only passable in smaller vehicles, but with such low cloud it would have been pointless continuing further anyway.

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Instead we drove back down the mountain, and around it to Praia Grande beach. The road along this coast was actually smooth tarmac, much to our relief, paid for by an American grant. At the beach there were huge sand dunes, made up of sand from the Sahara Desert blown on the wind:

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Next we drove back along the coast to Baía das Gatas. This village is known for a large music festival held on the beach there each August. Here we, and many other coach-loads doing the same tour, crammed into a small restaurant for drinks and nibbles, whilst being entertained by local musicians and dancers:

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There were also a man and a lady dressed in carnival costumes for us to see and photograph:

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After queuing to use the facilities there was just time to grab this shot of a local boat sailing in the bay before it was time to reboard our coach:

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We then drove back across the barren countryside to Mindelo. On the way the local guide explained that the half-built houses we kept seeing were not abandoned – many of the locals are so poor they can only afford to build their own houses slowly in stages, living in the part-built house and only completing another room when they could afford to do so:

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Here we did another short walk, past the town hall with the flags of Cabo Verde and São Vicente outside, and into a different and larger fruit and vegetable market, with more tiled images on the walls:

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As we exited the market at the other end of the building to reboard the coach, we could see the Palácio do Povo – the People’s Palace – in the distance. This building was formerly the Palácio do Governador – the Governor’s Palace.

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As we drove to our next stop, the Centro Nacional de Artesanato – the National Arts and Crafts Centre, I just caught this relief of musicians and dancers on a wall:

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At the arts and crafts centre there were quite a variety of objects on display:

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From it’s courtyard I could just see this relief on a neighbouring wall:

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We then drove back to our waiting ship for some lunch. The weather by now was a lot more sunny, but it was very humid, so ordinarily I would probably have stayed on ship for the afternoon. However on the morning tour we had passed a couple of carnival floats, and our guide told us that they were going to be paraded along the seafront for our benefit between 3 and 4 that afternoon, so I decided to walk back through the port and along the seafront to see this.

Passing some artwork on a wall, I reached the car park where the floats were parked up. As there was no sign of activity I photographed them and carried on walking into the town centre where I took more photographs, several showing the Torre de Belem, a replica of the famous landmark in Lisbon, Portugal:

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Peeping my head in the doorway of a warehouse style building I caught sight of some carnival props:

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I then walked back to where the carnival floats were parked before, passing these tame sparrows and this memorial to the first aerial crossing of the south Atlantic Ocean:

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Back at the car park, the floats were still there with no activity around them, so I figured we had been misinformed, or Cabo Verde timekeeping was even worse than Brazilian! I therefore headed back to the port entrance, where I noticed a lot more wall paintings on the other side of the entrance to the one I photographed earlier:

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Walking back though the port, I think I could make out George Washington’s face through the haze:

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Later I went up on deck to watch the sailaway, and took these pictures – one shows my hunch was correct as the carnival floats were still parked in the same place, so it was a good job I didn’t waste any time hanging around for them to move:

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Apart from the information about the cruise floats, our local tour guide on this morning’s shore tour had been very informative, and having grown up in the U.S.A. his English was very good – both factors were a big help towards making it a very good tour, most memorable for all the tiled images, paintings, reliefs and wall-hangings I saw on various walls.

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