The idea about travelling to Cape Verde (Cabo Verde in Portuguese) came to me as soon as I saw the advertisement from the Latvian tour operator FlyMeAway. They specialize in offering direct flights from Riga over long weekends or public holidays. My family had used their services a couple of times before and knew that for us the best option is to pay only for the flight and then to explore the destination on our own. This time was no different. We bought the flight tickets and the rest was up to us.
Cape Verde is a country consisting of various islands but the islands differ greatly and the typical resort holiday packages for a lower price will usually take you to Sal, not the islands where FlyMeAway took us – São Vicente and Santo Antão. Check last minute offers from Thomson or German tour operators to get to Cape Verde if you’re missing sunshine and don’t care about the rest. However, if you want to check out the cultural heritage and amazing nature of Cape Verde, you’ll have to find some other ways to travel to the not so popular islands of Cape Verde. Highly suggested!
We arrived in São Vicente on the 18th of November, 2015, when back home everything was grey and gloomy and people celebrated our country’s birthday. It was a reality check because suddenly it was +25C, everyone around spoke languages you hardly understand, and mostly everyone had darker skin than us. The volcanic and exotic Cape Verdean islands are very close to Africa geographically but the feeling there is still quite European. It’s partly due to the fact that Portuguese is their official language and it is possible to use your euro bills to pay for the services used. In some parts French was more popular. Most people will use Cape Verdean Creole in their everyday conversations. English is used in most places that would be important to tourists but our feeling was this – even if you don’t know any foreign language, you will be fine with just smiling and talking your own language.
We knew that Mindelo in São Vicente is considered to be a cultural capital of Cape Verde. Before our trip I created a playlist of songs by various Cape Verdean artists. Most people will know Cesaria Evora. She’s is a BIG thing in Cape Verde. Even the airport in São Vicente bears her name. You can find her house in Mindelo, too. Now when she’s gone, there are several new singers gaining more and more popularity worldwide. You can listen to my playlist here.
During the first two days on the island, we just wandered around, soaked up that wonderful sunshine, checked out supposedly the best bakery in town and listened to some live music coming from downstairs while we were sitting on the rooftop terrace of our boutique hotel Casa Café Mindelo.
Pastelaria Morabeza (Avenida Baltasar Lopes da Silva 25) was suggested in many sources as the best pastry shop/bakery in Mindelo, so we decided to check it out. We were not disappointed. The coffee was good, pastries hard to choose as there were so many of them and one cannot try them all in one go. We saw many people (locals, too) coming in to sit down to a nice cup of coffee+a pastry+WiFi.
Then we went to another island but we returned to São Vicente to spend our last two nights on this island and stayed at the hotel Residencial Goa owned by a lovely French couple. The hotel was not cheap but it’s always worth to pay more for a personalized service. There are lots of possibilities to have a very relaxing time – have a walk to the nearest volcano, another one along the beach, go to the nearest village (Calhau) or take some other walks – the very hospitable owners will tell you itineraries.
The owners of Goa make you feel like you are at home and with your family. Very welcoming and friendly. At the end of our stay we realized that our credit cards don’t work at this hotel and we haven’t withdrawn enough cash to pay for the hotel but that turned out not to be a problem at all. The owner called the taxi driver he trusted and told him to take us to the ATM in the center of Mindelo. We had to give the money to the taxi driver who, in turn, would later bring it back to the hotel owners. We couldn’t believe the level of trust shown to us!
If you are there in the right season, you might as well see turtles nesting there. Raph, the owner’s wife, spoke French (my French consists of just some simple phrases…) but she took so much care of her guests’ gastronomical experience.
There were two highlights during our stay at Goa- the dinner in the yard where everyone sits down around a big dinner table and have a chat and then the brunch at the nearest restaurant Chez Loutcha that opens only on Sundays (Stan, the owner of Goa, will make a reservation for you and if you happen to stay at Goa on a Sunday, we highly suggest this event). The story about that brunch place is unbelievable. Imagine a house in the middle of nowhere.
Everything is quiet. And then suddenly people arrive, the tables are set, the food is brought out, the musicians start to play and a dancing couple appears. It’s a party for old and young ones like there’s no tomorrow! 3 hours later everyone pays their bills to the “big mama” and goes home. Everything is quiet again. For a week.
Inbetween we spent 2 nights on Santo Antão island. The ferry ride lasts for about an hour and everybody is given a plastic bag… just in case. The thing is that in a few minutes you find yourself in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean on a ferry that is no Titanic in size. The waves are big and so is the motion in your stomach. We developed a new meditation technique to survive – when the boat goes up with the wave, you inhale, when the boat goes down, you exhale, and you do it all while staring calmly at the horizon. No need to use the given plastic bag but believe me – you praise all the Lords and Gods you know when you get off that boat.
Then there is a very tricky task to be accomplished. Renting a car. There are only one or two car rental companies on Santo Antão. We arrived when some people returned their cars and wanted to get their deposit back but the electricity went out causing misunderstanding on both sides. The problem was that the owner thought that the money has been unblocked on the customer’s card while the customer said that it’s not true. It all happened 10 minutes before the customer’s cruise ship sailed off the island. I think I had never seen so much stress in a car hire office… We didn’t have enough cash to pay the deposit for the car but due to all that mess with the previous customer the owner agreed to take our 70 euros or whatever we’d give him in cash and was happy to see us leave.
As soon as you pass the first cliff range, you enter a totally different world – a tropical paradise. The road goes along the coast – beautiful, picturesque, and sometimes scary.
I haven’t been to many Asian countries but in my imagination the views would be similar to those in Cambodia or Vietnam.
We drove across the island to the town of Ponta do Sol and found our hotel. Decent breakfast, WiFi connection and a gorgeous view if you climb up to the rooftop terrace.
We liked the coastline and we were lucky enough to get a table in one of the nicest restaurants there- Caleta. Seemed like it was family-owned and they had live music when we were there. The food was great and the atmosphere too.
We noticed that in this part of the island most people speak French but they still have this easy-going mentality that sometimes blows your hard-working-and-stressed-out European’s mind.
The island of Fogo is the only one producing wine. If not this, you can get vinho verde or any other Portuguese wine imported to the islands. Not the worst offer but 6 days was enough to try almost everything. Regarding the Fogo island, the latest eruption of the volcano there was in 2014. No vintage of that year is expected…
We are always curious to taste coffee around the world. Coffee is grown on two Cabo Verdean islands and it tasted good wherever we tried some but here is another story. We visited this Italian/Caboverdian restaurant (La Lampara da Giorgio) owned by an elderly Italian and his son. No menu. Just talk to the owner (if you speak Italian or French) or to his son (Italian or English) and find out what the offer of the day is. The food is expensive but delicious. As it is an Italian place, you’d expect coffee to be flawless. But it wasn’t… Tasted great but the amount of it? More like half of an americano. Well, when in Cape Verde, you must take everything easy. Full stop. We laughed a lot and had a great time there anyway.
Both islands that we visited were full of contrasts – developed, European style places versus total poverty.
In some villages there’s no drinking water, so people walk down the road to the nearest source of water to get it. But they smile and dance on the roads. They look happy with what they’ve got and are free in their spirit. This is what we wanted to take home from this trip – that feeling of freedom and happiness.