Friday, June 04, 2010

Mindelo, Cape Verde Islands

Mindelo, Sao Vicente, Cape Verde Islands
Tuesday, May 25, 2010

What a misnomer! A black rock jutting out of the ocean with virtually no green anywhere is called “Verde”! I will have to check Wikipedia when we get home to learn the history of naming a black rock “Green”; perhaps other islands in the chain are green. As we entered the harbor, I was reminded very strongly of Oman; there is a striking similarity between the two places. Mindelo is situated on a bay, with hills all around. Black hills. The volcanic island is “new” geologically, with little top soil on the black volcanic rock.

Mindelo, or as locals say, “Windelo”, is a very small town on a very small island, and what a difference from the places we had just visited in Africa. The air was cool -- about 75 degrees -- and the humidity was very low, and the wind was blowing at gale force. We were told that the winds blow strongly almost all of the time. I was reminded of Aruba. Cape Verde is a territory of Portugal, and Portuguese is the language spoken.

Cape Verde is middle class modern; people have homes and cars and dress well. It is 21st century. Children attend school, and there are colleges and a university for students, as well. No more abject poverty; our cruise has now exited the past and returned to the present, with some loss of “difference” and interest. One often finds “different” to be more interesting than the images one sees at home. Mindelo is a small town with a small town feeling. The principal activity of the island seems to be fishing and daily food shopping, although with modern electricity, there is little need for women to shop daily for food.

I went with Bas and Monique as usual, and we all decided to take a taxi. We walked off the pier and were immediately approached by a horde of taxi drivers. Bas and I had previously agreed to try to find one with a good car and one who spoke English well. The first one who approached us was about the same size as Bas, and both had premature bald heads; they were very similar, and amusingly so. Joseph spoke English well, and he offered a taxi that would hold seven people -- five hours for 50 Euros. We agreed, and we were off. Bas made sure that Joseph understood that we wanted to see “the people” and not buildings. Joseph sat in back and was our tour guide, and another person whose name I never got was the driver. He spoke no English, but was very friendly.

First we stopped at a vegetable market; it was small and lacked activity and interest of markets in previous stops, but it was colorful. Bas climbed up on a table to take a photo, and the table almost fell, to everyone’s delight. Because he had entertained the people, he was then permitted to take any photo he wanted. In general, he gains permission to take photos of people by being such a friendly, entertaining fellow; he gets people smiling and laughing with him.

We walked a half-block to the fish market, and Joseph said that because of high winds, the catch had been light. There was little activity, but we did take a few photos. We then walked along the waterfront of the marina to another food market, the main municipal food market. The building was a pretty two-story building, but it had little activity. In general, few people were on the streets, and we saw few people all day in Mindelo. When I asked Joseph the reason, he said that most people were at work, and inside. We took a few photos at the market, and then took off on our driving tour of the island.

The town was colorful; buildings were painted in bright colors, rather than being all white, and we stopped the taxi to try to take photos of the colorful buildings. We then drove to the top of one of the surrounding hills to take photos overlooking the town. Later, we drove to the top of another hill for more “overlook” photos. The photos were okay, but not spectacular, and we were already getting the impression that good photos would be difficult to find on the island.

Next, Joseph took us out of the town toward Monte Verde, the dark volcanic mountain that has no green but is named “Verde” and rises 750 meters (about 2500 feet) into the sky. We noticed immediately that the roads were made of the black volcanic rock, and they were like driving on cobble stones; the ride was very rough both in town and on the road out of town. We also noticed the bleakness of the landscape, with no trees or vegetation anywhere. Joseph told us that the island is very arid; there are two “rainy months”, July and August, but little rain falls even during those months.

We zig-zagged our way up the side of the mountain to a very high level and took photos back down toward the town; we were able to see the ship well, but the day was hazy, and the photos from that distance did not work. As we drove, we saw nothing but hard, black volcanic rock everywhere. Houses were built sporadically, and stood out in stark contrast to their black, bleak surroundings. There were virtually no plants, even near the houses. The wind was blowing very hard; when we got out of the car to take photos, the wind was difficult to deal with.

After descending the mountain, we drove to the opposite side of the island to an even smaller village on “Catfish Bay”. One of the ship’s tour busses was there, and a buffet lunch had been set up on the wide, flat strip of land. A jetty had been built far out into the bay, and some of the passengers had walked out to the end. We decided not to stay, and continued our drive. We passed a group of colorful fishing boats, and we stopped and walked out a distance of perhaps 100 yards to get some close-up photos of the only color we had seen, and virtually the only activity we had seen.

Joseph then took us along the coast line on a new road that was very pretty. This road was paved and smooth, and was a welcome change from the rough, rocky roads everywhere else. We noticed large sand dunes, and Joseph told us that the dunes were sand from the Sahara Desert, blown there by the wind. The sand was light in color, and stood starkly against the black rock of the island. We speculated that eventually the sand would cover the island, making it resemble the sand dunes of Namibia. We stopped at a small restaurant called “Hamburg”, and had soft drinks. A lunch had been set up for a ship tour, and we departed just as they were arriving.

Our route back to Mindelo took us through one of the valleys, and we noticed that this valley seemed to be the only place on the island where a little top soil had accumulated. Small garden plots had been laid out by many people, each with its own small windmill to draw up water for irrigation. Palm trees had been planted near the water reminding us of photos of oases in the desert. We took a few photos as we drove along.

Joseph returned us to the pier about 1:00 p.m., after only four hours, but we felt that we had seen everything that the island had to offer. The town was closing for its afternoon “siesta” until 3:00, and we decided to return to the ship and take the ship’s shuttle back to town later for a last walk before departing. Later, I took the shuttle back into the town for a walk, but felt that there really was nothing more to see of this little place. Like small towns in America, many of the children leave the island to attend school elsewhere and never return, or they leave for other places seeking work. The town seems stable, but will remain small as there is little to attract either visitors or permanent residents.

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