Day 6 |
Sep 21, 2012

Porto Novo, Santo Antao

By Claire Allum, Archaeologist

Co-ordinates: 17° 00’ 56” N 025° 03’ 35” W
Weather: Warm and sunny
Air Temperature: High 32 C / 90 F

I first saw the dramatic skyline of the Cape Verde islands as I drank morning coffee in the Observation Lounge. Ragged peaks and barren steep-sided mountain cliffs made it clear that I was staring at the results of violent volcanic activity. Stefan, our onboard geologist was going to have fun today.

My morning in Porto Novo started at 9:00 am. I clambered into a small 20-person bus along with Olga, our Anthropologist, and 15 guests. The sky was clear blue and a warm gentle breeze suggested the day might get hotter.

Our guide was a thin, animated young man called Iri. His enthusiasm about his country of Cape Verde was infectious and he soon had us all asking him questions about everything from the price of local tomatoes to education and government. Our driver was another thin young man called Day. He didn’t say much but had a charming smile for each of us as we boarded his bus.

Our day on Santo Antao basically consisted of driving across the island. We drove up into the mountains, stopping at various look-out points; then headed down the other side to a restaurant by the sea, for lunch; and finally returned to the ship along the coast, with a brief stop for cocktails. But it was so much more than that.

The scenery on Santo Antao is stunning and the contrast between both sides of the island and its lower and upper altitudes is remarkable, especially considering its small size (we drove across it and back in 8 hours with a stop for lunch).

Porto Novo is a town built in red-brown volcanic rubble. The few pieces of green to be seen are aloe vera plants and acacia trees lining the road. As we gained altitude and made our first roadside stop, the photograph I took shows a desolate landscape with rough, craggy peaks rising out of a sea of muted greys, browns and reds. Veils of thin cloud cling to the most distant points.

Most of the route we drove was meticulously paved with cobblestones. The Portuguese had built the road during colonial times using local labour. Just under 2,000 people are estimated to have died during its construction. I could imagine how the accidents took place as we traversed hanging cliffs, long tunnels and steep-sided mountain slopes.

As we gained more altitude, the environment changed quickly; shrubs, trees and scrubby grass appeared, followed by tall cypress and eucalyptus trees. Iri declared, “and now we have reached the agricultural zone,” and suddenly we were driving past small farms. It looked to me as if the small, stone farm houses were built on the only available flat land, their narrow terraced fields either stretching down far below them or rising high above. Quince, corn, manioc, papaya, breadfruit, mango, yams are only a few of the crops I saw. A highlight was the Cova Volcanic Crater. Standing at its edge we stared down at a crisscross of small fields and stone crofts filling its vast interior.

We kept climbing. Ragged black mountains became soaring lush green peaks with sides scarred by stone-lined terraces. The clouds were often below us. We made several stops to take pictures of breath-taking views. Finally, we began the journey back down. Our bus appeared to have good brakes.

Across the island we visited an elementary school at O Cocoli where we met its director, and guests handed over several backpacks filled with school supplies for students. The recess bell rang and students spilled out of classrooms for lunch. It reminded me that I was hungry too.

We had a fresh fish lunch at a charming town by the sea called Ponta do Sol. After that we continued our tour by returning to Porto Novo along the coast. It was almost as dramatic as our morning mountain route, with white waves crashing against black volcanic rock cliffs, sea tunnels, black and gold sand beaches, and multi-coloured layers of volcanic deposit lining the road sides. The route was still cobblestoned.

We ended our tour with refreshments at the Santantão Art Resort. Our Cape Verde day ended with cocktails and a recap and briefing on the Outdoor Deck, as the sun set and the Silver Explorer set sail for Dakar, Senegal.