This is a guide for my family and friends about my life as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Cape Verde, Africa. I teach English as foreign language to high school students in Boa Vista, Cape Verde. Also as a disclaimer, the comments expressed here are solely of the author and do not represent the United States Peace Corps, the American Government, or any other governing body.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

I have never been to Hawaii or the Canary Islands, nor any other island chain or archipelago, so I cannot make any unbiased judgments about the archipelago I am currently living on. But this place can be so breathtakingly beautiful, it’s astounding that more people have not noticed. In a way, I suppose this is a good thing, as if more people knew, the scenery and landscapes would not be quite as pure and untouched as they are now. This past weekend, the Americans and I had a mini-break on the island of Santo Antão. The island is about a 45 minute ferry ride from Mindelo, São Vicente (for those not keeping track, that is where I currently live). You cannot get to Santo Antão by any other means, as the terrain is such that the airport was shut down for safety reasons. SA is one of the largest islands in Cape Verde, and it is all completely untouched by any outside influence. It is one of the most purely Cape Verdean islands I have seen.
When you get off the ferry, you arrive in a town that looks like it was leftover from the development of Mindelo. It is similar because it is immediately accessible from Mindelo and therefore a little more ‘modern’ with amenities slightly easier to obtain. As you drive away from the Port town and into the mountains, you climb higher and higher until you can see Mindelo from across the channel. This side of the island is browner, and even looks a little like the Rocky Mountains in Arizona. But the drive itself is amazing. You continue to climb until you reach the clouds and there is so much moisture in the air that it is practically raining. You find yourself driving through the clouds and the air is thicker than any other fog you have ever been through. But then you reach a point where the clouds are below you and in fact only on one side of the island, running like a waterfall over the mountains to the other side. You now have to get out and climb a little ways on foot, as the road has stopped, but the highest peak is still above you. The air is crisp and there are pine trees everywhere. It reminds you of camp and the smell of pine-filled mountains take you back to your childhood when the biggest problem that faced you was the fear of getting pulled out of bed to go ‘Polar-Bearing’ in the freezing-cold lake the next morning. Your current problems have been left behind, under the clouds, and most certainly await you when you return to reality. But for now, you are above them, literally, and the world is serene, quiet, and the air is so crisp you can feel yourself breathing for the first time in a long time. You can see 360˚ around the entire island and on both sides, the clouds are pouring over the mountains below you, moving quicker than you ever imagined, and looking almost like a quiet version of Niagara Falls. You sit at the top and simply breathe because that is the only thing to do and the only thing you can actually hear.
But it is getting late and there are other things to see. You climb back down to the little town where you have parked your car. You have rented a car because as those crazy kids are saying these days, you are traveling like a ‘baller.’ It is easier to see a place and go where you choose when you do not have to rely on public transportation to squeeze you into a seat next to bunches of bananas and people carrying chickens. So you go ‘baller’ style and discover that you can control the direction you are going; an idea that has been a little lost lately. With your destination town in front of you, you drive on, down the other side of the mountain and through the clouds again. The road is not really a road, but a one-lane cobblestone thrill ride that leaves you puzzled as to how they ever cut through all the rock and mountain to construct such a thing. The people here do not have Caterpillar machines or fancy rock-carving technology; plus we are talking about roads that were created years and years ago. So you drive carefully because the cliffs on either side are at 90˚ angles to the road and one wrong turn and the ribeira is the last thing you will ever see. But being above the deep-cut rocks is all that has your attention at the moment, and it reminds you a little of the spectacular nature of the Grand Canyon. Sometimes, Nature surprises you in the most astounding ways.
You reach the town of Paul where Peace Corps Volunteers have been in the past, but have recently vacated for one reason or the other, and you marvel at the purity of the town. There aren’t words to describe it; it is simply a small town, cuddling against the mountains, shying away from the ferocious waves that crash on the other side of the town’s only road. You stay the first night here with a cute little Italian man who runs a cute little bed and breakfast he has built himself to preserve the inherent nature of his surroundings. His modern-style buildings are brightly colored and yet blend in with the background. Your room has a large balcony and the most magnificent view of the ocean. On the other side of the balcony, you can see the statue of Saint Anthony, patron saint of lost children. He is standing several feet tall holding a little child in his arms and watching over the town on the island that bears his name.
The next morning you continue your drive through the ribeiras and see that every piece of accessible land is tiered for farming. These people have taken advantage of all the resources they can to build a small life for themselves. Nearly everyone on the island is a farmer on one capacity or another. And for good reason: the earth is rich, the land fertile, and the food needed. It is not easy work, however, as the mountains are steep and difficult to climb. They seem to have no problem accessing places on the mountaintops that you would never dare to venture.
The next day is spend driving around the island, visiting remote little towns where Peace Corps volunteers actually live and enjoy themselves. Of course everyone in the town knows them, so when you show up in a group of white people, they simply assume you are looking for the only other white person for miles. You eat cheese homemade by a German man who has chosen to liv his life on a mountaintop making cheese and grogue and serving it to the tourists who make the climb specially for his delicious cheese. And when you ask for a salad, he goes into his garden and picks all the ingredients for you including edible flowers, and you savor the taste of the freshest salad you have ever eaten, as it is probably still growing as it sits on your plate.
That night you spend the night on a hill top at a nice hotel that serves fancy dinner to the usual multitudes of guests. But tonight it is your group only and you get all the attention of the bored but content staff.
Sunday is driving again, and it's the dreaded drive back under the clouds and back to reality, and you wonder how the most beautiful place can be so close to the city full of people and noise and again more people. As someone who has lived on a flat deserty island, and then in a large-ish city, the landscapes and tranquility and grandeur of this island was absolutely astounding. I dearly hope to go back some day.


Anonymous Danielle said...

i want to go with you! Count me in! this is my fav blog! lots of love to you Nod!

03 July, 2008 20:42


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