We have had a few stressful moments since our last posting and that is not taking into account the almost 800 mile journey from the Canaries to the Cape Verdeís. At one point we didnít have one functioning computer out of three we had on board and it has been impossible to update the web page until now.
We left La Gomera on the afternoon of the 8th December after a week of provisioning and preparing the boat for the journey. Unfortunately, we did not have time to do any exploring at all, only staying in the marina of the small main town, San Sebastian, which seems very nice. It was quite a change from the big city of Santa Cruz. We had caught up with Miti again and they had enjoyed visiting the other main Canary island we missed, La Palma. From their description, both La Palma and La Gomera are definitely islands worth visiting - maybe next time!
The journey to Cape Verde was wet and wild but El Lobo looked after us well and we reached our first island, Sal, after 6 nights at sea. At times we were in Force 7 and 8 winds but at least they were with us and we didnít have to beat into them. We did have a few worrisome moments on the way but Mike will tell you about them on his page as usual.
The Republic of Cabo Verde is located about 375 miles off the coast of West Africa. There are 10 main islands, 9 of which are inhabited. The population is about 500,000. They are volcanic in origin but differ wildly in terrain. None of them are as verdant as the Madeiran or Canarian archipelagos as they lie in an arid belt. They have a milder climate than mainland Africa but have suffered from severe droughts in the recent past.
When the islands were discovered by the Portuguese in the 15th century they were uninhabited and take their name from the nearby Cap Vert peninsular on the Senegalese coast. At this time the islands were green as well, but the ubiquitous goats introduced later destroyed the topsoil and deforestation for firewood completed the ruination of the land. Most of the islands are now very barren indeed and 82% of food has to be imported.
Cape Verde became a trading centre for African slaves and later an important coaling and resupply stop for whaling and transatlantic shipping. Following independence in 1975 a one-party system was established and maintained until multiparty elections were held in 1990. Cape Verde now has one of Africa's most stable democratic governments. The repeated droughts during the second half of the 20th century caused significant hardship and prompted heavy emigration. As a result, Cape Verde's expatriate population is greater than its domestic one. Most Cape Verdeans have both African and Portuguese antecedents and the main religion is Roman Catholic.
The first island we visited was Sal, the nearest to the Canaries. Sal must be the most unattractive of the islands as it is almost flat with no agriculture at all. It only has three towns, Palmeira the port, where we anchored, the main town of Espargos inland, and the former fishing port of Santa Maria on the south tip of the island, which is being developed as a tourist resort. The main airport of the islands is on Sal. with small connecting airfields on each of the islands.
Palmeira is very poor but we found the people were very kind and friendly. Even though they have very little in material possessions they seem to have a happy nature and we were not hassled once as we were constantly in Morocco. We were able to leave our dinghy tied up on the quay with no worries of theft or damage.
We also made a new friend in Palmeira. Doug, a South African from the yacht Christine, made himself known to us one day. He was having engine problems and had been stuck there for over three weeks and he was becoming desperate for English speaking company. There are not many British boats in the Cape Verdeís. Most of the boats are French, with a few German and Dutch, but most of the Brits cross the Atlantic from the Canaries. Very few come down here.
We invited Doug to join us for Christmas lunch as his wife, Isabel, was not joining him until the New Year. It was actually our second Christmas lunch as one of our problems had been the defrosting of all our freezer contents when it decided to pack in as we arrived in the Cape Verdeís! We had bought a frozen oven-ready duck in Santa Cruz but were lucky that we found another in the Central Supermarket in Espargos. It went down very well between the three of us and we drank to Ďabsent friendsí on Christmas Day. Mike had, of course, transmogrified into his alter ego, Father Christmas, earlier in the day for Morgan and Bastien, and we also did a tour of the anchorage in the dinghy, wishing everyone the compliments of the season.
It was on Sal that our (further) computer problems began. The new machine that Pat had bought in Santa Cruz decided it didnít want to play any more and refused to start up. She took it to a small computer shop in Espargos but the man thought that it might be motherboard or processor problems and that it would be best to send it back under guarantee. Easier said than done from Cape Verde to Tenerife, and then needing it returned to the Caribbean! We couldnít even find the address or telephone number of the PC City store in Santa Cruz.
We realised that PC City in Spain is the same company as PC World in the UK so we e-mailed Customer Services there and were told to return it to PC World and they would honour the guarantee. Great, youíd think. Only, after Pat spent over two hours on the phone being shuffled between Customer Services and the repair department, no one could tell her an address to send it to without a store reference!
It was just after this that we foolishly allowed Mikeís computer to get wet in the dinghy and it has now decided to join itís mate and refuses to start, although it did work OK at first when we dried it out!
We had already given away the old HP laptop which had had itís last chance and been Ďdeadí for weeks. Itís screen had almost gone, the charging jack was broken and it could not be charged any more. There was no way to charge the (still good) two batteries. We had removed the hard drive for security and Mike had utilised the cable for his own computer as that was on itís way out too. We found a young man in the internet cafe in Palmeira who was delighted to receive such a wonderful gift! Letís hope he can use some of the parts anyway.
The motto of the Cape Verdeís is ĎNo Stressí. We certainly have had our fair share of stress since arriving! Added to the computer troubles, neither of our phones would work here so Pat bought a local sim card. Easy eh? Not when all the instructions are in Portuguese and it seems to cost even more than the Vodaphone network from home. €60 worth of credit went in three days!
We also couldnít use our Visa debit cards in ATM machines on Sal. The machines advertise Visa but when we tried to draw some money it required a 6 digit security code instead of the normal 4 digits we normally use. It is just a Cape Verdean Visa system apparently, so we had to queue in the bank and pay quite a commission on withdrawals. In Espargos the queues were very long over the Christmas period and a 2 hour wait was normal!
After spending Christmas and New Year on Sal, we said a final goodbye to Doug, who still hadnít sorted his engine out, and a temporary goodbye to Miti, and left for our next island, S‚o Nicolau, on the 3rd January, a journey of 90 miles.
We heard from Doug that a boat had been wrecked in the anchorage in Palmeira after we left. A breaking wave just lifted it up and snapped the anchor chain and carried it onto the beach! It pays to anchor well offshore even if it means having a longer dinghy ride.
The difference in the two islands was not apparent when we anchored in the bay at Tarrafal on S‚o Nicolau. Apart from the fact that S‚o Nicolau is very mountainous, the immediate impression is of the same desolation and lack of vegetation as on Sal, but we were pleasantly surprised when we took an aluguer (mini bus) ride inland to the small main town, Vila da Ribeira Brava. We passed through banana, sugar cane and guava plantations and many small villages surrounded by green fields and pastures. We even spotted the odd cow here and there! Ribeira Brava was a pleasant little town with many Portuguese features. The small port of Tarrafal was also quite pleasant, with plenty of shops for everyday needs, although very poor.
We stayed in the bay for three nights and left for our final stop in the Cape Verdeís, the island of S‚o Vicente, 48 miles away, where we were to meet up with Miti again.
The archipelagoís best harbour, Porto Grandť, on S‚o Vicente, contains the only marina in the islands, in the 2nd largest town, Mindelo. Mindelo was a great surprise, a large town with decent shops and good roads and pavements, not the cobbled streets and dirt tracks of Sal and S‚o Nicolau.
Mike set to with all of his boat jobs after a couple of days of exploring the town, while Pat took advantage of Mitiís offer to join them on an overnight ferry trip to the nearby Santo Ant„o, the second largest and second highest island in the group. Due to itís greater rainfall it is the most productive island agriculturally and claims to be the most beautiful. We travelled across on the ferry along with another French couple, Gerard and Anna, from Vagabul. We had first met them in Santa Cruz. They had been to Senegal before crossing to Cape Verde and they told us it was very hot there. Up until now we have had no scorching hot weather, even though we are only 16ļ north of the equator!
We took an aluguer from the port to begin our walk amid the spectacular mountains and it began to rain immediately. It continued to rain all morning and we didnít see any of the views we had so looked forward to! We were, apparently, descending into the volcanic crater of PaŻl, one of the most complete craters on the islands! We descended on a most amazing path cut into the almost vertical face of the mountain but never saw a thing! We eventually arrived in a village which loomed out of the gloom and had lunch in a small cafe owned by a Frenchman. We were thoroughly soaked by this time and instead of continuing our walk to the coastal village of Vila das Pombas, we gratefully finished our journey by aluguer.
We stayed overnight in a newly built bed and breakfast called Aldeia Jerome and took another aluguer along the coast to Ponta do Sol the next morning. We then walked along a precipitous track to a spectacularly situated village named Fontainhas. This was well worth the walk and the residents were welcoming and very proud of their beautiful little village. Another aluguer picked us up there and we spent the next hour admiring the views from the mountaintops as we ascended then descended to the port again.
We met a few Europeans who were spending walking holidays on Santo Ant„o, mostly French with a couple of Dutch people. Again, no English in sight. There is good walking both here and on Santiago in the leeward group of islands and hopefully more tourists will discover the Cape Verdeís. The country is pitifully poor to our European eyes, but in 2007 it was promoted to the group of Ďmedium developmentí countries, leaving the Ďleast developed countriesí category. It is currently the 5th best ranked country in Africa in human development terms. We wonder what would have happened if they had not gained their independence in 1975. They would still be part of Europe and would have benefited as have the Canaries, the Azores and Madeira. Each island is sponsored by various countries who give practical aid and financial assistance. The USA, Luxembourg, Germany, Portugal and Spain amongst others. No sign of the UK.
When Pat got back to Mindelo the super fixer Mike had almost completed his tasks. She hadnít been skiving - he was pulling the boat apart, yet again, and preferred her to be out of the way! She forlornly tried the new computer again and lo and behold, it switched on! Hooray! Ergo you are now catching up on our latest adventures. Mikeís computer is still down, however, and most of the photoís of Sal are on that hard drive. Hopefully, we will have recovered them by our next update. The other piece of good news, computer wise, is that Parcel Force has traced the original laptop from the UK to Customs in Spain, who have been holding it all this time (from September). Sheila had completed all the customs forms in the Post Office at home so why this has happened is anyoneís guess. At least it hasnít been stolen! It will take another month at least to get it released and then they will send it back to Sheila. She will have to courier it to the Caribbean. We donít trust the Post Office any more! We didnít intend to buy two new computers but now Mikeís has developed problems, it may be all for the best that we have both the new ones - that is if this one keeps going. We also have heard from PC World that they will not repair the computer if it goes wrong again, and that I was misinformed by them originally! Itíll end up in the sea if it packs up again!
We will be leaving Cape Verde the third week in January for Barbados, a journey of nearly two thousand miles, which will take us nearly three weeks. This is the big test! The most disappointing thing is that Lori is not able to join us for the crossing as planned. Her mother is dangerously ill in hospital and her father is not coping too well so she has to stay behind in the UK. We have promised that she can come over and sail in the Ďboringí Caribbean instead but she really wanted to do the Ďbig oneí. We hope we can make it up to her.
We are riding out a gale at the moment. The seas off the Cape Verdeís are running with a 5 metre swell so we may have to wait a bit longer before we start our journey. The good news is that a lot of British boats have suddenly arrived, including our Irish family on Wendreda. Our book collection is looking a bit better as we had read almost everything on board, and have done a swap with others. Mind, we canít see us being able to do much reading if the sea state stays like this!
We will try and update the site after our arrival in the Caribbean. If we are a bit late, donít worry. Weíre sure El Lobo can keep us safe but we donít know what internet access will be like in Barbados, or if this flaming computer is still going to be working!
Photos below as usual. The main Sal photos will have to wait for another time.