Christmas in Cape Verde

Dear Squeak

How are you?  It’s been a long time since we caught you up on our progress. We have actually arrived in Brazil now and are really enjoying the laid back life in the tropics but let me tell you about our time in Cape Verde first. 

We were really sad to leave the sweet and friendly town of La Restinga.  With hindsight maybe we should have stayed there to get through our pre crossing jobs list. It would have been cleaner, less rolly and provisioning for the trip would have been far easier.  Gluten free is not really a concept that Cape Verde understands.  We wanted to be in the next spot for Christmas though, so we had to get a move on. 

We arrived with just a couple days to spare and some friends we had made in Arrecife were there to greet us.  It was nice to see some friendly faces to share Christmas with.

Our first move was a reccy around town. We checked out the local market where the fruit and veg was a little suspect to be honest.  Most of it looked little better than what we still had stored in our bilge, from our last provisioning in the Canaries.

 We found an interesting little project of local artists in the old Police compound.  They have set up a bunch of workshops, where they make all the paraphernalia that is needed for their festivals, particularly carnival. They make everything out of recycled materials.  There is some fantastic work going on there!

There is one guy there, who is in charge and is paid by the local council. He is said by the rest of the team to have to do the thinking for everyone. I think that was something slightly confused in the translation, but is probably closer to the truth than they would like to admit.  A communal meal is provided for all the artists each day paid for by donations from visitors such as us, so they are not quite the “Starving artists” they might be if they were sole operators.

Brightly painted ship with blue cubes all over it
Ship of Fools

 

A curious thing happened. There is another project that we encountered In Mindelo called “The Ship of Fools” www.azart.org   which is a ship full of entertainers on a pilgrimage around the world in praise of folly.  They landed in Mindelo and came ashore on the fishing quay with crazy costumes and instruments playing.  Almost immediately, they happened upon the same project of artists that we found on our first foray into town..  What followed was a collaboration of the two projects and a show using the fool’s ship as a stage to keep all the visitors entertained over Christmas.

We had quite a low key Christmas. It was just a gathering of a bunch people from our neighbouring boats, who all piled into the floating bar at midday bringing lots of food and festive cheer.  We rounded up the day on a boat called Ambition 2 being treated to drinks and Christmas Cake.

We Didn’t stay in the Marina long, it was a lot of money for what you got and it was still very rolly.  After only a few days in there the line we had tied to their buoy which hadn’t been maintained or cleaned and was full of barnacles had completely worn through. We were leaving whether we wanted to or not, as the boat was one thread away from breaking loose.

We preferred to be at anchor. Thankfully  the holding there was pretty good as it blew almost the entire time we were there so much so that our brand new Cape Verde curtesy flag gave up in disgust and made a break for freedom.

We worked hard from Christmas until New Year trying to get the boat ready, but some of the big jobs were changing the sails and re-tuning the rigging which needed a calm day with little wind. There weren’t  too many of those while we were there. The wind howled and the harmattan dust storm which meant we could hardly see the bow of our own boat for 2 weeks  spread a thick layer of dust over  everything inside and out.

 All that cleaning we did when we left the yard in Portugal, went to hell in a handbasket after the first day.  We were not looking forward to that clean up but there was nothing to do but put up with it until we had left it far behind us.

There was a town party laid on for New Year with fireworks on the beach and bands playing in the main square and a really convivial atmosphere.  It seemed like every single person from the whole of the Island of Sao Vicente and maybe some other islands besides were there. Who knew there were so many people living there?

 It was a great atmosphere and everyone was in a party mood. Just as well because there was not a single security person or policeman to be seen anywhere and there was a crowd of over 2000 people in a very small space.  We saw the New Year in and stayed for a couple of the bands but the party raged on until 6 the next morning.  We headed back to the boat long before that. I think we must be getting old!

We would have liked to take a trip to San Antao the neighbouring island which is supposed to be very beautiful.  With such poor visibility though, any film or photos we might have taken would have been pointless. So we kept our heads down and got on with the”to-do-list” so we could clear out of there a.s.a.p. 

Finally we headed off to Brava the most southerly of the Cape Verde Islands.  We had such a lovely welcome when we arrived, the locals were so friendly. A few local fishermen helped us tie our lines ashore to keep us pointing out into the bay.  It’s only a small anchorage and there were another couple of visiting boats but we squeezed in easily with a little help from the locals.

We were recommended to eat dinner at Isabelle’s place.  As we didn’t want to dig into our supplies for the long trip too much, we took up the invitation.  It seems to be the custom in Brava as it happened again the following day, to treat your guests to a mountain of food. We couldn’t possibly get through all of it. Plates kept coming with meat, fish, all the local vegetables and a salad, which we really didn’t need. It all came to only a few escudos.

The following day we went on a hike with John John our guide, no, it’s not a mistake, he calls himself John John.  He was super friendly and informative and showed us all the local fauna and flora as well as explaining all the history, progress and politics of his tiny island.  We had a super day and the views were spectacular.

Hiking trail with spectacular views on west side of Brava Cape Verde
Hike from Lomba Lomba all the way down to Faja de Agua

 

It was a long steep climb down from Lomba Lomba at the top of the island to Faja de Agua  and  the next day, with our out of shape leg muscles screaming we though he might have secretly been trying to kill us.  We had wanted to do a second hike with John John  to another part of the island the following day, but our poor little legs just couldn’t face the pain. 

We gave ourselves a day off before setting out into the waves on the long leg of the trip to Brazil. . It was really lumpy the first 5 days of the passage and every time we had to brace ourselves against the motion or climb up and down the companionway our muscles kept reminding us of the hike.

 All the People we met on Brava were super friendly and made us feel so at home there. We wished we had left Mindelo weeks ago or not even gone there, but headed straight for Brava.  It was such a lovely place.  It’s like the forgotten island, the poor relation or runt of the litter as far as the Cape Verde islands are concerned.  They get the dregs of the kitty when it comes to any funding that Cape Verde receives and there is a lot of poverty and generally poor conditions there. 

Many people there, have relations in America, Cape Verdeans who have emigrated.  They send funds and supplies to their families back in the Cape Verde’s from time to time.  For those people life is a little better, but for many it’s a very hard existence.

  Lots of things still have to be done by hand there,  as there is no machinery available.  Even the island’s petrol stations are supplied with barrels that arrive by ship and have to be hand-balled onto trucks to be taken up the hill to the main town of Sintra Nova. There the fuel is filled into a big tank at the gas station, which keeps the island ‘s vehicles supplied with fuel. 

Barrels of fuel stacked up at the filling station on Brava Cape Verde
Petrol Station Vila Nova de Sintra

 

Water is also a huge problem on the island. It too is often supplied in barrels to keep the population alive.  They have had a draught for the past couple of years and many of the reservoirs are empty or nearly empty and the mountain streams have run dry.  The Island could really use a desalination plant but that needs funds that they simply don’t have.

We left the Cape Verde’s feeling that the misery we had felt in the thick of the dust storm had been washed clean by the friendliness and rugged beauty of Brava.  Our spirits were well and truly lifted.  Now it just remained for our boat to be washed clean too.  We were praying for some tropical rain on the way, to give our mast, rigging, decks and sails a good swill.   As luck would have it, the universe provided!

Well,  I guess I’m going to leave you for now. I’ll tell you all about the crossing and arriving in Brazil in my next letter.

We still miss you lots

Lots of love A&S x

To see our latest Youtube Video about our “Cape Verde Capers” hit the link bellow

Click to view Video

 

You can also see some of the Photos we took by checking out our Instagram page.

Justbellavista Photos

 

How to go about provisioning for a boat trip   (with difficulty!) 

For a few weeks of cruising for the holidays provisioning for the trip is no big deal. The easiest way is to plan the menu for each meal on each day plus a few snacks and shop for that, job done. You don’t have to actually cook the things in the order on the plan but you will have the ingredients for all of those meals.  

When you are off on your travels for a couple of years or more the simple truth is you can never take enough stuff.  For me as an all-out foodie neither do I really want to.  For me going to markets, supermarkets and small shops in foreign places and seeing what different things are available there, things I may never have seen or heard of before and learning how to prepare them is an adventure all of its own. I can’t wait to get stuck into all the tropical fruits and vegetables Brazil has to offer, to learn their names and delight in their flavours.  I’m sure plenty of them I already know from the time I spent living in Malaysia, though they may come by different names in  Brazil,  I’m sure I’ll manage to find a plethora of things I’ve never eaten  before and I’ll enjoy the chance to try new recipes with them.

The adventure of newness aside, I’m still going to provision our boat with of all the things we like and as many of the things that I know will be difficult to find as we travel Including ingredients for my gluten free diet.

Tea, coffee, sugar, bread, some form of milk and chicken these things you can find everywhere.  Flour and Rice are also readily available though I know from experience that in most countries outside Western Europe they come complete with their resident beasties and that’s just a fact of life you have to learn to deal with. You can sift them out or float them off in most cases, or just get used to a little extra protein in your diet.  I remember reading Annie Hill’s account of life aboard where they toasted their Ryvita’s to re-crisp them and then flicked off the weevils that came crawling out of the holes with the heat before they ate them.  I remember thinking right then that if anything on my boat ever got infested with beasties like that it would be straight over the side!  But having spent some time in the tropics where much of the food available for sale is contaminated you just have to learn to get on with it and add the extra rinse or sift into your cooking routine. 

Other things even things we consider staples like eggs are not so plentiful in some of the places we have been.  I’ve been experimenting with some recipes that use Aquafaba, usually a waste product on lots of boats to see what recipes are possible with it as a substitute for eggs.  If you don’t know what Aquafaba is, it’s the gloopy liquid that comes in cans of beans and peas such as chickpeas that most people throw away when they open a can of beans.  I have tried it as a binding agent in baking, for pancakes and to make mayonnaise so far and the recipes have come out perfect.  As fridges are generally small on boats, if they have them at all, and tins are a large part of any boats long term supplies  I’ll be planning my cooking to include the gloop from the tins as well as the normal contents. 

I’ll also be squeezing in some of the things that I know are expensive over-seas like good wine which is ubiquitous and cheap here in Portugal, good olive oil and  good honey a must have in my cupboard as I come from a beekeeping  family. Good honey is the cure for so many things I don’t know how to live without it.  (An in-depth topic for another blog maybe?)  Olive oil in Portugal and Spain is often eaten as a substitute for butter which is difficult to store on boats unless you can find it in tins as it takes up valuable fridge space.

The other thing going in our bilges are a few special ingredients that make the holidays without old friends and family feel festive.  For me Christmas is not quite Christmas without mince pies and for Steve its Christmas Cake and sausage rolls so to make the party happen I’ll be stashing some dark brown sugar, treacle, suet, dried fruit, mixed spice and some decent port and brandy.  I think it’s important to think ahead to things like festival times and bring the ingredients to make it a moment to remember. The devil is in the details. Without those small reminders of Christmases gone by, our next one could just be another bbq at the beach with a load of boat-bums. What will make that one any more festive than any other beach  bbq  we are likely to enjoy?   A few dodgy carols playing on a beat box in the background?  No way! Let’s feast and be merry!!