Sao Vicente island and Mindelo ( 1 – 10 November)

In our previous blog we described our adventure of Sailing from Canary’s to Cape Verde. The recovery from this trip took a long time. The first days in Mindelo we were exhausted and did not really do much to look around in the town. In addition, we had to take a couple of days to pack our stuff and get organized so we could leave the boat. We wrote in the previous post why we decided to quit the boat trip over the Atlantic and now plan to fly to US.

Mindelo is the only island in Cape Verde which has a marina. The islands of Cape Verde are continuously influenced by the Atlantic Ocean and they have quite a rocky coastline. Sao Vicente island has a natural bay, which provides good shelter for the sailing boats. We also felt the force of the winds here, because during the storm season now the winds get extreme and even in the harbor the boat was not stable at all. But still many people come to Cape Verde by sailing and when there is quiet season, there are also plenty of possibilities to safely anchorage in different places.


Even before arriving to Cape Verde, we decided that we will try to use Couchsurfing to find local contacts or someone who would be willing to host us and show us around. It would have been a really good change after being continuously on the boat. This time it worked out perfectly! We met Niklas and Francesco who are from Germany and Italy, but they have studied in Denmark and they came to Mindelo after finishing University. They could offer us a private room in a beautiful apartment with sea view. If we already knew that we will not continue to sail, then it was such a privilege to have a nice place where to stay and keep our stuff. Having this much privacy was a luxury. In addition, we had cooking lessons with vegan meals and a tutorial in slacklining. The boys recommended to also visit Santo Antao for hiking. You can read about our hiking trip here by clicking here.


Niklas and Francesco showed us around in Mindelo. We went to the fruit, vegetable and fish markets. They showed us where the hidden art exhibitions are and recommended the best local foods and restaurants. We learnt about the local culinary that pork and beef meat are quite common, but fish is definitely the number one protein. The locals eat a lot of corn, sweet potato and beans. From fruits they grow their own papaya, passion fruit, mango and also banana. When we bought apples form the store, we realized immediately that these are not local, because they were really expensive. The prices differ a lot between local and imported things. Most of the imports are from Portugal. For us it was a surprise that food was fairly expensive. A kilo of bananas was more expensive than in Estonia despite buying it from the market. Eating out was also pricy, so most of the evenings we cooked something at home. The boys taught us how to do catchupa. It is a local traditional food with vegetables, beans, corn and meat or fish as main ingredients. There are plenty of different variations from this dish and the local eat it on daily basis. If you order catchupa in a restaurant then it may also be served with a fried egg.


We managed to do some sightseeing also on our own. So, we did visit the Palacio do Provos (Peoples Palace), which is a local and African culture museum. In addition, this museum also has exhibitions about local musicians. Mindelo is said to be the culture capital of Cape Verde. So almost in every bar you have the chance to listen to live local music. One of the most important events in Mindelo is the carnival which is almost the equivalent of the one in Rio. It is held in February, so this is certainly one of the best times to visit Sao Vicente.


We did spend a day in Praia da Laginha, Mindelo beach. The weather was nice and sun shining, but we had mind blowing wind, so the beach was like being in the middle of a sand storm in the desert and we had sand everywhere you can imagine.


From Mindelo beach there is a magnificent view to the Monte Cara (face mountain). Looking at the pictures makes it obvious why it has such a name.


According to the recommendations of Francesco and Niklas we did also plan a small hike outside Mindelo. Despite the temptation to conquer Sao Vicentes highest peak, we decided this time to favor a long walk along the beach. This was also because the weather was cloudy and we would not have seen anything from the mountain top. The hiking trail starts from Bahia das Gatas and runs up to Calhau fishing village. It lingers along the biggest beach on Sao Vicente, Praya Grande. Despite of the cloudy weather we really enjoyed the walk along the beach. It was a good change for mountains. We started the hike together with a family of wild dogs. There are plenty of those on the whole island. During our 4 hours walk we saw only 2 persons. We did also a quick swim in the huge waves and marveled at the numerous crabs. It was a little bit sad to see how much trash there was on the beach…. such frustrating views of a paradise beach will make you reconsider your everyday consuming habits, especially regarding the plastic.


At the end of the trail we arrived to Calhau. The town was also completely empty! Beside the road there were local drunks who gladly stepped into conversation with us and wanted to direct the way and show their non-existing English skills. The local speak mostly Portuguese and some also French. We needed to wait for the next aluguer (local ridesharing minibus). So we kept a close eye on our stuff. just in case. To be honest, sometimes it was frightening to walk around on the island. But nevertheless, we did not have any dangerous incidents. Francesco and Niklas also confirmed that Sao Vicente is really safe.

Driving around with the aluguer gave us so far the best view on how the local people actually live. They do not have bus schedules here. Once the minivan is full of passengers, then the bus will start its trip. It will stop on every corner where a passenger indicates. So it can happen that in one small town the bus makes 5-6 stops on every doorstep. The driver is at the same time the middleman and merchant by helping the people to exchange different commodities from one town to another.

Driving out from central Mindelo, the streets look totally different and its clear that the people in these areas live in much more modest conditions. The houses are small and they are surrounded by gravel landscape where a lot of happy children are playing. We happened to also see some of the kiddos begging for food, but we had read from the information board at the harbor that it is best not to give them anything because the country has implemented special programs for these kids. I think they just want to reduce begging which has been really common in Mindelo for a long time. By reading some literature it came out that Cape Verde has historically been an important harbor for the ships crossing the Atlantic and at those times the prostitution and begging wer really common. The prostitution and alcoholism created by the really cheap local rum grouge have been challenges for a really long time

We also had discovered from google that Mindelo is a great place for men to go to a barbershop. So, we decided that Jaanus should have one as well before we go to the New World. It was quite a fun experience because the tiny room could fit 3 barbers and on every free minute they grabbed for the guitar and started to sing. And we wonder why it is the cultural capital…


A fresh haircut made the life much nicer. We packed our stuff again into 2 backpacks and went to the airport. We will memorize Mindelo by Niklas and Francesco and also happy local people who play the local boardgame Oware and use a secret language for greeting each other.


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