*Updated with photos 12/11/18
Approaching Mindelo, it reminds me of Las Palmas, but quite a bit smaller. Just before the marina, you pass by a really cool looking fortress and lighthouse on a tiny island. We tried to research it, but were unable to find a way to go see it. It looks like one of those things people just aren’t allowed to visit.
Upon arrival, the ARC staff and marina crew assisted us in fueling up and docking, expediting the process. The sooner we are docked, the sooner we get beer! We didn’t intentionally run a dry boat on passage (we’re from Wisconsin after all!), but it’s more comforting to face the weather changes knowing everyone is sober. And of course, it’s a good detox! However, we have established a tradition of “halfway beers” during passage to celebrate!
The Mindelo marina is fairly small, but it doesn’t lack amenities. In fact, there’s a floating bar that is literally about 100 steps away from where we’re docked and it’s on the way in and out for us. The bathrooms and showers are right next to there as well. Wandered around the city a little to find dinner, and were fairly successful. At the end of our meal, the staff brought out an unlabeled bottle and shot glasses …uh oh… she explained to us that it’s a digestif. We eyed the shots ominously as she walked away. Bob took his down in one gulp like a champ! The rest of us were not so brave. One sniff and it smelled to me like acetone nail polish remover! I took a small sip and it burned terribly and tasted just like it smelled. Eventually I finished the shot because the restaurant owners and staff were watching us and we kind of felt forced, like we had to drink it. For them, it seemed like they felt they were doing us a favor, but for us, it was more of a punishment!
On our way back, the guys decided to go to a local bar further away from the marina/tourist area. Although the main area is pretty safe, there were quite a few ominous looking fellows loitering on street corners. We are in Africa after all, and it’s definitely an impoverished country. Wandering around in the middle of the night looking like well-to-do young people is not really the best idea. The information we had received from the ARC recommended always taking a taxi at night for safety. Bob and I were heading back to the boat, when we found the Canadian sailing group from Dobro Dani sitting at the Floating Bar! During the passage from Las Palmas, we had connected with them via VHF radio when they spotted us sailing nearby, so it was nice to officially meet and get to know some fellow sailors from our part of the world!
Sizable headaches the next morning brought back bad memories from the unlabeled bottle “digestif”. Homemade liquor in a foreign country – yikes! New rule: from now on, no more magical mystery methanol! We discovered that the marina showers are not the awesome free-for-all we’ve experienced in prior ports. We only get so much water, so it’s more like a boat shower, turning it on and off and often running out of hot water. Apparently, even though we’re surrounded by salt water, it’s expensive and timely to desalinate, so the water supply is quite low. For our first full day here, the ARC had arranged half day tours of the island of Sao Vicente. We were ambitious enough to go on the morning tour, despite our headaches. I’ll pause here to explain that Bob didn’t go on the tour with the rest of us. If you know Bob well, you know he likes to choose his own adventure, and structured group activities don’t really appeal to him. He prefers finding more “regular Joe” kind of places and chatting with locals for the best recommendations on things to do, places to eat, etc. His style of traveling is a little off the beaten path, but he has some amazing stories from past adventures. You can check out Bob’s prior travels here!
Sao Vicente is one of 10 total islands in Cape Verde, which has a total of about 500k people. Sao Vicente has about 78k alone, 97% of which right are in Mindelo. It is an impoverished island, but is making great strides to improve – the guide explained several awards that Cape Verde has won with grant money that help them develop their infrastructure, schools, etc. The tour bus took us along winding one-lane cobblestone roads all the way up to the highest point on the island, approximately 774 meters. There’s a small garden at the top where they grow lemongrass, ginger, and other herbs for tea. A small structure of netting on frame allows them to capture the moisture from the clouds that hang around the top of the mountain to water these plants and harvest them despite the arid rocky land. On our initial approach to the island, you could see that it’s mostly dry, rocky mountainside. For being called “Cape Verde”, it is not very green. The tour guide explained to us that this island, Sao Vicaente, imports most of it’s produce from the neighboring island, Santa Antao, which is much greener and more fertile. From the top of the mountain, we went down through the middle of the island to the Oasis Valley, which is the greenest part of Sao Vicente. It is still pretty sparse, but people had little farms growing all sorts of produce in the old dried up river beds. Passing between mountain crevices as we wind down the road, there are many abandoned homes in ruins. Building a house is very expensive here and can often take 20-30 years to truly complete it. Locals will build and finish a couple of rooms, move in, and then continue to work on the house while they live there. Usually the exterior is the last to be completed.
Down the mountain we go, occasionally pulling onto the shoulder of the narrow road to let traffic pass and again for a goat herder. Different colored goats dotted the hillside, while the herder rode his scooter down the mountainside trying to get them off the road. We approached a small secluded beach and were finally able to take a stretch break to enjoy the sand. The sand dunes were beautiful and of course I collected a little to bring home for my mantle collection. We went a few more minutes down the road to Praia Grande where we were given samples of the local alcohol speciality, Grogue. It’s supposed to be a kind of rum, but it’s made from sugarcane so it has a slightly different flavor. I opted for the sugarcane/molasses version of the grogue, since the tour guide indicated that was typically sweeter and therefore preferred by women. At 30% alcohol, it was quite potent for a noon-time drink! I have to say, it was ok, but I don’t think I’d drink it again.
Since we have such a short time here, Friday and Saturday were spent exploring the supermarkets, fish market, and produce market. There are also many vendors sitting along the side of the street offering small amounts of fish and produce. The fish market had massive whole tuna being butchered right before our eyes! The only downside was that, being an open air market, it was FULL of flies – everywhere! We didn’t buy any fish since we’re hoping to catch more on our crossing, but it was fun to see! The “supermarkets” are quite small and don’t have a lot of options. We were able to enjoy deli meat sandwiches for most lunches on the way from Las Palmas to here, but discovered that’s not really something you can find here in Mindelo. So, we stocked up on pot noodles and crackers. The provisioning in Las Palmas really spoiled us and we knew it wouldn’t be as easy here, but it was a lot more sparse than we imagined! The guys did some work on the boat, despite some gusty winds, and Pietro had to go up the mast three times in one day before it was all said and done.
One great convenience was laundry. There’s a service that drives up to the marina to collect laundry in the morning and will deliver it at 5pm that same day, washed, dried, and ironed if you want. It was well worth the 11 Euros to have all our laundry done! Since the area is a little questionable, we would not have wanted to wander around to find a laundromat to sit in for hours. Despite the security guards at the marina entrances, there are plenty of people hanging around begging. Their shirts say “crew”, but they’re typically big guys, so it’s kind of obvious. Truthfully, it’s comforting to have, even if it is mostly an illusion. We still see local kids running around on the docks every day, but the “crew” seem to keep most of them out. Even when you walk out to drop off or pick up your laundry at the marina entrance, the kids swarm you, indicating that they’re starving and asking for money. Please, please, they say, help please. It’s honestly sad and you want to give them money because no one wants a child to go hungry. But we were specifically instructed by ARC NOT to give them money at all. And if you watch them for more than a few minutes, they hang around having a good time until they see white people and then they’re sad and desperately hungry. They don’t bother other locals, the “crew”, or even the tourists that don’t look like caucasian Americans. One of the mornings, Bob and I were having breakfast in an enclosed sidewalk table at a restaurant and an old woman wandered right in and stood in front of us with her hand out, the other hand gesturing at her stomach and at her mouth. The restaurant staff had to yell at her to leave. If they’re truly starving, that’s really sad and I want to help them, but it seems like they’re only starving when they see us.
Our last night on land, we traditionally go out for a large dinner, and something we won’t have on the boat. So we try to go for steak, burger, shellfish, wings, pizza, etc. Using google, we found a restaurant near the water rated 4.1/5.0 with seafood and steak – yes! Walking in, it looked legit, and was full of touristy-looking people enjoying drinks and meals. The menu was full of yummy sounding seafood. We ordered and waited…and waited…and waited. After about an hour and a half, everyone was starving and anxious to get going. The last night on land, we do try to be responsible, get a good nights sleep, etc. Finally the waitress came over and indicated it would be five more minutes and apologized. Frustrated, but at least having an end in sight, we were able to try to relax a little. When the food arrived, things went downhill quickly. Bob’s “fillet mignon” had been replaced by grilled octopus, something we don’t eat. After waiting SO LONG, to have the meals wrong was a serious letdown. When he told her it was wrong, she tried to make him take it anyways, shoving the plate at him and saying please. He flat out refused, and rightfully so – to try to make him eat something he didn’t order when they clearly forgot to put in our dinner order for well over an hour is just terrible! Then the waitress tried to get Amanda to give up her steak and eat the octopus, which she doesn’t even like either! Eventually, Bob convinced the waitress to bring him what he ordered and, magically, it only took about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, the plate in front of me smelled terrible! I really love shrimp, but keep forgetting that when you order it outside the US, it typically arrives with legs and a face, and eyeballs… That wouldn’t have bothered me so much, even though it’s a fair amount of work for a small amount of meat, it was the smell. They were basically charred on the outside, with no sauce, and super dry inside. They seemed to be overcooked. I am totally down to try new foods and culturally diverse flavors, but this was just icky! I forced myself to eat four of the six shrimp, with lots of rice and beer in between bites. When I raised my white flag, the Brit and the Italian tried the two remaining shrimp and agreed they were overcooked, not seasoned, and gritty with sand. Yuck!! Validation that it wasn’t just me being uncultured, the food was just bad. We left disappointed with much lighter pockets and eased our sorrow with some more Strehla beers at the floating bar. After our experience thus far, we’ve determined that apparently we’re going to have one really crappy meal in every country, and unfortunately, this time it was our “last night on land” celebration dinner.
Sunday brought extremely heavy winds in the marina, making me anxious about leaving safely, but they guys are confident we’ll be fine. They explained that the high gusts are coming down from the mountains and once we’re outside the island a bit, we’ll be in terrific sailing weather. Keep your fingers crossed for us! We’re heading off the take our last land showers for a while, and get ship shape to take off. The Atlantic crossing should take about 15 days, so we won’t be able to update during that time, but you can track our progress via the link on our homepage, or by clicking here!