Crossing the Atlantic Ocean
We started our cruise in Miami. The ship then did a short Caribbean cruise. We enjoyed an undersea adventure in Barbados before we started to cross the Atlantic Ocean. After four days at sea, our first port was the volcanic islands of Cape Verde. We landed in Mindelo on Sao Vincente.
The thought of crossing the Atlantic Ocean was a bit daunting. We booked on the larger of the Oceania Cruises ships and hoped that would help with the Atlantic Ocean waves. Little did we know that we would have an extremely calm sailing. At times it was hard to imagine we were really in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
We were up early in the morning to watch our approach. It was immediately obvious that we had hit the volcanic islands of Cape Verde. The outer island was barren and the land showed a stark relief.
Arriving At Mindelo Harbour
As we watched, the island of Sao Vincente came into view. This was a much more developed island. While the majority of the population lived in the port town of Mindelo, we could see smaller settlements along the shore. Small wind farms dotted the hills.
The harbour where we docked was a larger commercial port. We could see the lighthouse in the bay that used to guide ships in.
The buses were lined up at the port. We were sure that most people would want to leave the ship after our long 4 days at sea.
A Little History About the Cape Verde Islands
We knew little about the volcanic islands of Cape Verde before we boarded the ship. There are 10 islands in two groups. Created out of volcanic magma coming up from the sea, they were never connected to the mainland. Freshwater is limited to water collected from rains and in spots from very deep wells. Much of the fresh water collected comes from one island.
The volcanic islands of Cape Verde were originally Portuguese properties but today they are independent. The Cape Verde islands became of strategic importance as Portugal began its exploration south along the African coast. Using Sagres in Portugal as his base, Prince Henry made great strides in developing nautical science. Navigation, cartography, ship design and related disciplines were discussed at his castle by people of all colours and races. Open discussions displaced common misconceptions about sea serpents, the flat earth and the fear of falling off edge.
Prince Henry had a great crusading spirit and financially backed massive excursions. Voyages went step by step around Africa until a voyage finally reached India. They discovered the Azore, Madeira, Canary and Cape Verde Islands. It was the discovery of the wind conditions around Cape Verde that led to successfully reaching and going around the Cape of Good Hope. Ships could stop in the Cape Verde islands and use them much like a slingshot to head into the Atlantic Ocean. They learned that the winds would push them back south and west. This same wind phenomenon led to the discovery of Brazil by Portugal.
The People of the Cape Verde Islands
Today, you will find the Cape Verde islands and much of Portugal to be very multicultural. As the Portuguese explored Africa they discovered many new things to trade including the trade in people. Initially, the blacks were brought back to serve as house servants. If they converted to Christianity they could marry Portuguese. By 1500, 10% of Lisbon was African ancestry. Slavery as an economic industry only took off a century later.
Our tour guide Carlos was entertaining and information as we toured Sao Vincente. He amused us by noting that he was referred to as “Cappuccino” with a white father and black mother.
Tourism is still relatively new to the Cape Verde islands. They still rely largely on foreign aid to survive. As a result, we were warned to be careful if we ventured into town. Petty crime was something to watch for.
Several large foreign grants have allowed the volcanic Cape Verde islands to develop infrastructure. Roads linked the various parts of Sao Vincente that we travelled. Although in parts, the roads are still quite rough and noisy.
Touring on Sao Vincente
We had a great day for a tour. While the forecast called for rain, it held off until after we left port. We were told about the High Matin season. The wind comes from the Sahara desert and even closes the airport. Much of the beach sand has been left by these winds. It was interesting to learn that most hurricanes first develop over the Cape Verde islands before they head over the Atlantic.
It was a short drive through Mindelo. We saw the main beach with its white sand and brilliant blue waters. There was a walkway around the bay. If we looked back, we could see our cruise ship in port.
We passed the monument of a bird, built to honour a Portuguese pilot who stopped in 1922 on his way to Brazil. The main town seemed to be in good repair.
Everywhere we looked we saw unfinished houses. Land is bought from the government. A house must be started on the land within a year. Once the first floor is finished, people will start to live in the house. The house will then be graduated finished. Since taxes go up when the house is finished, there is no incentive to be done. This reminded us very much of similar practices in many Caribbean islands.
As we headed into the countryside, we watched with interest as the scenery went by. We could see the arid conditions with cactus as road decorations and wells along the road. We saw buildings for schools.
Monte Verde Overlook
Our first stop on the tour was Monte Verde (or Green Mountain). It was typical of the landscape on the volcanic islands of Cape Verde. Most of the year it was dry but in the rainy season this mountain is green.
Our little buses struggled to make it up the inclines. But we did see several hearty hikers making the climb.
As we slowly climbed, we could see the twisty road behind us. The view got better and better.
The bus was parked with the others and we joined the crowd at the observation point. In one direction you had an amazing view out over Mindelo. The blue waters were beautiful. We could see our cruise ship docked in the port far below.
In the other direction you could look out over the valley to other mountains. On this side, the wind was whipping along. I was worried that people might get blown away. I was confident that I could raise my sails and stay put!
We slowly made our way back down the mountain until we reached Catfish Bay. We could see the bay below us. When we looked back, we could see the Monte Verde standing high on the horizon.
It is named for the cat shark fished in these waters. Many people just got out of the bus and looked from the roadway. But we headed onto the sand.
There was a large beach with soft sand. Breakwaters created tranquil pools for people to swim. Off in the distance we could see the contrast between the white sand of the beaches and the dark volcano rock. We would head that way next.
There was a small settlement close to the beach. As we had seen in town, the houses were brightly coloured and decorated with cactus and palm trees.
Heading to Praia Grande
We set off along the water. The road wound its way close to the shore.
We could see the crashing waves. Light coloured sand dunes were interspersed with the dark rock of the volcanic islands of Cape Verde. We stopped to get a closer look. Many of us walked out along the top of a massive sand dune.
As we approached Praia Grande, David could see a lone couple on the beach. As first one and then another bus stopped on the road, the couple’s solitude would soon be gone.
Our bus driver left the buses on the road and we walked down to the beach. Other small buses and taxis had no problem with driving right to the beach.
The beach stretched out in either direction. The sand was soft and the waves pounded the shore.
No tour is complete without a small taste of local food or drink. On this tour we would get a taste of the local rum on the beach. Carlos filled the small plastic cups for people to sample the rum. I let David be the taste tester.
Returning Along The Agricultural Valley
Most of our tour showed us the dry landscape of the volcanic islands of Cape Verde. Our path back was in the valley between the mountains. We could see greenery everywhere we looked. We stopped to get a closer look.
The almond trees and fresh fruit trees were in bloom.
We could see the wells that fed the irrigation pipes running through the fields.
An Interesting Look At The Volcanic Islands of Cape Verde
We enjoyed our look at the volcanic islands of Cape Verde. It was a great stop after 4 days at sea.
The panoramic views from high on Monte Verde were stunning. They provided an interesting contrast between the brilliant blue sees and the arid landscape that covered most of the island of Sao Vincent. The lush green space between the mountains provided yet one more contrasting view.
If your cruise ship stops in the volcanic islands of Cape Verde, plan to go out and explore. It was interesting to see the islands that changed the course of Portuguese exploration. It was our first very small taste of Portugal. We would soon be seeing so much more.
After Cape Verde, we went back to sea, The ship did a one day stop in Dakar, Senegal. We then headed back to sea for 2 days before we would have 3 days to explore the Canary Islands.
Have you explored the volcanic islands of Cape Verde?