Cape Verde day four
11.02.2018 - 11.02.2018
Old house in Plateau, Praia
After a leisurely breakfast at the hotel (I tried the cachupa which was tasty) we got a taxi into the old centre of Praia, known variously as Plateau or Platô. This is the historic centre of the city and the spot where it was founded in the 16th century. It takes its name, self-evidently, from its geography as it is raised above the surrounding area of the city.
Praça Alexandre Albuquerque
Chris wanted to go to mass at the cathedral church of Nossa Senhora da Graça (Our Lady of Grace) but we were a bit early so we strolled around the Praça Alexandre Albuquerque, the main square, taking a few photos before going into the church. The latter is relatively new, dating from 1900, and rather austere, but the locals certainly appreciate it as it was packed, with standing room only at the back and many of the children sitting on the altar steps. And impressively well-behaved they were too! Cape Verde is 92% Roman Catholic, reflecting the country’s Portuguese heritage, and they seem to take their religion seriously, devoting almost 90 minutes of their Sunday morning to it!
Above the church entrance
In the church
After mass we had a coffee at the café in the Praça Alexandre Albuquerque, which was very good, and then spent an hour or so walking around and taking photos. The square itself is named after the mid 19th century colonial governor, Caetano Alexandre de Almeida e Albuquerque, and his bust stands on a plinth at the northern end, with a matching one of another governor, the explorer General Alexandre Alberto da Rocha Serpa Pinto, at the southern end (the road along the eastern side, in front of the church, is named for him). As well as the church, notable buildings here include the attractive city hall on the square’s southern side, built in the 1920s but looking somewhat older.
Busts of General Alexandre de Almeida e Albuquerque and of General Serpa Pinto
City Hall, and drinks seller in the square
Cacti planted in the square
Just behind the church we passed an old house decorated with colourful murals, some rather dilapidated. This building houses the offices of the Amílcar Cabral Foundation and a small museum dedicated to preserving his memory, although this was closed. But we could see its spirit reflected in the quotation from Cabral which is incorporated in the murals.
Amílcar Cabral Foundation murals
My Portuguese is very limited, but the message was clear, and since my return I have been able to track down a full translation:
‘I swore to myself that I have to give all my life, all my energy, all my courage, all the capacity that I have as a man, until the day I die, in the service of my people in Guinea and Cape Verde. Serving the cause of humanity by giving my contribution, to the extent possible, for the life of man to become better in the world. This is what my work is.’
Cabral led the nationalist movement of Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau. He was born in the latter country, but to Cape Verdean parents, so had links to both. He was educated in Lisbon but afterwards returned to Africa, living for a time near Tarrafal on Santiago (Luis had pointed out his house when we passed yesterday). He founded the PAIGC or Partido Africano da Independência da Guiné e Cabo Verde (the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde) and led party's the guerrilla movement against the Portuguese. He was assassinated in 1973 so didn't live to see independence declared, although by then success was inevitable. He is honoured not only here (where his image appears on one of the bank notes and is seen everywhere, and the airport in Sal named after him) but also in many other countries as he supported national independence movements worldwide. Luis showed us a photo of him with Fidel Castro - there were strong links between the two men and between the revolutions in their respective countries.
Beyond this house we came to a mirador, Miradouro do Cruzeiro, with good views of the bay and a low wall pierced by old cannons, the city’s former defences and part of the old town fortress of Bateira. The cannons are the originals, as we learned the next day from Luis.
Praia has certainly needed to defend itself in the past. Among other attacks, it was raided in 1585 by Sir Francis Drake when Portugal was at war with England, and he ordered it razed to the ground, sparing only the town’s hospital. After the capital was moved to Praia in the early 18th century, from Ribeira Grande (today usually known as Cidade Velha), these cannons were installed here to help protect the city from pirate raids which were commonplace in this region.
The views up here were excellent, and the breeze very pleasant. From the mirador we could look down on the smallest of Praia’s beaches, the Praia Negra, where some locals were building, or possibly repairing, wooden boats.
We also had good views along the coast towards the next bay of Gamboa, where our hotel was located, and to the offshore island, the Ilhéu Santa Maria. I was interested in the ruins on this, and asked Luis about them when we saw him again the next day.
Ruins on Ilhéu Santa Maria
He told us that this was the site of a former isolation hospital for cholera sufferers and these ruins are all that remains of this. Prior to that, in the early period of settlement in Cape Verde, it was a leper colony. It is currently undergoing development, along with part of the foreshore just below our hotel, as a casino. This project is being undertaken by a Chinese company, and Luis also told us about many other such building projects that have resulted from partnerships between the two countries – indeed, the Chinese appear, from his accounts, to be developing large parts of the island and were responsible for the national stadium, at least one university and the country’s only road tunnel, among other works.
Leaving the mirador we followed the back streets, past some photogenically crumbling houses and others quite newly painted in cheerful colours, taking plenty of photos along the way. The weather was perfect - warm but not too hot for exploring, and with just a few clouds to add interest to the sky.
We soon came to another smaller square, the Praça Luis de Camoes, named for Portugal’s great poet but containing a monument to another Portuguese great, the medic Antonio Loreno, whose name the square is also sometimes known by. This is a relatively rare example of a place name in Plateau that has retained its pre-independence Portuguese name – most were renamed as part of the process of shaking off the shackles of colonialism.
Monument to Antonio Loreno
Here we had lunch at the Café Sofia at a shady table overlooking the square - friendly service, good sandwiches, excellent fresh fruit juice (the passionfruit was super refreshing) and free WiFi - a great choice.
Street art near the Praça Luis de Camoes
After lunch we walked north along the pedestrianised Avenida 5 de Julho, named for the date of the country’s independence from Portugal and one of the main thoroughfares of Plateau (second only to the parallel Avenida Amílcar Cabral which carries the bulk of the traffic). It has many colourful old colonial buildings. We passed the market, which was closed, as were many of the shops (this being Sunday). I liked the trees that line this road, cut into interesting shapes that form a geometrical contrast with the buildings.
Trees on Avenida 5 de Julho
Plateau was the only built-up part of the city until 1880, so it is the only part where you can see these colonial buildings. The low structures and bright colours reminded me quite strongly of Spanish colonial cities we have visited, such as Antigua de Guatemala and Trinidad in Cuba. But the state of repair of many is poor, and while that makes for interesting photography it raises questions about how long the structures will survive. The country has ambitions to have Plateau listed as a World Heritage Site, which may incentivise repairs I guess, while also risking losing some of its character.
Retracing our steps to the Praça Alexandre Albuquerque we explored the area around the Presidential Palace which lies behind the city hall on its southern side. This was built at the end of the 19th century as a residence of the Portuguese governor until Cape Verde gained independence in 1975. I haven’t been able to establish its current use, but it must serve some sort of government function as it is well guarded by soldiers from a nearby barracks, the Quartel Jaime Mota. This building’s decorative tower reminded me a little of the Torre de Belém, with the four little corner turrets. I believe from what I have read since our return that it also houses, or perhaps is planned to house, a military museum, although I saw no signs suggesting that this is the case.
Tower of the Quartel Jaime Mota
We also came across an incongruously situated children’s playground with kitsch-looking rides, right opposite the palace.
Children's playground rides
At the edge of the escarpment that gives Plateau its name is a statue of Diogo Gomes, the Portuguese navigator who discovered the island of Santiago in 1460. And unlike many such discoveries, it is a reasonable word to use, as these islands were uninhabited until the Portuguese came here. Many sources credit the discovery to another explorer, Antonio da Noli, but it is thought that Gomes got here first although Noli got back to Portugal earlier with the news of the island’s existence. Santiago was the first of the Cape Verde islands to be discovered, with Fogo, Boa Vista, Sal and Maio also named in the same royal decree of 3rd December 1460 announcing their annexation to Portugal’s empire. Gomes’ statue is of bronze statue and stands eight metres tall on a marble plinth high above the bay, looking out to sea.
Statue of Diogo Gomes
Steps to/from Plateau
Descending the colourfully painted steps near here we followed the road round the bay where we were able to get a closer look at the Ilhéu Santa Maria and also met some friendly cats dozing in the sun by the police station near the jetty. The beach of Gamboa is not one where you would want to sunbathe or swim, by the way – it’s very much a working beach for the city and regrettably not especially clean. But it’s another great photo spot.
Ilhéu Santa Maria from Praia Gamboa
Closer look at the ruins on Ilhéu Santa Maria
Every set of holiday photos should include a friendly cat!
Arriving back at the hotel we were able to get on to WiFi again and learn that Newcastle United had achieved a remarkable win over Man United!
A relaxing afternoon and evening
This was the warmest day of the holiday so far by some distance, with hot sun and the breeze pleasantly cooling rather than cold, so I decided to give the hotel’s rooftop pool a go, but the water was too icy for more than a very quick dip, so I abandoned notions of a swim in favour of catching up with emails, sorting photos and writing up my journal.
For dinner this evening we walked the short distance along the road to the Beramar Grill, recommended by Yulia from Barracuda Tours who had met us off the plane on arrival on Santiago. We enjoyed a bottle of wine from Fogo, Cha, which was a good accompaniment to my starter of tuna pastels (like empanadas) and Chris’s cheese and olives, also from Fogo. My main course choice of grouper was unavailable, as seemed often to be the case with our chosen menu items here, but the waitress suggested the wahoo as a substitute which was fine, if a little dry (despite the accompanying green salsa). Chris had the beef with egg and chips, which he enjoyed, and we both had refreshing fresh pineapple for dessert. All three courses, plus the wine, came to around 55€ - great value and a lovely evening.