Cape Verde day three
10.02.2018 - 10.02.2018
Landscape north of Praia
While our bed at the Hotel Perola was very comfortable, we both woke early because of some noise on the road outside - the perils of a city base. We had a good breakfast in the hotel’s third floor restaurant, with views of the bay and towards Plateau, the oldest part of Praia. There were several hot dishes including the traditional dish of cachupa (a sort of stew of chickpeas and corn, fried up for breakfast) and eggs, but I stuck to the crusty bread, cheese and a small fish empanada. Chris was also impressed to see slices of pizza!
We had booked an all day tour with Barracuda Tours and our guide Luis turned up promptly at nine. He was to be an excellent guide, full of information (but not too much!), happy to stop for photos whenever we wanted and good company for our day out.
We drove north through the centre of the island. The weather was rather grey and misty over the higher ground, with the highest peak, Pico de Antonia, hidden in low cloud. But thankfully the wind had moderated a bit.
Views on the way to the Botanical Gardens
We stopped briefly at one point to take photos of the mountains but our first main stop was at the Botanical Gardens in São Jorge dos Órgãos. These are situated on a hillside and made for a pleasant short walk with some good views, but there was no real effort made to label specific plants and apart from a few trees such as eucalyptus and acacia, Luis didn’t point out very many. That was fine with us as we were happy to simply enjoy and photograph the views.
Mountain view from the gardens
The gardens’ full name is the rather grand Jardim Botânico Nacional Grandvaux Barbosa, as they were named after a Franco-Portuguese botanist, Luis Augusto Grandvaux Barbosa. He had first conceived the idea of creating a botanical garden in Cape Verde and although the gardens were not established until 1986, four years after his death, they were named in his honour.
At the gardens
Driving on from the gardens we again stopped briefly for photos at a viewpoint marked by a cross from where we could see the town of Picos on the opposite hillside. This takes its name from several dramatic rocky outcrops in the vicinity, the result of past volcanic activity. By now the sun had made a welcome appearance and the day was getting pleasantly warm – hooray!
Views of Picos
Panoramic shots from the viewpoint
There were flowering bushes at the viewpoint which caught my eye, known locally as lingua de vaca, or cow’s tongue, (Latin name echium hypertropicum). Luis told us that these were the national flower of Cape Verde, although online searches suggest that officially that is the gerbera – I believe he meant instead to say that these are endemic to the Cape Verde islands, which they are. Whatever their status and name, these flowers seemed very popular with the local bee population!
Lingua de vaca
We made a longer stop in Santiago’s second largest city, Assomada. Here we took a walk through the covered market, one of the most important ones on the island. I always find markets a fruitful spot for photos and this one was no exception.
At the entrance to the market
Produce for sale
There was lots of local produce for sale – mainly fruit and vegetables but also side markets selling fish and meat. In the latter I noted the skill of the female butchers in wielding their huge knives, and also the bowls of live chickens for sale right next to their dead, featherless cousins.
In the meat market
Upstairs is a clothes market and from the walkways here we could take photos more easily without fear of offending or upsetting the sellers - many of these photos were taken from there.
View from above, and onion delivery
Once we had enough pictures we went with Luis to a nearby bakery and coffee shop, Pao Quente (one of a local chain), where we all had an espresso – good and strong.
Scenery in the National Park
Back in the car we drove further north, through the National Park of Serra Malagueta with another stop for photos, and on to the concentration camp of Chão Bom.
The camp seen from a guards' walkway
This former concentration camp in Chão Bom, on the outskirts of Tarrafal, made a real contrast to the rest of our day out. Now a museum, it commemorates a darker time for the islands, under Portuguese rule.
Entrance to the camp
Also known as Campo da Morte Lenta (‘Camp of the Slow Death’) it was established in 1936 as an overseas penal colony, by the Portuguese dictator António de Oliveira Salazar, to house opponents to his right-wing authoritarian regime. The aim was to isolate activists from the mainland and, by incarcerating them in such tough conditions, to send a clear message to others that the punishment for opposition to the regime would be severe.
Wikipedia describes the conditions thus:
‘The PVDE [the Portuguese secret police force] modelled its camp regime on the Nazi concentration camps. Prisoners were subjected to brutal authority. Strict regulations were enforced and outside information was forbidden. The PVDE used physical and psychological violence against the prisoners, this included sleep deprivation, beatings and humiliation. Men and women were tortured for information on their organizations and networks in Portugal. The most severe punishment was conducted in a concrete cell called the frigideira (English: "frying pan"). Inside this windowless 6m x3m building, daytime temperatures could reach up to 60° Celsius. Prisoners could be held inside these blocks for days, weeks or months.’
There is a model of this frigideira on display in a small room to the right of the entrance, along with a prisoner’s uniform and a few other artefacts. A video tells the story of the camp but unfortunately only in Portuguese. It’s better to wander around soaking up the rather sombre atmosphere and relying on the various signs, which are mostly in English (as well as Portuguese and French) for information.
The camp was closed in 1954, but not before 32 political prisoners had died there. In 1961 however it was reopened, this time to serve as a labour camp, housing militants who were fighting Portuguese colonialism in Cape Verde, Angola, and Guinea-Bissau. The frigideira was replaced with an hollandinha, a tiny cell within a cell used for solitary confinement which can still be seen. It closed for a final time in 1974, when the Portuguese rule came to an end and an order was given for all prisoners here to be released. In 1975 Cape Verde achieved full independence and the camp was handed over to the newly-formed government.
Looking back towards the entrance
It has since been used in various ways, including as a military base and a school, but became a museum in 2000. The museum focuses on the prison buildings themselves – cells, first aid post, store rooms etc. Outside the former officers’ and guards’ quarters seem to be still occupied by local people who moved in when the army base closed. The buildings are not in a great state of repair and there is little to see beyond the few artefacts I mentioned already, but the camp is very evocative. It is currently on the UNESCO tentative list as a possible future World Heritage site.
Around the camp
One building where more has been done to enhance the visitor experience is the first aid post, where signs describe one of the harshest aspects of life here for the political prisoners in the 1930s and 40s. Illness was unsurprisingly rife, and in 1937 a doctor was sent here, Esmeraldo Pais de Prata, with the task not of curing the sick but verifying whether their claims of illness were genuine or if they were trying to avoid work. He was, according to the description on the signs here, the very opposite of what a doctor should be – refusing to have unsafe water boiled, denying the prisoners medication (including that sent by their families) and approving their too-meagre rations. A quote attributed to him is displayed on the wall:
‘I am not here to heal but rather to sign death certificates’.
The first aid post
Signs elsewhere focus on the later stage of the camp’s history, as a labour camp during the colonies’ struggle for independence from Portugal. According to these, for a long while Portugal denied that the camp even existed, telling the United Nations that rumours of its existence were ‘entirely without foundation’. The revolutionary leader Amilcar Cabral invoked the Geneva Convention with the result that a delegation from the international Red Cross visited the camp in 1969. While conditions at that time were not as harsh as during the 30s and 40s (inmates could, for instance, read books and newspapers in the library, have visits to the cinema and beach, and go to the hospital for medical treatment), nevertheless the Red Cross inspection led to some prisoners being released. A second Red Cross visit two years later was, according to the sign I read, a bit of a fudge, with only certain aspects of prison life inspected and little attention paid to poor diet and lack of medical facilities. Of course, history is written by the victors, and the Cape Verdeans won their battle for independence from Portugal. I have no idea if the Portuguese would tell the story of this camp differently.
Another view of the camp
The concentration camp lies on the southern outskirts of Tarrafal, where we made our longest stop of the day. The first important task was to have lunch, which was included in the cost of our tour. We ate on the terrace of the Restaurant Baia Verde and enjoyed very good tuna with a tasty olive oil and herb salsa, potatoes, rice and vegetables, washed down with a local beer, Strella, and followed by fresh papaya. We had great views of the two small beaches here – to our left the one used mainly by local fishermen and to our right more of a holiday beach although only a few brave children were enjoying splashing in the sea.
Main beach at Tarrafal
Locals selling water and coconuts
Local children at play
Service was a little slow and the meal, while very good, took up rather more of our two hours here than we would have liked. Once we had finished we left Luis to relax and went for a walk around the town, taking photos of the colourful, if dilapidated, houses and the rather less colourful church (the Igreja Matriz de S. Amaro Abade). From photos I have since seen I think the latter must have been under some sort of restoration work, as these show it painted in white and blue, not the bare plaster of my photo – and indeed the rear part of the bell-tower was indeed painted thus, as you can see.
Buildings in Tarrafal
I also grabbed photos of some of the locals, where I could do so discretely, and some interesting street art. Then we returned to the car to start the journey back to Praia.
On the streets of Tarrafal
Mural of Cesária Évora
The east coast
We took a different route back, following the east coast along a road that was for the first half of our journey surfaced with cobbles and therefore rather bumpy – but very scenic. This coastline is much more rugged than the rest of the island, or than anything we had seen on Sal, with waves crashing on the black rocks. The land here is also more fertile and the countryside greener, with palms, banana trees, sugar cane and other crops planted on terraced hillsides sliding down to the sea.
East coast scenery
Driving through the small town of Calheta de São Miguel we encountered a children’s carnival celebration (a prequel to the main Mardi Gras celebrations which would take place on the island a few days later) and were able to get some good photos.
At the children's carnival
We made further stops in the so-called Valley of 1,000 Palms, near Pedra Badejo, and to photograph a grey-headed kingfisher, Cape Verde’s national bird, which Luis spotted on a telegraph wire.
Valley of 1,000 Palms
We got back to the hotel about 17.30, having already booked another tour with Luis for Monday morning!
Quintal de Musica
We had dinner this evening in this popular restaurant in Plateau, the oldest part of Praia. While something of a tourist draw, it seems from our experience to justify its reputation, as we had a super time here. The service was very friendly and the waiting staff seem to really enjoy their work. They have developed a ‘party trick’ of balancing drinks on their heads as they move around the tables serving customers – bottles of wine, glasses of beer, cocktails. They are very good at it – I didn’t see a single spillage during the evening.
Waiter's party trick
The food here was good – seafood soup for both of us to start, then octopus rice (a sort of Cape Verdean take on risotto or perhaps paella) for me and lamb chops for Chris, then slightly odd grainy ice creams for dessert. Portions were huge (too huge) and prices were reasonable too, for a place so popular with tourists that they were turning away anyone without a reservation – we paid about €50 or £44 for all the above plus a half bottle of Vinho Verde for me and three small beers for Chris.
As the name suggests, this place is known for its live music, which started a little after nine and was also very good – a young male singer with an excellent voice, singing traditional Cape Verdean songs including Sodade. The latter is something of an anthem for the islands, it seems – we heard it several times during our week here, reminding me of the regular renditions of The Girl from Ipanema which followed us around Brazil some years ago. The best known recording, which Luis had played for us in the car that afternoon, is by the famous Cape Verdean singer Cesária Évora – you can hear it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ERYY8GJ-i0I. The song is one of departure of loved ones and longing for their return, linked to the regular migrations from these islands but specifically to that of contract laborers who went to São Tomé during the time of Salazar, linking back to our visit to the Tarrafal Camp.
Music at Quintal de Musica
I shot a few video clips to capture his voice and the general atmosphere. The picture quality isn't great because I only had my phone with me, but I think it gives a flavour.
Music at Quintal de Musica
We took taxis to and from the restaurant, and I was impressed at the ease of hailing them and the drivers’ disinclination to rip us off, charging the accepted going rate of 200 escudos both ways without any need to haggle. Our evening out rounded off what had been an excellent first full day on Santiago.