A day-long tour of Santa Antao started at 0615 with a 1
km hike to the ferry terminal. A 60 minute ferry ride took
us from Mindelo to Porto Novo (pronounced Portneuf in the
local Creole dialect). There we boarded a convoy of Toyota
minivans that conveyed us around Santa Antao, the second
largest island of the Cape Verde archipelago.
Geologically, Santa Antao is a long-dead volcanic
seamount - a place where the forces of nature evidence
themselves in the folded ancient geological strata vividly
displayed in vertical cliff faces. The prevailing
northeasterly trade winds build a huge surf that continually
pounds the windward side of the island. The high and steep
mountains of the island wring the moisture from the winds
creating a fertile rain forest on one side and leaving the
leeward side of the island desertified. Some places are cold
and wet while others are hot and dry. Some spots produce
year round crops of maize, mango, oranges, sugar cane,
bananas, papaya, manioc, breadfruit, and yams, while other
areas only a short distance away offer nothing more than a
dessicated lunar landscape of stones and sand. The
delineation of the wet and dry portions of the island is
pronounced and vivid.
The island's mountains are threaded by a well maintained
road system. The roads are steep and narrow, very clean, and
paved almost exclusively in the most exquisitely laid
Distances are distorted in Santa Antao. Because of the
challenging topography, it may be a day's journey to travel
between two places that are within sight of each other. The
feelings of attachment and separation that this imposes are
so much a part of the lives of the Cabo Verdians that they
have a special word for it - saudade.
Upon leaving the Porto Novo ferry terminal our minivan
commenced to climb northward towards the mountains. The air
became cooler. The cobblestone road was narrow, but
meticulously maintained and quite clean. We paused to enjoy
the panoramic view of the south facing slopes of the
mountains gradually transitioning into the sea.
The road we travelled took 30 years to build, from 1930
to 1960. It is said that every resident of the island had a
hand in placing the countless cobbles. Until then, the only
route between Ribiera Grande on the north side of the island
and Porto Novo was by sea.
Our minivan pushed higher into the hills. The sky became
overcast and the air cooler. Occasional patches of green
appeared. Eventually we arrived at an elevation of 1300 m,
where it was raining, everything was green, and we were
surrounded by tall pine forests.
The scenery was breathtaking. Beside the road was a
precipitous drop into a cloud filled seemingly bottomless
As we descended the switchback road down the mountains to
Ribiera Grande, the rain ceased and the sky cleared.
We stopped to visit a distillery where we sampled the
local grog and were treated to coffee and finger food.
From the distillery we set out on a strenuous hike, 4 km
horizontally and 400 m vertically to the restaurant where we
all lunched together. We were sweaty, thirsty and hungry by
the time we arrived, around 1 pm, for our first meal of the
day. The fare consisted of lots of starchy foods - fried
green banana, manioc, breadfruit, yams, as well as some
truly excellent soft local cheeses, washed down with fresh
juice made from local fruits.
The return trip to Porto Novo took us via the new road
along the coast. Again the scenery was spectacular - the
dessicated moonscape, imposing cliff faces and huge surf on
The ferry returned us to Mindelo, where we arrived back
at the Marina around 6:30 pm - 12 hours after our departure.