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Life of Reilly III - blog

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 volcanic cobbles.

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 abyss.

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 beach.

The ferry returned us to Mindelo, where we arrived back at the Marina around 6:30 pm - 12 hours after our departure.

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