Wandering Thoughts

June 28, 2009

Santo Antao

Filed under: Going Places — terence @ 7:25 pm
Tags: , ,
Reeds Higher than we were

Reeds Higher than we were

Hazy in the morning heat Benji and I meandered along the riverside. Through bamboo-like reeds that grew higher than we were. Water gurgled and burped over the stones, in and out of pools. It wasn’t much of a river, a creek really, but it was the first flowing water we’d seen in months. After barren Sal and Sao Nicolau it might as well have been the banks of the Amazon.

Like the name suggests, the Cape Verde Islands were green once, covered in trees. That was the way the Portuguese found them. Uninhabited and verdant, oases off the edge of the Sahara amongst the thirsty Atlantic Sea. Ecosystems that had eked out an accommodation over millennia, trees feeding the rain that then fed the trees. The Portuguese put an end to this. Burnt the trees for farms and then watched in despair as the rain went too. Furthest west, Santo Antao remained the greenest. Fed by occasional showers, shrubs and bushes grew. They didn’t get far, but they sprung out of the soil in an intense purposeful green, shocking the brown around them. Villagers cultivated gardens, exporting fruit and vegetables to the rest of the archipelago. And the local divers grew pungent pot in the valleys somewhere, bobbing stoned in the trade-wind-swept sea.

The river led us past small villages of small stone houses. Past occasional smiles from doorways and the patter of life lived quietly. The islands had been a way-station during the height of the slave trade, and the villagers were a mix of Portuguese and African pasts. Their soft brown skin made them look more like Afro-Brazilians than West Africans.

Villages Santo Antao

Villages Santo Antao

Eventually, we reached the head of the valley, where the track left the water and started up the hillside. Puffing up the cobbled switchbacks we climbed into cooler, clearer air, stopping occasionally to take photos or catch our breaths. Two thirds of the way up we reached the clouds; small, grey tufts, they swept in groups off the sea and bunched against the hillside we climbed. We followed them up as they flowed over the ridge, eventually reaching the top of the track and the pass down into Cova. Cova (I’m sure I’m spelling it wrong) was the name we’d been given for the place at the track’s end. An ancient, extinct crater, a few hundred metres across. Its rim formed the head of the valley we’d climbed. Its centre was a flat field covered in grass. We wandered down into it.

The weather followed in its own strange way. Propelled by the wind the clouds kept climbing – up, maybe 100 metres above the ridge’s edge. There they were deserted, abandoned by the breeze. Heavy all of a sudden they fell, vertically towards the centre of the crater, dissolving as they reached the ground. We stood and marvelled, agreeing that though we’d both seen plenty of clouds in our days we’d never seen ones that flew straight down. We were still marvelling when we were disturbed from out reverie by clatter and laughter. Riding towards us were two kids on tiny, unshod and unsaddled donkeys. They had loamy brown skin and shiny white grins and were in complete control, directing the donkeys with switches of dried reed. Judging from their laughter and pointing we were obviously a splendid joke – two long haired surfers in rag-tag traveller’s clothes. No doubt every bit as strange to the kids of Cova as they were to us – children on donkeys, riding down with the falling clouds into a lost crater, beyond the track’s end on an almost forgotten, almost desert island.

On Donkeys

On Donkeys

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