It was a desperate and sneaky attempt by Simon to prevent me from dragging him off on yet another cold, wet, snowy new year trip. I was hauled, unprepared and unsuspecting, into a travel agents shop and before I knew it I was booked into an all inclusive luxury hotel on a tropical desert island with miles of pure white sandy beaches and warm seas. At least that’s what the brochure said. Anyway, we nearly didn’t get there as he lost his passport in Gatwick airport moments before we were due to get on the plane.
Passport located, disaster averted and after a Thomsons flight which made EasyJet look like business class we arrived on the island of Boa Vista, one of the Islands making up the Cape Verde Archipelago some 500km west off the coast of Senegal. The 5 minute bus journey from the airport was an eye opener for me as the tour rep, Traceeeee from Liverpool, shrieked “Are you all having fun” to which everyone was supposed to cheer and my initial inspection of the hotel did little to alleviate my fears as I saw row upon row of bodies on sunbeds ranging from pasty white to lobster red depending on how long they had been staying.
It was beginning to smack of Brits abroad holiday hell.
The RIU KARAMBOA hotel with Sal Rei in the distance
The top of the hotel, just beyond the sand dunes
My escape strategy was formed early the next day and so Simon was hauled off on a long walk firstly along the glorious white beach to the island’s main town of
and then beyond Sal Rei to the north of the island. The beaches for which Boa
Vista are famed are worth a trip alone to see them, miles and miles of white
sand stretching as far as the eye can see are beginning to lure tourists here. Sal Rei is
classed as a developing country and it is poor, very poor, so we made sure we
weren’t carrying mobile phones or flash cameras and I wore no jewellery partly
out of being cautious as it is not unknown for tourists to be mugged here and
partly out of respect for the local people. 20% of the country’s GDP comes from
remittances and Boa Vista has little home grown income other than its growing
tourist industry. Cape Verde
Outside the fish market in Sal Rei
The first settlers in Cape Verde when it was “discovered” in about 1460 were Portuguese and so the official language, religion and brightly coloured colonial style houses all show this influence and ,although slightly run down and very derelict in places, Sal Rei is a clean and friendly town of about 4000 people. We saw fishermen landing their catch of impressive sized tuna, did some people watching while sat in a café in the town square and relaxed at the bar by the harbour watching the boats come and go.
Given that there are 5 large all inclusive hotels on the island I was concerned that the place would be over run by tourists but I needn’t have worried as most never leave the luxury of their hotels. Shame, they don’t know what they are missing. I do appreciate that many people’s idea of a holiday is precisely this but my inability to keep still for long or to switch my brain off meant that I was on a mission to discover as much about the island as I could.
Boa Vista has little in the way of the wow factor tourist attractions and it is not always easy to find out about what there is to see unless doing a wee bit of research before going as there are some gems to be found and it certainly pays to ask as many questions as you can of the locals who can tell you about the culture, history and wildlife. Communication was mostly through a mixture of French, very poor Spanish, non existent Portuguese and my attempt at the islands traditional language of Creole which fell flat but all of the Cape Verdean people that we spoke to were more than happy to answer questions. They are a friendly bunch particularly our host on the sightseeing boat trip who tried to teach me African dancing but I was a lost cause, no rhythm at all.
The Jewish Cemetery - Many Jews had been deported to Cape Verde over the years as "undesirables" by their own countries. They were allowed to work in Sal Rei so long as it was in a trade or job that a non jewish person didn't want.
Water and energy are an issue on Boa Vista. All water comes from desalination plants and the town of
south of the island doesn’t have its own water supply and can only generate
enough electricity for 10 hours a day. To get to most places on Boa Vista a
landrover or 4 wheel drive is needed, the roads are either cobbled or dirt
track for the most part and those on the north coast of the island that looked
on the map as though they may be passable turned out to be over sand dunes. Povocao Velha
Povocao Velha is the oldest settlement on the island
Nothing grows on Boa Vista other than desert scrub plants and in a few areas palm trees. It is a fascinating desert ecosystem and this desert is gradually growing as sands blow in from the Sahara, encroaching the island and everything on it, as could be seen from the ruins of an old brick factory near the hotel which is slowly being reclaimed by the sands.
The Deserto de Viana, a 7km stretch of white sand dunes
Palm trees blowing in the wind with the extinct volcano of Santo Antonio beyond
A strong wind blows over this arid landscape almost constantly but paradoxically Boa Vista has one of the worlds most important wetlands as when the rains come in late summer they come with vengeance and on areas of the west coast of the island, Rabil lagoon and in the gorge or wadi and an abundance of plant and birdlife appears for a short period of time.
Rabil lagoon (no idea what the yellow flower is)
A very large cricket....good job the little critter was friendly!
To the consternation of some we spoke to the strong winds between December and March are not something the Thomsons brochure mentions in any great detail nor are the fierce rip tides, waves and under tows which mean that a red flag is flown at the hotel beach, sometimes for a week at a time, indicating it is too dangerous to go in for a dip. Fortunately we went to another beach the day the flag was flying at our hotel beach and enjoyed our exhilarating swim, ignorance is bliss, although I did wonder why no one else was going in. Like the Hebrides, maybe the weather will be Boa Vista’s saviour from it becoming
equivalent of Benidorm. Can you imagine the hotels that would be on Luskintyre
beach if it wasn’t for the cold, the rain, the wind, the cold water, the
I was beginning to like the place more and more.
The beaches are nesting grounds for turtles but we had come at the wrong time of year for turtle watching. Unfortunately many turtles had been slaughtered last year by locals for their eggs and meat and there are little resources that can be invested in their protection in country that is not wealthy and has other priorities.
The eerie wreck of the Santa Maria
My last 3 holidays have been running related and so unusually for me this trip wasn’t for a race but I did keep my eye out for any possible races should a future trip here be on the cards. All that was available was a 150km ultra marathon across the shifting sands and arid deserts. Having found my morning runs along the beach and over the dunes hard enough and having sustained a few blisters in the process I wasn’t in a big hurry to send off my race entry for this one!.
The 9 inhabited islands of the 10 islands making up the
archipelago each are very different in character and so we decided to
investigate another island. Whereas Boa Vista is a desert island with its extinct
volcanoes rising from the sands appearing a lot higher than they are, Fogo is a
green, mountainous, fertile island. Fogo is also a dormant Volcano. Cape Verde
The arrival to Fogo by air is breath taking
After a quick breakfast and tour round the capital, Sao Filipe, the bus started the long ascent up to the volcano crater which took us through fertile agricultural land where maize, cabbages, bananas, mangoes and cashew nuts were growing.
There is a village in the volcano crater where the villagers live amongst scientists monitoring seismic activity, the last eruption of Fogo being in 1995 and although living here doesn’t seem like such a great idea at first, the slopes of the volcano offer fertile farm lands where coffee and vines are grown although water has to be transported from several hundred metres down the slopes of the island as there is no supply in the crater. Fogo produces its own wine with the Italian owned winery also located in this village in the crater and at 5 Euros a bottle along with a kilo bag of beans and peppercorns with which to make Cachupa, an African stew, my suitcase was almost bursting on the way home and I only narrowly made my flight luggage allowance.
The road to the crater
The village in the volcano crater, the Cha das Caldeiras
The peak of the volcano Pico doFogo
Children selling souvenirs made from volcanic rock. On an island where unemployment is running at nearly 30% this income is much needed.
After the relative peace and quiet of Fogo it was back to the hotel on Boa Vista. I had no complaints at all about the hotel, it was spectacular and luxurious, rooms were lovely, food was amazing but something didn’t feel right when on an island where all water comes from the environmentally unfriendly desalination process and nothing grows they are watering the flowers in the hotel grounds for the guests delight. I also don't understand why the hotel doesn't offer more information on the history and wildlife of the islands, maybe some displays or talks instead of the Butlins style "entertainment" which seemed to be on offer every night but I guess popular choice will always win through.
The swimming pool. This photo was taken at 7.30 am as i headed out for a run. By 8.30 am the sun worshippers were already out putting towels over the sunbeds to reserve them......
The view from the balcony
came the years of famine and drought reaching a peak in the early 20th Century when many died.
The latest business boom is tourism. Admittedly tourism in the style of all inclusive resorts does bring jobs albeit low paid menial jobs but this does not feel like true investment in the islands and does not really seem to help local businesses.
traditionally doesn’t have a
hospitality industry as European countries recognise it but there are bars and
restaurants and guest houses in Sal Rei and had I been more travel savvy and
done more research these would have been options. On Fogo, its even possible to
stay in the volcano crater which is what I will be doing when I return to these
beautiful islands. Cape