Santo Antão, mainly for mountain trekking.
Didn’t do any mongering on Santo Antão. It doesn’t mean however that I didn’t keep an eye out for the possible opportunities. They sure are there. Not as obvious as in Mindelo but again I’ve no doubt that right taxi drivers would help you out. I’ll talk about my experiences and thinking on that at the end of the section. Let’s first cover general info and tourist stuff.
The only reason for you to go to Santo Antão is if you like trekking in mountainous regions and/or beautiful vistas. The three places to visit in my opinion are Paul, small village of Fontainhas and Alta Mira. Don’t go to Tarrafal de Monte Trigo. It’s not worth braving an asshole of the road to get to the place with nothing to show for it but beautiful black beach where if you decide to enter the water you’d be unpleasantly surprised by a rocky bottom. There are plenty of beautiful easily accessible volcanic beaches on Cape Verde that don’t have that problem and have significantly more welcoming mongering scene (see my report on Fogo).
Skip Tarrafal of Santo Antão
If however you still decide to go to Tarrafal de Monte Trigo remember this: when your GPS tells you that you have arrived and you know that you didn’t that means that you’re on top of the mountain while the town is at its base below. You still have 5km to go. Those 5km would be trying, treacherous, uncomfortable, and would take you about an hour to navigate. From now on it would be all downhill down very nasty, highly slippery pothole ridden dirt road with almost nothing that stop you from going off the cliff. 7km/hour would be your maximum speed but mostly you’d be going 2-3km/hour. There’d be a lot of shaking going on, the curves would be sharp and they’d sneak up on you and unless you have experience with driving in underdeveloped mountain regions you are better off taking an aluger. If your vehicle begins to slide and you can’t stop it in time you’d have plenty of downward distance to cover before you sleep. In fact as I mentioned earlier in my opinion you’d be better off not going to Tarrafal de Monte Trigo all together.
To do tips
Go to Alta Mira instead. It’s about an hour from the island’s main port of Porto Novo. The view is amazing. In Alta Mira you should spend only as much time as you need to take in the view and from there go directly to the town of Paul (about 2 hours drive from Alta Mira). Spend a night in Aldeia Manga if you want to experience beautifully set up mountain hotel and/or Black Samba, a simple but colorful place run by Liana, Italian woman that makes the most memorable breakfast on Cape Verde.
Liana’s daughter is gorgeous but careful there because she looks much older then she really is. You’d be well advised to make prior reservations, especially for Aldeia Manga.
There are two fascinating places in the area.
Next to the town of Paul (pronounced Pah-oo-l) there is a small village called Sinagoga. Long ago it was Jewish town (thus the name) but it was long time ago indeed. It became a leper colony soon after but now the building that used to house patients is collapsing. I jokingly called it local Stonehenge and when you’d see it you’d probably know why but of course there is very little resemblance. The site though is amazing. Right next to collapsing structure there is a chessboard of natural swimming pools fed by at times quite stormy ocean. But it’s perfectly safe. There is even a ladder to help you climb into the water. It’s visible if you enlarge middle picture below. If you stop at Sinagoga you should really plan on taking a dip too.
There is even a small bar right there where you can grab some grog, sit down and take in the eye feast of colliding waves. Close to shore the bottom of the sea is dotted by underwater boulders that turn waves 180° and make them slam into one another. Some are even span 360° and start travelling away from the shore. Gives you illusion of laws of physics no longer being in place. In fact the whole ensemble with the leper ruins, scores of natural swimming pools and some waves traveling back into the ocean and… a bar make you feel like you thumbed your way to somewhere in Alpha Centauri.
There is one more place not to be missed from purely touristic perspective in Santo Antao and that’s a village of Fontainhas. Just an all around beautiful place. You can drive there or you can take an aluger van or it’s only an hour’s worth of walk from nearby Punta do Sol where most of the tourists end up staying.
Fontainhas is the most notable village on the popular 6-hour walking trek and as such is visited by scores of passing tourists on daily basis. Most assume that besides being pretty there is nothing here: no place to stay, no food to eat, just a small bar to have a coke or a sip of grog.
Well, don’t be so sure. If you ask around… There indeed is a small “can’t miss” bar in the village. The bar is co-owned by a young man and a young woman of 25 or so what would certainly be my candidate for Ms. Cape Verde.
Chances are you would quickly meet her but unless you find an excuse to look in the back where she prepares food you would not see her (use a bathroom?). When I saw her my jaw literally dropped, I choked and began coughing profusely. I looked at the guy and complemented him on such a beautiful wife. The guy paled, i.e. the man had a relatively light skin that became visibly lighter. “Oh no no,” he went, “I’m married to somebody else! We’re just friends, we’re just business partners!” Just like that! I was in shock. I could also see how she cringed upon hearing that.
I asked if there was a place to stay in the village if I wanted to stay there. Unfortunately I knew that I myself would not be able to do that. Not this time around anyway but who knows what could future bring and I like places like that. The guy began fidgeting and mumbled something about possible room upstairs or maybe not but then she came forward and went “No, wait! There is plenty of space! You can stay in my house. I live there with my 3 kids but I have at least 2 more spaces you could choose from. You can stay in my other house if you wish too! There is a room here, upstairs, etc., etc., etc. I can cook!”
I was grinding my teeth. There was no way I could stay in Fontainhas because I had obligations I had to tend to next morning in Ponta do Sol. But… if you ever want to save somebody I think this chick is gorgeous, lonely and if you’re a nice guy would be perfectly susceptible to being saved for whatever possible length of time. With her looks and attitude she should be in New York or London but being a single mother with 3 kids is an anchor that you can’t just pull up and sail away with.
So this was Fontainhas. Not to be missed if you were ever to make it to Santo Antao and a bar not to be missed if you ever make it to Fontainhas.
If you come to Santo Antao and you still want slip some mongering in then my advice is to talk to aluger drivers. Whether you’re in Rebeira Brava, Paul, Ponta do Sol or Porto Novo. Pick someone who has that face, you know, like he hasn’t been to church lately and ask quizzically “muhler?” (means “woman”, pronounced with the “h” silent). The same applies to male (or female for that matter) hotel workers. Because they sure are out there.
As I was leaving Porto Novo to Tarrafal driving down Porto Novo’s main drag a woman in her early 20s caught my eye. She wore motley dress and-eh… you just know them when you see them. Sure enough as I passed her I got that unmistakable smile. I drove for a bit looking for a place to bang a uey and when I finally tried it I almost got into an accident so since I didn’t feel all that pressed I just decided to keep on my way. But make no mistake about it gentlemen – it’s there. By no means I’m saying that Santa Antao is a mongering destination but if happen to be there, especially in the island’s larger towns make no mistake there’s some mongering to be done there.