How Green is My Valley

Today we had booked to go on the full-day tour of the island of Santiago, Cape Verde. The Braemar was docked in the capital city of Praia and our first impressions were that this was more developed than Mindelo, with busy roads and several large hotels, banks and administrative buildings.

We boarded our tour bus around 9.30am and set off through the bustling streets. A lot of the roads in Cape Verde are built with setts rather than being tarmacked, so it made for a rattly, bumpy ride. Today our guide was called Tee and our driver Marcelino.

Tee explained a little of the history of Cape Verde to us. The archipelago has a fairly tragic past, having been exploited over the years from all corners of the Atlantic. Since its independence in 1975, however, its future looks more hopeful and there is a wide multi-cultural mix of people who are proud of their country. Tourism is still fairly new, so we are pleased to be among those who have ‘discovered’ this unusual and interesting destination.

As we left the city centre behind we joined a dual carriageway and the road surface improved a lot, giving us a quieter and smoother ride. The road climbed steadily, giving us superb views of beautiful green valleys and dales with tiny cultivated fields. Against the backdrop of jagged peaks the vista was breathtaking.

We arrived at a small primitive distillery where we could walk around and take photographs. Althogh the sun was warm there was still quite a strong wind, although it wasn’t as bad as yesterday. There were a couple of wooden buildings with corrugated tin roofs and over all hung the evocative smell of wood smoke. This was where a brand of Cape Verde rum was distilled, and a gourd containing some was passed around for us to have a taste. I suppose “rum” is too grand a description for it; it was more like bootleg hooch.

Off we went again and the dual carriageway gave way to single track roads which twisted and turned, often with hairpin bends. It was quite disconcerting at times but our driver Marcelino drove slowly and carefully, so unless you were afraid of heights it wasn’t too scary. From time to time we stopped to admire the impressive views. We also saw egrets and kingfishers which flew past in a flash of brilliant blue. Santiago island has everything; mountains and valleys, rugged cliffs and beautiful beaches and sea views. Perched on the mountainside and down in the valleys were little farms and dwellings; however poor these people may be, no-one could take away the beauty of their surroundings – Mother Nature’s gift to them. 🙂

Once again we stopped in a small village with a few shops and a bakery/café. We decided to go in and have a beer and a cake each. We immediately spotted the Portuguese treat of a pastel de nata, a type of tart made with flaky pastry and containing egg custard – delicious. We’d first tasted these in Lisbon in 2010 and they are scrumptious.

Fed and watered, we were once more on the bus and we continued our picturesque journey. Eventually we descended down to the beach, and this is where we would stop to enjoy lunch.

The coach parked up and, along with several other tour buses, disgorged its passengers which all made their way into the open-air restaurant. There were no table plans so it was a case of sitting wherever you could find a free table. Then someone announced “the buffet is open”, so there was a mad scramble of people, several queues forming from all directions, converging on the hot and cold buffet station.

There was a selection of salad, fish, chicken and some sort of stew with beans in it as well as fresh vegetables. We loaded our plates then sat and ate our meal, washed down with a cold beer. While we were eating, a group of local musicians, singers and dancers arrived to treat us to a display of traditional African song and dance.

After our lunch we wandered down to the beach which was bustling with small fishing boats arriving with their catches. Ladies were busy gutting and de-scaling the freshly-caught fish and selling them. There was a little palm-thatched ramshackle bar where patrons could sit under the shade and enjoy a cold, refreshing drink.

I kicked off my flip-flops and walked in the soft sand along the shore line, occasionally standing and letting the sea wash over my feet. It wasn’t as warm as you’d expect. Some people had brought their swimsuits and had gone into the sea for a swim, but as far as I was concerned it was too windy/cool for that. Still it was very pleasant nonetheless, and certainly better than the January weather we’d get at home. 🙂

Once we were all rounded up and back on the coach, we set off for the scenic two-hour ride back to the ship, occasionally stopping to stretch our legs and take photographs. Several times we saw young goatherds driving their charges along the roadside, and we also saw children herding pigs, cows and chickens as well. I think I can safely say that everyone enjoyed the tour, and we were all most impressed with the island.

We got back to the Braemar around 4.00pm, in nice time to relax and get washed and changed for dinner at 6.00. Tonight the theme was rock ‘n’ roll, but we didn’t dress up for that as it’s not my era; I wasn’t even born in the 1950’s.

I gave dinner a miss once again, and just went down to the Thistle restaurant for the coffee and liqueur stage. The show tonight was called “Happy Days” by the Braemar Show Company and was, inevitably, set around the music of the 50’s and 60’s. Despite arriving in the Neptune Lounge an hour before the show, the place was already almost full and we could only manage seats stuck at the side, at right-angles to the stage/dance floor.

Afterwards we went along for the quiz in the Coral Club and we were soon joined by George and Barbara. We called our team “Funchal Revival” and – wonders will never cease – we actually won the quiz with full marks, 15/15. Our prize, however, wasn’t the usual bottle of fizz but was some prize vouchers. I think Fred Olsen is cutting down on the bottles of wine it gives away ever since they became all-inclusive. I suppose there’s not much thrill to winning a bottle of plonk when it’s free anyway! But at least we’d finally won. 🙂

The show tonight in the Coral Club was called “Symphony” and featured the Braemar Orchestra with a classical singer. It was excellent; the orchestra is really good.

Then it was just the disco, where we stayed awhile and enjoyed a nightcap. Then off to bed after a very full, very interesting day.

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