Alone Like a Rolling Stone

Island of contrasts, Santo Antao


The Island Santo Antao

Suddenly the light goes out, it's pitch dark. The moon shines into the room from outside, the cell phone shines in my face. 35% charge capacity, following an inner hunch, I turn it off. The unfamiliar environment creates slight orientation difficulties and we wait for the power to turn back on, but nothing happens. 

On the ferry to Santo Antao

Early in the morning we took the ferry from Mindelo to Porto Novo. We want to take a closer look at the island of Santo Antao, on Cape Verde. At the exit gate, in the port area, the people pile up, hotel employees point with signs to their establishment, others are looking for a ride in the Aluguer, the shared cab on Cape Verde. In English, French, I am addressed whether I need a ride. For 90€ a day Eric shows us the island. He comes from Paul, in the east of the island, and explains us on a map the route. Although 90€, for Cape Verde, are a proud price, we agree. As we learn later, a farm worker earns just 136€ a month. In the end, the 90€ were not enough for Eric and he wanted more, so only persistence and tough negotiating helps. In the end it remains with the 90€. On a paved road it goes, from Porto Novo, first direction north.

View from Pico da Cruz

Whether it is due to the worn tires (there is no longer a tread groove on the front tires, so-called slicks), or the open windows, you have to get used to the driving experience on paved roads. A communication in the vehicle itself, is possible while driving only very strenuous and loud. The contact area of the tires, on cobblestone is, compared to asphalt, significantly reduced, this is probably compensated with the slicks. Since 90% of the roads on Santo Antao are paved, and rain is rarely expected, this makes sense. We reach a small village and take a 20 minute hike to Pico da Cruz. From here you have a wonderful view to Sao Vicente and the island of Sao Nicolau. If the island is still desolate and barren on the way north, the vegetation increases considerably in the mountains. Extensive pine forests can be found around Pico da Cruz. The road back to the old main road, is built into the steep slope and very narrow. There is no roadside barrier, at least on one side. You have to have your nerves under control and trust the driver, which is another reason to optimize the contact area of the tires. On the main road back, we stop at a roadside kiosk and first drink a coffee. While doing so, we enjoy the view of the Cove de Paul, an old crater where fruit and vegetables are grown. Due to the nutritious soil, the harvest takes place here, several times a year. 

Cove de Paul

At the Corda, a narrow point on the ridge, you look down into two green valleys. Wisps of clouds race up the slope, get stuck on rock faces and then tear apart to continue ascending. A mountain jackdaw takes advantage of the thermals and glides over our heads. 


Paul means water, and therefore the valley below us, is named after the first name. After a steep descent through lush greenery and dense forests, we reach Ribeira Grande. Due to the slick tires, these are, of course, also very sensitive and so we find ourselves on a repair site, where all kinds of services are offered. We don't want to know it so exactly and use the opportunity to have a look at the capital of the island. After the repair is also already lunch time and we get for, converted, 15€ a lunch for three people including drinks. This is not everywhere on the island so, as will turn out the next day. Over a coastal road it goes then further to Paul. Past the community of Sinagoga, we reach the fertile valley. 

Banana plant in valley Paul

Besides bananas, papaya and mango, sugar cane, cassava, potatoes and sweet potatoes are grown here. The clouds stick to the vertically sloping rock walls and release their moisture. In the narrow valley, the water is collected and used for irrigation. We get off at the end of the valley, and hike up the steep path. Everywhere it is green and splashing. Late afternoon Erik drops us off at our lodging and we decide to explore Paul. In a small restaurant we get fish to eat. It is not easy to make ourselves understood, but with hands and feet we manage it and get full.

The fertile valley Paul

The next morning we still have no electricity. The power supply is down on the whole island. Also the internet is dead. Erick has a USB port in the car and so at least the cell phone can be charged. We drive to Tarrafal, on the west side of the island. On the coastal road, southeast, along, we reach the only 15km paved road, on Santo Antao. It leads to Porto Novo. After that we continue on cobblestones. We quickly leave the lush green behind us and the landscape becomes barren and arid again. The further west we go, the more barren the land becomes. Goats are true survival artists here. Obviously they still find something to eat in the stone desert. The houses are built much simpler, as a roof there is usually only a tarpaulin, which is brought into shape with dry branches. The people who live here carry water canisters for kilometers through the area and up the steep slopes. There is no running water and they should not have noticed the power failure on the island, since there is also no electricity in most of the huts.

The westside of Santo Antao

Shortly before the road drops steeply to the sea, we get out and hike an old donkey trail, down to Tarrafal. It is much warmer than in the east of the island, the heat accumulates on the rock walls. After an hour we reach Tarrafal and find Erick again. We have lunch in a beach bar and you can see from the prices that tourism has clearly left its mark. For two people we pay a little over 30€ this time. Tarrafal is a small fishing village in the west of the island, in the middle of nowhere. Not even the road reaches the village. The last two kilometers have to be done on the beach and a dirt road. What makes the place so interesting is that there is no mass tourism here. Single small accommodations serve mainly the individual tourism. So far, no major hotel chain has discovered this place. Maybe that will change when the planned airport is actually built, but for now this is a very nature-oriented place. 

Tarrafal, Santo Antao

We return to Porto Novo and move into a small hotel here, directly at the harbor. In the evening we stroll a bit through the town and notice that people are lying on the beach and bathing in the water until late at night. Numerous Aluguers are waiting for customers to take the people back to their villages. In the meantime, the electricity is also back and we sit in a bar and work off our emails.

Typical road on Santo Antao

The next day we go again into the mountains and in the afternoon then again with the ferry over to Mindelo. Erick picks us up at the hotel and we drive once again on cobblestones steeply up the mountain. Passing deep gorges we enter the mountains. The erosion exposes the basalt veins that were formed long ago by volcanic activity. Bizarre formations that rise columnar into the sky. 

Rock formation in the north of Santo Antao

The road is littered again and again with crumbling debris or stones. I don't know if it's because of our weight, but our vehicle has every effort to fight its way up the mountain. Between two rocks we reach the pass and the serpentines branching off immediately afterwards to Alto Mira. Alto Mira is an oasis in the middle of the steep rock. The cultivated land is arranged in terraces. Here the fruits and vegetables for Santo Antao and Sao Vicente are grown. I approach a porter who just passes me carrying a large container of tomatoes on his shoulders. He hands me his load and I carry it a bit to get a feel for it. Monday and Friday the market in Mindelo is supplied with it, he tells me. 

Tomatoes on the way to the market

We go on and drink, in a small grocery store, a coffee. Since Erick has not yet had breakfast, a girl comes running up from the village. This, of course, takes time, just as it takes time to prepare breakfast. What ultimately leads to the fact that we have to go back after breakfast to still get our ferry. On the other hand, we get to know the simple life of the people, and we liked that very much. 

Alto Mira, mountain village on Santo Antao

The clocks simply tick differently here and the skill is to find the beat, then even waiting for breakfast, becomes an experience.Tick, Tack, Tick, Tack, and already we were back in Porto Novo and stood in front of the ferry that should bring us back to Mindelo. The discussion about the price, the 2.5 days, was quickly ended by me and Erick was content, with what we had negotiated at the beginning. We enter the ferry and look back on, beautiful impressions, on the island of Santo Antao.

Santo Antao island of contrasts

As always, you can read about what we'll be up to next week at Until then, fair winds and keep a stiff upper lip.