Andrea and Jack Montgomery, authors of Buzz Travel, have just returned from a week on one of our Cape Verde walking holidays. Here is one of the stories from their holiday…
“When my mother was a child, anyone not wearing shoes was not allowed to walk across the square, they would have to walk all the way around the edge to get to the other side.”
The yellow dust on Claudia’s legs and feet is so thickly coating her skin that she looks as if she’s wearing beige tights with toes in. In her mother’s day, she would not have been allowed to cross the square.
For the past hour we’ve been traversing the desolate sand plains that connect the village of Salamansa to the Baia das Gatas on the Cape Verdean island of São Vicente. Jack and I are wearing heavy duty hiking boots while our guide, Claudia, is in her bare feet.
Claudia walks between Salamansa and Baia das Gatas in her bare feet
It hadn’t started out that way. When the driver dropped us at the peak of Monte Verde, 750 metres above sea level and the highest point on the island, Claudia was wearing a pair of hiking boots sent to her by a client. Although second hand, the boots looked perfectly wearable and sturdy but as we descended along the cobbled path, the soles began to divorce the uppers so that, by the time we reached the dried up river bed strewn with rocks, only the toes of each sole remained stubbornly attached, forcing Claudia to walk like a diver on dry ground.
When we finally reached Salamansa, Claudia took off her boots, put them into her rucksack and walked the rest of the way in bare feet.
“I know a good shoemaker,” she said. “He will mend them for me.”
On neighbouring Santo Antão, the paths that traverse the steep valleys and high ridges are not to be disrespected. Allow your eyes and concentration to wander away from their dusty surfaces and they’ll plant a marble-like pebble or a shiny strip of sugar cane beneath your sole to send you skating. It’s terrain that makes hiking a slow business as your eyes are constantly drawn to the beauty of your surroundings, causing you to stop in your tracks and stare, open-mouthed. Unlike the flat surface of Sal and the barren plains of São Vicente, here the landscape is a tapestry of terraces carved into the sides of vertiginous valleys beneath jagged, basaltic peaks, each terrace decorated with a different shade of green, from the golden lime of sugar cane and the forest green of wide banana leaves to the rich teal of neat rows of cabbages.
The terraced valleys of São Vicente
In this Eden, where the mountains steal moisture from the clouds and underground springs bring life to the mineral rich soil, the abundance of produce is mesmerizing. Oranges, quince, camomile, pepper trees, avocado, coriander, manioc, yams, figs, peas, mangoes, coffee and the ubiquitous sugar cane all thrive in the fertile earth. And every once in a while, a burst of lilac breaks the green monopoly and draws the eye to a jacaranda tree in full blossom.
Brilliant purple flowering jacaranda trees
From the top of the Cova crater in the island’s bountiful north east, the path snakes its 1000 metre descent in a series of switchbacks towards the green valley floor of Paúl where the rustle, swish and chop of the sound of the sugar cane workers resonates in the hot air. Beneath a relentless sun, it’s a testing descent and by the time we reach our final curve in the path, Hetty declares her feet to be on fire and sits down to remove her hiking boots, replacing them with flip flops. Along skittery dirt paths and rocky river beds, scrambling down rocks and traversing narrow levadas above sheer drops Hetty leads the way in her flip flops, as sure-footed as the goats who skip down vertical cliff faces like children across a school yard.
The view from the Monte Verde descent looking over Mindelo with Santo Antao in the background
The following day we climb from the coast, up a steep road that winds past the cemetery to the village of Pinhão to traverse the ridge as it rises and falls through valley after valley to Lombo Branco. By now we’ve come accustomed to the rigours of the path. Our feet know where to tread and where to avoid; we pace ourselves on the climbs and tack our way down the steepest of the drops. We’re huffing and sweating our way up one particularly relentless ascent when a small boy catches up with us on his way home from school. On his feet he wears a pair of old, blue, rubber sandals which he has likely inherited from a sibling and which are clearly too big for him. His toes grip the upper while the rest of the shoe sits at right angles to his foot.
For a long time he climbs with us, scrabbling effortlessly ahead then sitting in the shade of the occasional acacia tree to wait for us to catch him up. All the while his serious little face watches our expensive hiking boots and his eyes move to our crimson faces where sweat is running down our jaws onto our necks. When we reach the ridge the boy spots an old man walking barefoot up the next ravine, his donkey laden with firewood ahead of him. The boy runs to catch him up. By the time we make the next ridge, man, boy and donkey are distant outlines, only visible if we squint into the sun.
Donkeys provide important transportation of goods on the road
Cape Verde walking holidays.
We have spent five days walking the paths that are lifelines between villages in Cape Verde. For us they provide the most spectacular hiking we have ever enjoyed, every turn in the cobbled way a new challenge and a fresh perspective on a beauty we never knew existed. But for the Cape Verdeans these paths are the means by which the farmers can work their terraces, the merchants can trade their goods and the children can receive their education which will help them to build the future for their islands. They say you never really know a man until you walk a mile in his shoes; in the case of Cape Verde, you may have to take your shoes off before you can begin to understand what it is to live in this remote archipelago. And nowadays they’ll even let you cross the square like that.
Find out more about our Cape Verde walking holidays
At Archipelago Choice, our small friendly team of island holiday specialists has been organising tailor-made holidays to the Azores since 1998 and more recently to Cape Verde, Saõ Tomé and Príncipe. Over this time we have developed the most comprehensive, flexible and fairly priced holidays to these beautiful islands.
All the holidays we organise are put together with great care using our extensive knowledge of the islands and our experience of travelling around them. We try very hard to give the most choice and flexibility possible combining activities, accommodation and island hopping so we put together holidays that best suit our clients.
So whether you want to go whale watching, walking, canyoning, kite surfing or just relaxing on the beach, you can be sure our team of island holiday specialists will be able to help.
Contact us now and we’ll help put together one of our amazing tailor-made Cape Verde walking holidays for you