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Sao Nicolau – Santa Luzia
-- 21st to 27th November 2011 --
From deep green valleys to a desert island we keep on exploring the Cape Verdes.
More pictures to make your head turn with vertigo on our page "Photos".

Sailed 48 miles
4803 miles since the start
We stopped in : Sao Nicolau – Tarrafal (anchorage); Santa Luzia (anchorage) ; Sao Vicente – Mindelo (anchorage)
From the 21st to the 25th November, Sao Nicolau
Upon arrival Laure takes a few exploring steps ashore in the last rays of the setting sun. Yet exploration truly begins on the next morning, and methodically: first, the sea bed. Under close supervision from Julien (s/y Ster Vraz) we try our luck at hunting fishes with a harpoon. Just outside of the anchorage corals reefs 5 to 8 m deep provide shelter to scores of colorful and big fishes. If you aim for a big one you reach the smaller next to it... all the details and pictures of our game on SterVraz’ blog, here.
« Easy, see, I bet there are plenty of biggies here under the rock ! »
We were not so convincing in the role of hunter/food provider, and get back to the basics of good housekeeping – while pursuing our exploration of the island: on the beach the cubic pink house is a laundry place, where local women wash their clothes before spreading them on the ground all around to dry. A well provides water, a corn ear makes a good plug for the sinks... against a few escudos a young fellow draw water to fill two sinks and scrub scrub scrub, everything is clean again and we have not lost our day entirely.

White sand, blue water and black cliff
Our methodic exploration goes on, always further. Walking outside of Tarrafal along the coast towards the South, we follow a dirt trail crossing large flat empty spaces, through a volcanic desert covered by a low thin grass, between abrupt cliffs and the deep sea. It is a 6km long walk on the moon, before reaching a surprisingly beautiful beach, white sand and dark basaltic cliffs, like a hidden pearl as a reward to those who went on so far. Besides quick yellow crabs with their eyes as a periscope that run away to their holes as soon as they see movement, there is no one to disturb our bath.
PS : finding your way to this little paradise is easy, the trail is marked by worn out shoes inlaid into the dust.
Now we’re not afraid of anything anymore and feel up to the highest challenges! The map of the National Park can be found for free at the car rental booth next door to the Camara Municipal, and displays a range of paths crossing the mountains on the Western side of the island, of which the Monte Gordo reaches its highest point at 1312m.you know us, if there’s a mountain we have to climb on it! We set off early in the morning to cross the park from North to South, the plan is 10km and 1000m up/down – easy to get back in shape after so long on flat lands. That was the idea, on paper. In reality we ended up walking about 15km, getting lost more than once in terraced fields and deep agricultural valleys where small villages have been forgotten by modern technologies. People are extremely friendly and run out of their way, with heavy loads on their heads, to guide us with lots of gesture and bright smiles fortunately complementing their indications in quick creole. We finally find our way and (try to) stay on the marked path, where post signs stand at every intersection, every km. Better so: a lot can happen to a path over one small kilometer! It can: turn into the rocky bed of a dried river, be covered with fallen rocks, fall down the cliff, be lost into thorns, finish at the end of a rocky peak in the middle of stone ruins of abandoned houses... Finally we reach the summit, only to find a sea of clouds, windy and wet and cold – and hurry back down to the valley. The worst part of it is that on the way back from Cachaço (100 sec/pers), sitting at the back of a pick up truck speeding down the curvy road through green pastures, we were perfectly happy of our day!
« no no not there ! see that pass between the peaks up : you go on the other side ! »

Typical : dragon tree and goat

Also typical : we always pick the best days to climb the mountains
Speaking of “aluguers” (vans or pick ups used for collective transportation): they are divided into two categories – the ones with red fur on the wheel and front board are supporters of the Benfica from Lisbon, whereas the “blue fur” faithfully stand behind FC Porto. The two groups are well balanced in numbers, and there is no exception: you have to pick a color! Where they agree though is on the way to honk at every curve to attract potential clients, which they will hurry into the back before quickly driving away. Sometimes they stop in the middle of nowhere, to pick some corn from the field and drop it to someone else a few kilometers further, or dry grass, or chat with an old old woman on the side of the road... but they always bring you to destination, in their typical Cape Verdean mix of European efficiency and African nonchalance.
Another Cape Verdean story: we go to the pharmacy to look for some antiseptic tablets to fight an annoyingly resistant tummy bug. The shop is held by a serious man with a clean white blouse and the shelves are clean and full. The pharmacist asks in perfect French what we are looking for (after the traditional salutations “how are you? You’re right? And how are you? And the family?” because he’s from Senegal). He takes a pack out of the shelf, neatly writes the posology on the pack: 3 pills / day for 5 days. On the European-looking label of the European-looking pack it says the price is 2.85 euros.... “but we sell them pill by pill as well if you like, it’s 9 cents per unit!” he adds!
We would not go without visiting Ribeira Brava, the island’s main city, its big church once the cathedral for all Cape Verdes and Guinea, its colonial buildings... the town holds a huge party for Carnaval and decorated chars are waiting here and there in courtyards in the green valley going up the town to the mountains. It’s green and lush and pleasant to walk amongst the small villages and the fields, between the chicken huts and the papaya trees. On the island you can see a lot of dragon trees as well. This emblematic tree is endemic in Macaronesia*, its sap used to dye cloth... and grog :o) We walk up and up and before knowing it find ourselves back to Cachaço again, and in an aluguer down our favorite road to Tarrafal.
(* Macaronesia is no noodle dish, but the group formed by the islands on the East side of the Northern Atlantic, from the Azores to the Cape Verdes – in other words, our playing field on that side of the world!)

The valley of Riberia Brava
Back intown, last shopping rounds of fruits and veggies on the harbor, water (2 esc/liter, also on the harbor), checking out formalities at the maritime police (650 escudos regardless of the duration of the stay). We also pay a visit to the Casa Aquario, by the beach near the hospital on the Southern end of the town, where the German association of sailors offers internet and other services, as well as good meals in the cooking school.

From the West side, Monte Gordo between the clouds says goodbye
In the end except for a few loud kids hurrying to grab the line off your hands and “guard the tender”, and other kids shouting in the street “money money” (“no no, não me chamo Moni: my name is Camille”!) – except for them the population here again have been super friendly and offered a warm welcome and big smiles despite their poverty sometimes. The island is beautiful and we wish we could explore the East as well... but the wind is dropping a bit for a couple of days only, 15 knots instead of the usual 20, it´s the perfect occasion to hop to the next island...
26th November, Sao Nicolau – Santa Luzia (25 miles)
Early start to make the most of the short days. On the leeside of the island, the sea is flat and so hang our sails – not a breeze. We hold our breathe though and brace for the upcoming gust after the Western point... indeed it picks up quickly but Saltimbanque has already his light clothes on and under 2 reefs and rolled genoa he glides happily, passing the islands of Razo and Branco. The tidal stream helps us with an additional 1.5 knots, the wind is from the side to quarter back. It picks up and we take the 3rd reef, still happy... looking with compassion at another sailing yacht passing us in the opposite direction, fighting against waves and tide and wind... no doubt, the right sense to visit the Cape Verdes is East to West!

Approaching Santa Luzia from the East
In the early afternoon we approach the South of Santa Luzia. This island is desert and bears but a few traces of tentative settlements from decades ago. It is rather big and high, rocky and tortuous, looks like a Far West movie landscape at times. Not high enough to catch the clouds and retain the precious rain though, the grass is low and few bushes are seen in the dried riverbeds.
The stream is strong on the shallow waters between Branco and Santa Luzia (15m at the sounder), then the channel gets wider and leads to a long beach. In the middle a rock stands, in the West of which boats can drop the anchor on a mixed rocks and sand ground, by 5m... we drop 20m chain and 5m cord but miss the sand patch with the anchor, that ends up laying on its side in the middle of rocks... well, it holds up to strong wind gusts nonetheless (and shall be surprisingly easy to get back up on the next day). After a period of suspicious watch and careful screening of the ground and landscape, we relax a bit: Saltimbanque is anchored off a beautiful beach, we have the whole island just for us!!

You could see that in the middle of the Far West

All ashore, the island is ours!!!
Getting ashore by dinghy can be tricky in the short breaking waves by the shore. If we have to get wet anyways, we prefer swimming. All to shore!!! It’s difficult to find the right words and describe the excitation, the thrill of exploring a desert island. The eyes are wide open and hungrily absorb all the shapes, colors, moves – the ears are filled by the songs of birds and crickets –the nostrils get familiar with new blends of unknown scents...
We don’t have to walk too far to live the adventure, collect big shells on the beach, smile at the sight of plants in the former fields growing again and turning back to their wilder state...

Saltimbanque is moored juste left from the sun
Back onboard we enjoy a shower on the deck without having to take care of curious neighbours watching, and a drink on our balcony, contemplating the last rays of light on our island. As for diner we have the fish of the day, half mackerel half tuna, with a thick red meat that tastes a bit bloody and tastes much better if you imagine it’s a juicy beefsteak. Life is not bad after all!
There are plenty of windgusts on the anchorage (happy we picked the right day with less wind to come) but not too much swell and we sleep OK.
27th novembre, Santa Luzia – Mindelo (23 miles)

Sailing off in the early morning
The alarm goes off before dawn as we want to be on time for the tide. The anchor is back on the deck and we start on the South coast towards the West when the first fish of the day bites (a sort of caranx). Well done Poulpi!
Turning by the point we are in the famous channel between Santa Luzia and Sao Vicente where strong windgusts against strong tidal stream raise a dreaded swell... Today actually the wind is not so strong (we measure 15 to 20 kts) and Saltimbanque bears just enough sail (2 reefs and a rolled up genoa). He climbs up the waves without a sproblem,the sweel is big but regular and long. Tidal streams are helpful too: at 2 to 3 knots faster, the channel is very soon over! No time to get bored anyways, as a second fish (a 50cm long mahi-mahi) bites again. We get it up in the cockpit, nicely laying on the ground under Laure’s feet: one foot at the head, the other at the tail, it can’t move and makes a very confortable footrest when you sit at the helm. No sooner is that one dead that another one bites, then a third... it turns into industrial fishing!
In the meanwhile the landscape is changing pretty quickly, getting out of Santa Luzia channel and into Santo Antão channel. Against a decreasing tidal stream and with the wind, the sea is flatter again. We have heard much about the wind acceleration between those islands and brace for the worst, the main sail down and ready to roll up the genoa... yet it doesn’t blow so hard in the end, and very progressively, so that we reach without a problem the bay of Mindelo, leaving the small island with the lighthouse on starboard. Many yachts are leaving the bay, hoisting their sails up, ready for the high seas... the bay is wide and easy to navigate. Behind the biggest jetty we recognize many boats anchored and join them. The anchor drops on 5m sand. Easy to find visual references here: the containers with the crane, the building with the street lamps... we’re back to the city! Anyways, the engine is not off yet that we are welcomed by the crew of SterVraz showing off in their dinghy powered by a brand new engine. It’s lunchtime, we sit in the shade on the deck, look around and relax: here we are, at the end of the diving board! Next step will by for a big jump... but for now we want to enjoy this last stop!
The lighthouse of a small rock marks the entrance to the bay

Approaching Sao Vicente by the North East
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