As the ancient 757 plopped down on the runway, the passengers erupted in thunderous applause, as if they were expecting a different outcome. I was amazed that I could go from Brasil to Africa, in just three and a half hours; albeit a turbulent trip.
In fact, it was this new route that inspired me to get to the continent of Africa in the first place, or at least moved it up in the line of places to visit. I planned on saving Africa for later, but now it was just too convenient not to go.
The flight was a short hop, from Brasil’s most eastern point, Recife, Pernambuco; to Africa’s most western: Cabo Verde. Those who know me are aware of my love affair with Recife. I ended up moving there at 30. I still have a little seaside apartment in Recife, so this whole trip just made sense: I could check on my place, see some old friends, then continue on to my African journey.
Cabo Verde was the first of 13 new countries for me on this 18-day trip into Africa. And though I was I nervous about going deep into the continent–to countries like Mali, Burkina Faso, Mauritania and even Libya–Cabo Verde felt like “Africa Light” and was akin to dipping my toe into the water, before venturing into the deep end.
In fact, Cabo Verde made me feel as if I’d never even left Brasil. It was if Brasil and Africa had made a child, with Portugal being the grandparents of course.
Settled by the Portuguese in 1462, with its independence gained in 1975, the country is made up of a handful of islands. I arrived in the capital, Praia, on the island of Santiago.
A Place Called The Plateau is Where Everybody Go
After a quick nap at my very modest hotel, it was off to explore the neighborhood. I’d unknowingly booked my lodging at the best spot possible.
Situated on a pedestrian walkway, the Boutique Praia Maria seemed to be in the heart of all the action. We were on top of an elevated area, appropriately named “The Plateau.” As an avid Fresh Prince fan, I now had Summertime stuck in my head: The place called The Plateau is where everybody go…girls out frontin’ and guys doin’ likewise, honkin’ at the honey in front with the light eyes…she turn around to see what you beepin’ at…it’s like the summer’s a natural aphrodisiac. Ugh…it stayed in my head from that point on. Thanks Will Smith.
Located in the center of Praia, The Plateau is the historic part of the city, featuring historic buildings and the busiest squares, the city hall, the presidential palace, the justice palace and numerous ministry buildings.
I started my day with stroll down Rua Pedonal to take in the sights. I ate a chicken crêpe at the park, wandered into the cutest children’s carnival, and marveled at the countless historic buildings on each side of me.
As I reached the edge of The Plateau, I gained access to a marvelous view of the sea and the city; and spotted a soccer game going on at the stadium below. I found some stairs, descended into the bowels of Praia and made my way over to the stadium like a local. I bought an ingresso and watched the match til it was almost dark, then headed back to The Plateau for the night.
After resting a bit more (I’d been up for two days), I staggered out of my hotel to find a snack before bedtime and ended up running into the Brasilian couple that I’d made friends with on the flight here. They insisted I join them for dinner and a show, and I accepted.
What an awesome treat to dine at the Quintal Da Música. This traditional supper club offered so many awesome Cape Verdean dishes. I chose the Cachupa: the country’s national dish; it’s a slow cooked stew of corn, beans, cassava, sweet potato, and beef. It reminded me of Brasilian feijoada.
But the best part was the music. We enjoyed hours of music from this super dope jazz quartet. Apparently Cabo Verde is serious about their music. The vibe was amazing and I witnessed a couple guest singers pop up on stage and belt out some beauties.
Shake it Like a Sal Shaker
The next day I awoke for a morning flight to the island of Sal. It had been windy since my arrival, but this morning the wind was howling something fierce. I actually had second thoughts about flying this morning, but the ticket was already paid for, so I manned up and got myself to the airport, onto the plane, and over to Sal.
Sal had a completely different vibe than Praia. This was the island set up for tourists. Even the airport, though on a smaller island, was three or four times as big and much more modern than Praia’s, which was interesting being Praia is the capital.
As the taxista delivered me into the neighborhood of Santa Maria, I saw tons of Europeans in shorts and flip-flops roaming the streets. It quickly became apparent that this was the place the Europeans vacationed.
Though I normally detest being at the main tourist spots, the quaintness of Santa Maria impressed me, and in all honestly, seeing so many Europeans naturally put my mind at ease. I’m never one to be afraid of being the only Gringo in sight, and anyone who’s followed my travels know this…but Africa was different. Being without a guide somewhere so new and different played on my nerves a little. So seeing that there were plenty of tourists let me know that I’d be okay here. And I was. Santa Maria was so darn tranquil and chill; just a cool place to kick back and explore. I wish I had a week there.
A Sucker is Born Every Minute—and This Minute Belonged to Me
I had read how aggressive the merchants were in Senegal so I’d have my guard up there. But I didn’t realize so many Senegalese lived and worked in Sal! I made the rookie mistake of chatting with a local who insisted I visit his mom’s store at the local market, which, according to him, was only open today! How could I miss this opportunity, I thought There are 365 days in a year, and just my luck that this special market had picked today, to be open!!! What a chump I was.
Dude escorted me for the five-minute walk to the shops and it was during this walk I realized I’d be on the hook for buying something from his mother. They had a large selection of beautiful hand-carved wooded statues and the guy handed me a basket to “start shopping.” I asked how much for three smaller items and when he told me $150, I knew I wasn’t in Tijuana anymore. I told him that the price was way more than I even had, and then he did the worst thing imaginable: told me to give him a price I thought the statues were worth, which I politely refused. At the end of the day, I think I paid about $100 for the three carvings, which wasn’t a lot of money for the lesson learned; now I’d take Senegal really seriously. I insisted on a photo with his adorable mom before I left, and after the pic, even she tried shaking me down for another purchase. I got outta there as soon as I could and didn’t look back!
I was only in Sal for the day—that’s the way the flights worked out—I wasn’t even spending the night. So to maximize my time here I decided to book a private island tour from one of the kiosks on the beach. I’d soon learn there was so much more to Sal than Santa Maria.
My driver was Moises Paris and he was a cool dude. He showed me around the entire island, including various neighborhoods, an old salt mine, the old port, and up a mountain for a view of it all. We spent a good three and a half-hours together and I enjoyed every moment. As usual, I enjoyed the touristy points of interest, but found peering in on everyday life inside the local neighborhoods like Palmeiras and Espargos the most interesting. The tour around the island was very relaxing. The weather was perfect.
After Moises dropped me off in Santa Maria, I grabbed dinner at a little joint on the beach and enjoyed spaghetti while listening to the waves crash. I walked around the neighborhood for a bit. Sal is such a chill place. Heard some live music being played in an alleyway and kids playing in the square.
My 8:35PM flight back to Praia turned into an 11:15PM departure and I was back to The Plateau around midnight. But this time it was different. The road up the hill was blocked by police officers and my taxista had to negotiate our entry. But nothing sinister was happening; only the biggest party of the year: Noite de Branco.
Noite de Branco is an annual festival celebrating love and relationships, and you probably guessed right: everyone arrives wearing all white.
The streets were packed like Carnaval or Mardi Gras and it was a little bit of work fighting my way through the crowds to get back to my hotel. I passed a big stage where a concert was going on and weeved through a collage of booths selling suds. I took a picture of a guy in a stand serving some type of clear, green drink. When I asked a lady near the booth what it was, I didn’t understand her answer, but I did comprehend that she wanted me to buy her one. I passed and moved on.
Crêpe Verde: Saving My Crêpe from Terrorism
Though I already had dinner, that was in fact the only meal I had all day, and my stomach was quick to remind me it needed more before bed. I wanted to sleep in for the first time during the trip and knew I’d have a better chance with a full belly; so when I arrived at The Praia Maria, I ditched my bags and headed out onto to the streets to scrounge for food. It was no easy task.
I absolutely detest crowds. When people find out I go to Brasil often, then usually ask if I go to Carnaval. I always tell them never, and that’s the very last thing I’d ever want to do. Carnaval, Mardi Gras, Coachella…all of it, I’ll pass. Sometimes I feel like an 80-year-old trapped in the body of a 40-year-old, but I just don’t like being around chaos. I hate the feeling of not being able to move, and detest having to wait in line 30 minutes for a beer. I think it’s also the fact that I’ve been working in radio since I was 15. I’ve attended hundreds of concerts and festivals over the years, and usually I’m the one hosting them: on stage, presenting the bands, eating the catered meals and being treated like a V.I.P…and even getting paid for it! Being on my feet, mushed up in a sea of people for hours on end, while I spend my money just isn’t my thing.
I was able to wiggle and wag my way into the closest restaurant where I saw they were making crêpes. Jackpot! Except ordering it would be no easy task, and between the noise, the fact the waitresses where overwhelmed with too many patrons, and my inability to understand even how to order food here; it took me about 15 minutes just to confirm the order and another 45 minutes to actually receive my crepes. I was getting angry and more irritated by the second. Hangry, I believe is the correct term. As the quarter-hours rolled by, and I saw crêpe upon crêpe being made and delivered, I assumed they forgot about me. Finally, when my waitress saw me sitting there scowling, I think she reminded the crêpe lady that mine were well overdue. Had this been America, Europe, or even South America, I would’ve complained. But I was in Africa. I had to keep cool no matter how hungry I was.
Finally, they came! One meat (ham, tomato, oregano) and one sweet (I ordered banana but they brought me lemon). I dove right into crepe number one as I observed the steady flow of hundreds of Cape Verdeans marching through the street, music blaring, people dancing. It was noisy, festive, and fun. I could actually open up and enjoy it a little, now that my hunger was being tamed. People at the tables around me had big, clear, plastic self-serve towers of beer. One table was enjoying flavored hookah. Another featured a guy passed out at the head of the table while his friends partied on.
I had just taken my third bite of this delicious crepe, when it happened. Something I’d imagined and dreaded a hundred times. A gun shot sounded and in a split second a wave of people were running in my direction, people were shouting, chairs were being knocked over, and silverware clanging down on the pavement. An entire sea of people were stampeding to flee danger.
Is this how it ends, I thought. Seriously, in the very first African country??? I had 13 planned, and I’m gonna die in the first one???
It only took a quarter of a second for me too, to bolt. I bee-lined it right into the restaurant to take cover and shield myself from whatever madness was ensuing. Luckily, it only took about a minute or two for things to simmer down. The crowd dissipated, it got quiet, and whatever happened was over with. I wasn’t sure what exaxtly had just went down, but no one was on the ground bleeding, no one crying or screaming. It was over. Maybe it was a firecracker? I’ll never know. But I remember being happy everyone was okay, and kinda proud of myself for how quickly I moved. Man, I was quick! Although, when I looked down I noticed that I was holding my plate in my hand. Shots fired and I had fled from the suspected terrorist threat, plate and crêpe in-hand! I don’t know if that’s pure skill and ninja-instinct or foolishness. All I knew was, gunfire or not, I wasn’t gonna let my crêpe fall to the ground. I worked too hard and waited too long for that tasty treasure.
I clutched my crêpes and took them to go. I’d finish them in my room; I’d had enough fun for one night.
Bye Bye Verde
I slept long and deep. I needed it. I awoke at 11AM with just enough time to grab breakfast (you guessed it, another crêpe, this time sans-gunfire) and pack up my things. I hired a cab to take me to the airport, but first a stop at Cidade Velha (Old City), the first place the Português settled in the country back in 1462. I fought off the Senegalese vendors before wandering down a couple cobblestone streets and admiring the old buildings. After Cidade Velha, we stopped by the Fort Real de São Filipe where I took a selfie with a goat and checked out some awesome views. Then it was back to the airport to head to African country number two: Senegal.
Cabo Verde was fantastic. The Português influence was magnificent and the people were chill. There’s not much crime and felt pretty safe the whole time. I absolutely loved being able to converse freely and easily in the local language (Português). I’d never of thought I could visit Africa and speak the local tongue with such ease, it was kinda neat!
Soon I’d be in the mainland, and I was thankful to have a country like Cabo Verde to help me “ease in” to Africa. I’m not gonna front, I was nervous about Africa, and Cabo Verde was a nice way to get in. It’d get a lot more crazier, very soon.
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