Wednesday, April 13, 2011

My Trip to HAlfrica

Cape Verde is spectacular. We had an absolutely amazing and unforgettable trip. But, we weren’t in Africa. We were in HAlfrica. PCVs in Cape Verde even call if HAlfrica because Cape Verde is this amazing place where highways are actually paved and don’t have potholes, where cab drivers know where they’re going, where solar lights operate on pedestrian thoroughfares, where some PCVs have hot water, and where you can eat pizza and Chinese food and have it taste like pizza and Chinese food. If you haven’t gotten the drift yet, Cape Verde is awesome.

When I came to Senegal almost 20 months ago I thought that Africa was going to be a more run down, decrepit version of Eastern Europe. We all know how I felt about that surprise. Cape Verde is more along the lines of what I was expecting. It’s probably nicer than what I was expecting. A lot of colonial architecture has been preserved and a lot of houses and buildings are painted in beautiful colors, not to mention that they are kept in good condition. A lot of roads are paved and those roads that aren’t paved are beautiful old cobblestones that are completely intact and feel smoother riding over than almost any road in Senegal. The cars are beautiful and new and feature such car parts as; door handles, automatic windows, shocks, and dare I say it, air conditioning.

The most HAlfrica thing about Cape Verde is the people. Cape Verde is a Portuguese colony, a European and Brazilian vacation hot spot, and home to people from mainland Africa as well therefore; the people are a beautiful mixture, in appearance, language, and personality of all of these cultures. Just Cape Verdeans’ physical appearances blew us away. We would walk down the street and could instantly pick out the Senegalese immigrants. Senegalese people have very defined features since they for the most part marry other Senegalese people and there’s very little mixture with other nationalities, races etc. Cape Verdeans come in a range of sizes and colors that don’t exist in Senegal. They also dress in a much more Western and provocative way. Cape Verdean traditional dress is old school European and very few people wear traditional African clothes. Interacting with Cape Verdeans was a huge change. They seemed much more relaxed, less aggressive, more helpful… we never got harassed. It was a wonderful change and really set the mood for our entire vacation.

Cape Verde Day 1
Arriving in Cape Verde was lovely. The airport is tiny, customs non-existant, and beautiful/ new cabs waiting outside. We were all instantaneously impressed by the roads and just super excited as seen by this picture:

After checking into our really nice hotel, complete with hot water and air conditioning, we walked around Praia. Delicious sweet treats were purchased in the incredibly calm market, SIM cards bought from an incredibly friendly woman who spoke good English, and the brightly painted colonial architecture was admired. That night we found a Chinese restaurant, a PCV favorite, for dinner.

A PCV had called this place a "hole in the wall" and there's no doubt that it was. The restaurant was instantly recognizable as someplace only PCV tourists would go. It was awesome. The only problem was the Kriolu (local language of Cape Verde) and Chinese menu. We had been told that the fried noodles were really cheap and really good so we attempted to order them. We assumed they were the cheapest thing on the menu so when the owner came over to take our order we told him four plates by pointing to the cheapest thing on the menu. He gave us a weird look and held up four fingers before shaking his head and walking away. This probably should have been a clue. A few minutes later... he returned with a giant, heaping, pile of 40 fried wantons. The disgusting part about this story is that we almost finished them. For the rest of the meal we simply pointed at the food that the Chinese people were eating at the table next to us and things went much smoother.

Jackie and the owner of the restaurant who had just made a delivery on his moto, hence the helmet.

Cape Verde Day 2
My biggest fear is flying. I know it's completely irrational and that the liklihood I die in a fiery sept-place crash is infinitely higher, but I hate flying. I dislike flying in America and I dislike flying in Africa even more. I like my planes/ airlines to be brand names. So, the idea of taking a prop plane is akin to throwing myself off a cliff without a parachute. Apart from finishing PST, boarding the prop plane in Cape Verde on my own man power/ not having to be sedated, is my proudest moment of Peace Corps. This approximates how I felt about the situation:

I survived the plane ride from Praia, the capital of Cape Verde as well as the capital city of the island of Santiago, to Sao Filipe on the island of Fogo. It's literally a 30 minute plane ride and I hate every single second of it. Fortunately, a PCV named Josh who lives on Fogo was waiting at the airport for us and immediately took us to a local restaurant to try the national dish cachupa and the national alcohol grogue, I needed a little booze to calm the nerves. The food in Cape Verde is one thing that is definitely more African than European. While there are amazing restaurants, way better than you can find in Senegal, offering Italian, Spanish, and American fare, Cape Verdean cuisine is definitely African. Cachupa, the national dish, is corn, beans, and mashed up fish mixed together and usually served with an egg on top. I thought it was good, but wouldn't want to eat it every day, kind of life ceebu jenn.

Tamar and I eating cachupa for the first time in Sao Filipe on the island of Fogo.

With full stomachs, we went shopping for more food. Josh led us on a nice tour of Sao Filipe including the black sand beaches and the beautiful architecture before we hit up the main market to buy chili ingredients for our dinner. Food in hand we climbed into the back of a pick up truck heading up the mountain to a PCV house to meet another PCV, Rachel, and drop our stuff before heading to another site for dinner and to spend the night. At this point I need to explain the living situation for PCVs in Cape Verde. It's ridiculous. They either live with another PCV roommate or on their own in what I will call mansions. Everyone we met has a multiple room house to themselves with a full Western bathroom. We stayed with PCV Emma our first night in Fogo and her bathroom, featuring hot water, is literally bigger than the bungalow (there are pictures up so check them out). Since PCVs don't live with families that also means they cook for themselves and don't have to eat Cape Verdean food all of the time. They actually tried to get us to sample the various Senegalese restaurants on the island because they love the food. Needless to say we declined. Obviously the grass is always greener, but they have a pretty sweet set up.

Cape Verde Day 3
We spent the night with Emma and ate the left over chili we made for dinner before setting out for the reason we came to Fogo in the first place: the volcano.

Group shot with our lovely host Emma and our guide Josh.

Fogo is a volcanic island so the top is a giant crater. Inside this crater is another 6000 ft volcano and that's what we climbed. Before arriving in Cha, the city within the crater at the base of the second volcano, we had big transportation issues, as in there were no cars. We ended up having to rent a car and although we all enjoyed the beautifully scenic ride up the mountain to Cha, we arrived much later in the day than we had anticipated. In Cha we stayed with a Cape Verdean family who rents out rooms to visitors. They were extremely gracious and gave us fresh cheese and wine, both of which they make themselves, when we arrived. We pretty much threw our bags in the rooms and got ready to hike the volcano, but only after we picked up some water and a couple of bags of Cheetos at the local store.

You wish you looked this good in over-sized pants and tennis shoes eating Cheetos.

Hiking a volcano is totally badass if I do say so myself. It's also really freaking hard as there's only a "path" to follow. Fortunately we hired a guide who was from Cha and obviously half mountain goat as he bounded up the volcano without pause and without shortness of breath as the rest of us huffed and puffed our way to the top. It was an absolutely spectacular climb. The ascent starts out as a hike up the base of the volcano then becomes sandier with ash and other volcanic debris before becoming rocky, and then finally an almost vertical climb to the summit. It took us several hours but we all made it and reveled in our accomplishment and the view.

The four girls at the top.

The hike down from the volcano is the fun part. The hike up may take four hours, but getting down is a breeze once you get off the summit. Most of the way down you just run/ fall/ tumble through all of the volcanic ash/ debris that's accumulated. It's awesome and you get really, really, really dirty.

The white dust trail is following someone running down the volcano.

Since we got a lot start, we ended up doing the several mile hike from the base of the volcano into town in the dark. Fortunately our guide, Nene, was amazing and we had a delicious meal at a French owned campament afterward. Only when we sat down to eat did I discover that the pockets of my pants were completely full of rocks and ash. Not until midnight did we collapse into our beds in the Cape Verdean house we rented.

Cape Verde Day 4
A slight ankle sprain and complete exhaustion kept us from our planned day long hike, but we did still have to wake up only a few hours after we went to bed and head back to Sao Filipe. Early morning is the only time that public transit cars leave Cha so we had no choice but to get up and then try and catch a few more minutes of sleep will swaying in the back of a pick-up truck.

A hotel room provided us with a much needed shower as we were all too cold and tired to take a shower the night we hiked the volcano. We just went to sleep covered in soot, rocks, and sweat. After a hot shower and a power nap we ate a last lunch with Josh at KC's. KC's serves very good grilled chicken as well as traditional, American Phili Cheese Steaks. More Cape Verdeans actually live outside of Cape Verde than live in the country itself and the largest population of Cape Verdeans outside of the country live in Boston. Therefore, you can walk around Cape Verde and hear extremely thick Boston accents. A lot of people sound more American than I do with my MidWestern twang! KC is one of those people who lived in the States for years before coming back to Cape Verde.

The crew at KC's.

We had a quiet night and a delicious pizza dinner before turning in early to prepare ourselves for the prop plane flight back to Praia and Jackie's birthday celebration.

Cape Verde Day 5
Landing safely back in Praia on the island of Santiago we celebrated with another, although less successful, trip to the amazing Chinese restaurant followed by a trip to the bakery and then power naps was Jackie's 26 birthday!!! Happy Birthday Jackie!!!

The celebration started in our hotel room and continued to a fabulous dinner, followed by some drinks and a rendez vous with other PCVs at "The Serpent's Venom" and finally a ridiculous club called The Cockpit, which I originally thought was an illusion to cock fighting, but which is really just lamely decorated like the cockpit of a plane as seen here:

To say it was a fantastic time would be an understatement. Jackie and I especially took The Cockpit by storm and took over the stage (by ourselves) for several hours.

Jackie and I breaking it down.

Cape Verde Day 6
After waking up less than four hours since leaving The Cockpit, we ate breakfast and then boarded public transportation for Tarrafall an absolutely beautiful coastal city two hours away across the island. I slept most of the way there and missed the scenery, but I caught it on the way back.

In Tarrafall we randomly went to the restaurant where the Tarrafall PCV was having lunch. He led us on a brief tour of town and on a wonderful walk to a cave absolutely full of shells which also featured an amazing view of other secluded beaches. The day was definitely worth the fairly miserable car ride.

Jackie, me, Tamar and Erin in Tarrafall.

Back in Praia for the night we moved from the hotel to John's house, our incredibly gracious PCV host in Praia who took us to a fabulous pizza restaurant before the four of us literally passed out due to exhaustion.

Cape Verde Day 7
Jackie left early in the morning for another island in Cape Verde to visit other PCVs we met during WAIST, but Tamar, Erin, and I stayed in Praia in anticipation of our return to Dakar. We spent the day visiting the old capital of the island Cidade Velha, which was abandoned because it kept getting attacked by pirates. Gotta love pirates. We saw the old fort and walked around town before heading back to Praia and eating for the rest of the day!

Erin, me, and Tamar at a monument commemorating explorers in Cidade Velha.

The trip to Cape Verde was amazing, our PCV hosts fantastic and welcoming, and the adventure with my friends unforgettable!

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like "Halfrica" provided provided you with a very full trip Yuk! Yuk!