A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about cape verde

The Case Against Flying

Because shooting through the air in a metal case is boring and only add cultural shock to your adventure.

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dont-fly.jpg

I think that I’ve mentioned it a few times already: I consider flying as cheating. So, since I’ve just returned to the African mainland – by plane – after a few weeks on Cape Verde, I should probably explain myself. It’s not that I don’t like the act of flying or is afraid of it; I rather like it. But when it comes to travelling I find it... aesthetically and essentially (for lack of better words) wrong.

Travelling is, to me, essentially a matter of experiences. Whether these are cultural, historical, natural or something entirely else. Flights are not. Flying is the complete opposite. It’s humanity’s most efficient mean of transportation. Planes are inherently time machines, moving people in time and space. The time travel is most evident when we’re flying across time zones.

Cultural Adjustment Curve

Cultural Adjustment Curve

That is, however, not why I dislike flying. (I really want a real time machine!). It’s the travel in space that I mind. Step into that metal cylinder we call a plane in one part of the world, a few hours later we step out somewhere completely different. The problem is that the world doesn’t work like that. The stark difference we feel when flying from, say, Europe or North America to Africa or Asia isn’t real. Sure, it’s real for those people taking the flight, and many of them will probably experience what we call ‘cultural shock’ once they arrive. Simply because the transformation in space is so sudden that it takes some time to get adapt to.

Flamingo in Andalusia

Flamingo in Andalusia

This experience of cultural shock is easily avoided by not flying. Things on the ground change gradually. Consider my trip. Had I just flow from Copenhagen to Dakar (where I am now) it would have been a significant change. Instead, I’ve passed through a number of ‘cultural belts’. The first being Andalusia in Southern Spain. It’s Spanish and European, but having historically also been part of Islamic empires it probably has more in common with Morocco than with (secular, Scandinavian) Denmark. Another transition happened as I moved from to the very conservative and Middle Eastern-ish Mauritania or more open-minded and Sub-Saharan Senegal. Both Islamic countries, the area around the Senegal River, which marks the border, is less conservative than most of the rest of Mauritania on the northern side, but more conservative than the rest of Senegal on the southern. Travelling over land has eased transformation from Scandinavia to Africa in a way that would be impossible by flying.

Overland Travel

Overland Travel

Cultural Shock is basically a lack of understanding about how a given culture works and how it is different from the one you're used to. People and cultures are different too. But travelling over land gives a distinct feeling for where people and cultures are different and where they aren’t. It provides a better understand of who you’re visiting. By experiencing the transformations from Northern to Southern Europe, from southern Europe to North Africa and from North Africa to Sub-Saharan West Africa I have gotten a much better understanding of how people across these regions are similar and different.

Walk if you have to

Walk if you have to

However you go about your non-flying (driving, biking, taking the train, hitch, sail or purchasing a donkey cart) it will give you many more experiences, make you infinitely richer on adventures and be a lot more fun than just flying. As flying is essentially a somewhat tedious affair (unless you’re afraid of it, and they you should avoid it anyway).

Fine, if you’re crossing oceans, are in a hurry (say, on an extended weekend) or if your purpose is not to experience anything, but just to lazy about on a beach, go ahead. Jump on that plane. But the next time you’re taking a two-week vacation somewhere, snub the aeroplane, extend your vacation to three weeks and use that extra week on getting to and from your destinations properly, visiting the fascinating towns, sights and people between your home and wherever you’re going! Especially, if you’re travelling within Europe where distances are incredibly short.

Fogo Island (Aldo Bien, Wiki Commons)

Fogo Island (Aldo Bien, Wiki Commons)

The biggest problem these days are that aeroplane tickets are so damn cheap. Ignore that. Travelling shouldn’t be about saving money. Go the adventures route instead! If you have any sense of adventurous or travelling spirit, it’ll thank you for it (and so will the environment).

So why did I fly to Cape Verde then? It simply was the only mean of transportation. There aren’t any ships from the African mainland. Container ships travel directly there directly from Europe and the private yachts set sail almost exclusively from the Canaries. If I wanted to visit the Verdes, flying was – unfortunately – my only option.

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Posted by askgudmundsen 06:45 Archived in Cape Verde Tagged flying culture no north africa transportation europe andalusia travelling experience non cape_verde cultural_shock Comments (0)

In a Volcano's Shadow

The experience of climbing the volcano was dwarfed by the hardship of a village that had been all but buried in a recent eruption.

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It came as a complete shock. No-one had told me. Sure, they had explained that the price of the minibus had more than doubled because a recent eruption had taken out the road, but that as the only mention of an eruption that I've heard of. Maybe they feared I wouldn’t go up there if I knew that most of the village that used to house more than a thousand people had also been levelled by the lava flow.

Pico de Fogo

Pico de Fogo

I’d taken the ferry from the main island of Santiago to the smaller Fogo – fittingly meaning ‘fire’ – to climb Pico de Fogo. A perfectly cone-shaped volcano, peaking out at 2829 metres above sea-level, making its summit Cape Verde’s highest point. It had last erupted in 1995. Or so I thought. An eruption in late 2014 meant that the villagers were evacuated for three months while the lava cooled. Vulcanologists are constantly keeping an eye on the volcano’s activities, and everybody was evacuated in due time, leaving only material damage behind as the result of the volcano’s rage. Thank science.

The Pico is hidden from the coast by an enormous collapsed crater (or caldera). 75.000 years ago the eastern half the caldera rim collapsed into the sea, leaving a semi-circle mountain range, more than eight kilometres long.

Welcome to the Moon

Welcome to the Moon

This half-bowl effectively makes the Pico a volcano inside a volcano. Inside the bowl, between the rim and the Pico lies Chã das Caldeiras (or the “Field of Boilers”). This 'field' is home to the village, plenty of wineries and a black lava landscape that looks like it’s been transferred here straight from the moon. Of this ‘moonscape’ one guidebook has written: “nothing can quite prepare you for the strange thrill of witnessing it for the first time.”

Lava-struck house

Lava-struck house

That can definitely be said of witnessing a village swallowed by a volcano for the first time too. The minibus driver did a good job explaining where the road had been taken out, probably to ensure me that the doubling of the price wasn’t a ‘tourist price’. Driving along the edge of the solidified lava, we came to a hut where the lava had, almost comically, reached the walls of the small house and then decided to stop – thus sparing the house.

Although it was nearly two years ago, many of the people living here have yet to return. The reason was rather apparent when I arrived where the village used to be… or rather, where the village still is.

The village's main street

The village's main street

Most of the raw concrete walls that the houses are made with were able to withstand the lava. Instead, the houses have simply been buried, with only the flat roofs visible. Houses on the edge of the flow are being dug out. But it is hard manual labour cutting through the volcanic rocks. The main street was completely swallowed, and it seems impossible that these houses will ever see their former inhabitants return. To me, it seems, these people will have to start over and build new lives elsewhere on the island.

Others were luckier. Like the house I passed when I entered, the community centre was only partly covered. Likewise, a few private homes.

Lava dining deco

Lava dining deco

One of which was the homestay that sheltered me during my nights here. It used to be a bar-restaurant, but the lava had made its way into the bar and dining areas. Volcanic rock still occupies one of the rooms and functions as an equally tragic and rather bad-ass deco in the spared dining room. Had this only been a more popular tourist destination, would they have made a fortune as ‘The Lava Restaurant’ or something similar. Unfortunately, this is one of the lesser visited Cape Verdean islands.

I made sure to use the bar, though. However, sitting on my host’s flat roof, reading and drinking rosé, while locals were still digging out the neighbouring house, inevitably recalled images of tourists sunning themselves between the rubble after the 2004 Asian tsunami.

Volcanic rock covering the valley

Volcanic rock covering the valley

There wasn’t much I could do to help. Nothing else than spending my money, helping the community with some hard needed cash. So that’s what I did. I took a guide for the climb, which I probably wouldn’t have done otherwise. I stayed in the homestay and didn’t haggle about the price, which I probably would have done otherwise. And I bought an extra bottle of the locally produced wine from the community store, which I might have done anyway. This time, I made sure to enjoy it inside the house.

The climb itself started early morning in the volcano’s shadow, with the sun rising behind it. It was a rather steep two-and-a-half hour scramble to the top. Not technical, but clumsiness was better left at the foot. Something I found out not more than twenty metres from the summit when I gripped and pulled on a loose boulder, the size of a large fridge.

Running down

Running down

I had to jump out of the way not to be crushed as it tumbled down the mountainside. The view from the top was stunning, though still rather depressing with the roofs of the village still clearly visible. That, however, was forgotten quickly as we made our way down. My guide, Safé, taking the lead, the decent was mainly a matter of letting gravity doing what it does best. In the best one-leg-in-front-of-the-other-or-you-will-start-rolling, we were able to spring down the mountainside in a cloud of dust and volcanic ash. So fine was the gravel that we could probably have skied down.

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Posted by askgudmundsen 05:46 Archived in Cape Verde Tagged travel volcano village climbing climb pico destroyed 2014 1995 cape_verde foco eruption caldeiras Comments (1)

When Travel doesn’t Go According to Plan

It’s impossible to plan your way our of everything – or to have all your plans go accordingly. This is especially true in West Africa - sometimes you just have to improvise and luck out.

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I (try to) plan too much

I (try to) plan too much

It’s three o’clock in the morning, and I have just arrived in Praia’s (Cape Verde’s capital) small international airport. The airport’s only cash machine is out of money, the one exchange bureau is closed, the Wi-Fi doesn’t work, the only café doesn’t take international credit cards, and I can’t check in to my hostel before 10 o’clock. Like at home, things doesn’t always go my way when travelling. To be honest, since travellers, by definition, are new to most places we show up in, have no idea about local arrangements and often don’t speak the languish, our plans probably goes wrong more often than others’. So to give you a little idea about how that turns out here’s a small buffet from the last few days were things haven’t gone as smooth as I’d liked them to go.

Ariving to Podor by Pirogue

Ariving to Podor by Pirogue

Crossing from Mauritania to Senegal – as with any border crossing – hustlers tend to be around en masse to offer you a dreadful rate for any money you would like to change. I figured I’d avoid them and change my money somewhere else. On the Mauritanian side of the Senegal River, that constitutes the border, was nothing but a small village. On the Senegal side, the provincial capital of Podor seemed like the more promising place to find a proper place to change. This assessment quickly turned out to be wrong. Nobody in Podor wanted Mauritanian money, and if anyone offered to change it would be at rate 1.5 – not the official 1.8 rate. The difference would cost me around 15 Euro, which given that there was no bank in town would mean that I wouldn’t have enough money to get all the way to Dakar. As it was late, I seriously began to consider whether I would have to walk out of town to pitch my tent for the night, as I couldn’t pay my hotel room.

Hotel had a frog-problem

Hotel had a frog-problem

The only thing I had going for me, was that a local student had befriended me. He knew the manager of the hotel I wanted to stay in, and he somehow convinced (the drunk) the manager to let me postpone the payment of the first night, so I had a chance to return to Mauritania the next day and try changing my money in the village. I just needed to give him my passport as a guarantee. Fine. Or at least that was all right until I went down to the river the next day, where the pirogues did the crossing. Since I needed to leave Senegal, the border police wanted my passport. Somehow, I managed to explain the situation to them in some broken French, pointing out that without my passport I wouldn’t be allowed to stay in Mauritania anyway. I simply had to come back. Leaving my “national ID” (read: my driver’s license) with the border police as a guarantee for my return, I was allowed to cross. On the Mauritanian shore, the border official on duty insisted that he handled the change of my money. Always a bit worried about African officials and money, I had no choice. My lack of trust, however, was put thoroughly to shame. The official made the change with some local Senegalese boys who had crossed with me and insisted on what was essential a fair rate for both parties. When I didn’t have the last few cents to complete the transfer at the correct rate, he even paid for it himself to make everything work out! So while it was some extra hassle to correct my initial blunder of not changing the Mauritania money before I left the country, everything worked out eventually.

Eventually I made it

Eventually I made it

And things often end up working out for me. Stupid, but lucky, remember? Leaving Podor, I had 18 hours to make the 400 km to Dakar to catch a flight to Cape Verde. Something that might or might not be possible in West Africa depending on where you are. Here in Senegal, it should be possible as half of the distance was between Dakar and Senegal’s second city, Saint Louis. In other words, there is plenty of traffic and good roads. Getting out of Podor quickly became an issue, through. I’d checked at the bus station the day before if there was a vehicle to Saint Louis this morning. “Yes, yes, it leaves at 7.” Okay. So I was at the bus station a little past six, just in case – only to get the message that there was no car to Saint Louis. Sigh… Instead, I could take another car 20 km to a crossroad, from where there would be onward transport to Saint Louis. Of course, there wasn’t. There was, however, a car to the city at the halfway point. T.I.A. (This Is Africa). I was running out of money too, so all I got for breakfast/lunch was a few biscuits; I only did not dare to spend any money on food as long as there was unpaid transport ahead of me – and taking it in small steps are more expensive than making it in one long stretch. But I lucked out again. At the halfway town a car going directly to Dakar just needed two more passengers. Conveniently, I was one such passenger, and suddenly I had made it to the airport in Dakar in just under 10 hours. A complete success; so much so that I now had an eight-hour wait at the airport – at least here were food!

Praia means 'beach' - fooled again

Praia means 'beach' - fooled again

Which then brings us back to this post’s introduction: arriving on Cape Verde in the middle of the night without any usable currency (again) and a hostel I couldn’t check in to. As any sensible idiot would have done, I decide to postpone all these problems a few hours. The airport benches were luckily not those with armrests between each seat, so I was able to get some sleep without the humiliation of lying on the floor in a corner of the entrance hall.
The situation hadn’t improved when I woke a few hours later. Still no money in the machine, still no clerk in the changing booth, and thus still no food. However, Cape Verde is a small place, so the airport is just 5 km outside the town. Figured I could walk that – maybe someone would even pick me up… and voilà, a minibus stopped for me almost instantly. Once inside I explained I needed to get to a bank to get out money before I was able to pay for the ride. This was not a problem, so we happily drove into town. To my surprise, we stopped just a kilometre short of the city centre where everybody was transferred to another minibus. Here the driver didn’t really get my rather poor effort to explain in Portuguese, that I didn’t have any money. Instead, he just figured that my destination was a bank; he then proceeds to drop me off at such a building in the centre. Here he, to my bewilderment, just drove off without any further explanation. Somehow I’d managed to get into town, with two bus rides without having to pay anything. I took out some money, found the location of my hostel in a nearby café that had both breakfast and Wi-Fi, and went to check myself in.

Eventually I could enjoy, Praia

Eventually I could enjoy, Praia

What I’m trying to get at with these examples is first that travelling in Africa rarely works out as planned. Secondly, that if you have a little flair (and are willing to overnight in airports), everything usually works out just fine in the end. Somehow. And while every day isn’t as chaotic as those three described above, the examples are plenty and could probably fill out a whole blog if I was to record them all.

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Posted by askgudmundsen 03:51 Archived in Cape Verde Tagged travel airport praia planning dakar corruption mauritania senegal podor cape_verde Comments (0)

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