The island of Santiago is small enough that a person can make a round trip to any part of the island within one day. The island is pear-shaped, with Praia sitting at the base and Tarrafal sitting at the stem end of the fruit.
The drive straight through from Praia to Tarrafal, a drive of 42 miles through dozens of towns big and small, up, down and around the mountains, takes about two hours. The road stretching from Praia to Tarrafal is one lane in each direction. It is the main road on the island and is called strada principal.
Very few families in Cape Verde own a car; less than 10% would be my guess. I don’t know any families that have more than one car. Though the capital of Praia has a public bus system similar to what we know in the U.S., the public transportation system that most people use on a daily basis is made up of privately owned and operated vehicles that are regulated by the government. There are two types of vehicles that make up this transportation system – the Hilux and the Hiace.
Hiluxes are generally for short, local trips – anywhere from a quarter mile to about ten miles. They make repeated loops in an area, usually going between one fixed point and then going to another fixed point before turning around and coming back. Each hilux (pronounced ‘eelux’) is distinguishable from the dozens of others by the custom made tarps which combine various colors, designs and logos.
There are two hilux that I ride in several times per week and that cover the same route going from the chapel near our house to the local high school, about three miles each way. The cost of a one way trip of any distance along the three mile route is 30 Cape Verdean Escudos, about $0.40.
The Toyota Hiace is a 15 passenger mini van referred to simply as a ‘hiace’, pronounced ‘yaas’. The hiace is for longer trips, going between the biggest urban areas on the island. Most of these vans are white, silver, blue, red and green.
I most frequently take hiaces when I am going between our small town in the middle of Santiago and one of the bigger cities such as Praia, Assomada or Tarrafal. The cost of the trip is based on the distance you go. From our house to the capital of Praia, about a 45 – 60 minute trip depending on the number of stops, costs 150 CVE or about $2.
Other Vehicles Used for Public Transportation
There are some other types of vehicles used for public transportation. Taxi cabs are around, though mostly in the capital, Praia. There are other trucks that have been converted for passengers to ride in the back and some larger buses as well.
The Bolea: The Other Way We Get Around Santiago
The other major way that people get around is the free ride or bolea. If someone is going your direction and they have room, they will frequently let you hop in their car or truck. Many boleas are in the bed of a pickup truck.