Santo Antao’s most famous attraction is Ribeira de Paúl, and that’s where we headed the next day. From our lodgings at the top of the mountain, we descended through an extinct volcanic crater (yessss!), hopped over the other side to the head of the valley, and then began the steep descent into Paúl.
This valley is the greenest we saw on Santo Antão. It has a permanent stream, and the valley is broad and full of cultivation. Of course, this being Santo Antão it’s still ridiculously steep and all the farmland is situated on terraces. Irrigation canals are built into the cliffs all around the valley, and we saw water moving all around as we hiked. It seems like every available inch of land is terraced, with kana (sugarcane) being the most popular crop. The kana is used to make the grogu (rum) that (in addition to scenery) makes Paúl famous.
Our path switched back and forth down the valley until we met with the road (also cobblestone, but made for vehicles). From there, the road was much less steep, and it was a short walk to the very famous ‘Grogue and Cheese Place’ for some… grogue and cheese of course! Delicious, but overrated. We got to see the cheese curing under hoop screens out back. We continued on to our hotel, which was nestled near the valley bottom, up a ways along a steep footpath on the opposite side. The hotel was a collection of little houses, each with its own patio. Ours was sheltered by banana trees and it was a great place to sit and enjoy the late afternoon breeze. Banana trees make a very nice, calm sound in the wind.
The next day we did a second hike in Paúl. This one was far better than the previous day’s descent along the road because this trail led through the agricultural fields. We got to see the terraces up close and we passed by people in the midst of the day’s work cutting, pressing or carrying kana, or irrigating fields. Our hike led up to a small peak right in the midst of the valley (which may have been Santo Antão’s Pico d’ Antonia, although I’m not sure). From there we got a view of all the terrain we had traversed in the past two days. From there we descended again to the road and caught a car to the beach at Praia da Curraletes, a ways south along the coast. We were the only souls on the beach… until some goats showed up to snack on the sand. We took a few refreshing dips and then headed back home for showers, cold beers, and dinner.
Our hike up from Bocas das Ambas Ribeiras was just a warm-up for the next hike, up Ribeira da Torre. This valley is intense! There’s not much to say about the route except that it was steep and unshaded. But spectacular. Again, the trail was a cobblestone path (although it turned into a stairwell carved into the bedrock when we got closer to the top of the valley). The trail passed through some small villages along the way, right past the front doors of the houses. Once or twice we passed under the shade of someone’s garden of banana trees, until we passed the final village and began the steepest part of the track. We climbed higher and higher until we could see over the ridges clear to the ocean in all directions. The sun was brutal, but I’m glad it was such a clear day because the view of the water was gorgeous.
At the top of the mountain, we crossed suddenly into the planaltu, which was reforested about ten years ago. From hot sun and bare rock we crossed abruptly into shady and wonderful-smelling pine forest. That night and the next we were to be hosted by fellow volunteers Scott and Melissa, so we found their house, relaxed, ate lunch, played cards, and explored while we waited for them to get home.
The next day our hosts showed us around their stomping grounds, this time the zone at the top of the mountain. We walked around the southern side, which overlooks the port town of Porto Novo (where the ferry comes in) and the island of Sao Vicente. This area had much more subdued terrain than the ribeiras, with rolling hills and shallow canyons along the seasonal riverbeds. This is an area where people pasture their animals, and we met a little baby burro. Very cute.
The next day of vacation we caught the 8 am ferry to Santo Antão. This gave us plenty of time to take a car from the port to the northern end of the island, where we stopped at the city of Porto do Sol. That day we didn’t do much—just watched the fishermen bring in the day’s catch, strolled around the town, and watched the sunset.
The following day we planned to do one of the island’s best hikes, which follows the coast from the town of Chã de Igreja to Ponto do Sol. We were a little lax about arranging transportation so we ended up taking what we could find, which meant starting inland, in the valley town of Bocas das Ambas Ribeiras (Mouth of Both Valleys). This meant we needed to clumb up and over a towering ridgeline to reach our planned start point. I’m glad we did, because the climb and descent were beautiful. It was our first glimpse of the topography for which Santo Antão is known: nearly vertical valleys and sharp knife-edge ridges.
Upon reaching the coast the trail became a wide cobblestone path… big enough for two passing burros, but not suitable for vehicles. The trail rolled along, climbing and dipping as it wound along the headlands. In the town of Furminginhas we found a little patio bar overlooking the ocean, where the dona (woman of the house) made us a heaping bowl of pasta, to order. We continued on through the towns of Corva and Fontainhas, which were nestled in the ribeiras (valleys) and were therefore cooler and greener than the more exposed coast. Luckily, we found a ride back to Ponta do Sol just as the sun started to get low in the sky. We got back no later than expected despite the extra mileage at the start and caught our second sunset from the hotel rooftop.
Last week Adam and I took our first trip off-island and visited the islands of Sao Vicente and Santo Antão. It was fantastic. Santo Antão was our real destination, but since it doesn’t have an airport, you must take the ferry from Sao Vicente. This worked out well for us, as there are several volunteers in Mindelo, the urban center of Sao Vicente, and this gave us a chance to stop and see them.
We stayed with Drew and Rory, who were kind enough to show us all around Mindelo. In the morning Drew walked with us through the town, stopping at the fish market, the sukupira (open-air market), and his soccer club. We took the bus back to his apartment, after which Adam and I stayed on to ride the entire route, which took us out to the fringes of the city and back. Then we met up with Rory and went to the produce market, several artisanal museums, and a restored lookout tower that had a display of photos showing the cities of Praia and Mindelo in the early decades of the twentieth century (very cool). From there we got some great views of the city from above. That night, we made dinner at Drew and Rory’s place, and the rest of the Peace Corps crew came to hang out.
Our fellow volunteer friend Lynette organized a group hike from Serra Malagueta National Park to the coastal town of Calheta. Serra Malagueta is located in the mountains toward the northern end of Santiago. It’s often cloudy there, and cool, which means at this time of year it’s also greener. There are several endemic species there that are found only in the highest of Santiago’s mountains, including these. From Serra, we descended through ever browner terrain, through agricultural fields, into the town of Espinho Branco.
Outside of Espinho Branco is Rabelarte, an artists’ colony that somewhat paradoxically displays the traditional lifestyle of the Rabelados (‘Rebels’), a group once by its cultural and physical isolation in opposition to Portuguese Catholic rule. Visitors can see the traditional thatched-roof homes and folk art of the Rabelados, which is done on canvas, wood, or found objects like bones and trash. The art for sale in the shop was interesting and original, but what really impressed me was the art filling the homes, such as the pattern of grass thatching painted onto the ceiling of a metal roof, a mixed-media collage, a local landscape painting, and a floor-to-ceiling self-portrait of a painter and his wife.
After checking out Rabelarte we stopped short of our original goal of Calheta and caught a Hiace the rest of the way.
Adam and I have been doing a lot of hiking lately! Here is a trip we did a couple weekends ago through Boca Larga, a sparsely populated zone in the interior of Santiago. We started and finished on the main road. Our hike climbed up to the ridge top and then snaked along the rough cobblestone (sometimes dirt) road, finally descending into a small valley and ascending up back to the main road. Along the way we got views of everything: ocean, mountains, ridge lines, and valleys. As we passed near houses, we received several invitations to txiga (‘stop by’). (Though we didn’t personally know anybody along the route, people here customarily invite passers-by to stop and talk.) We stopped a few times to shoot the breeze, get directions, and talk about beans. We finished up at a restaurant near home with a big bowl of katxupa and a glass of Strela.