We eventually made it to Praia, the capital of Cape Verde, the day before Mardi Gras. For those of you not in the know, Cape Verde is a collection of ten islands about 350 miles from the coast of Senegal. It was a Portugeuse colony, so most people are very catholic and speak Portuguese. They also show their knees (!), which after two years in Guinea kind of blew me away. And like other past Portuguese colonies, they celebrate Carnaval, a month long celebration of feathered costumes and masks culminating on Mardi Gras.
This was our reason for being in Cape Verde, attending the giant party known as Mardi Gras. We weren't on Sao Vincente, the island famed for its Carnaval celebration, but we figured the capital island would have comparable festivities. Plus we didn't want to take yet another flight to another island, considering our recent flying experience. Mardi Gras in America is known for parades, beads, and dionysian shenanigans. While there was a fantastic parade, the other familiar signs of Mardi Gras were nowhere to be found. We found this out after spending the morning celebrating American style, but nothing improves a parade better than rum. There were drum lines, feathered dancers styled like peacocks, and huge floats, depicting anything from a sun king to renewable energy.
The next day, we took a mini-bus at much too fast a speed on much too windy a road to Tarrafal, a beach town on the opposite side of the island. Fortunately, the island is only 75 km long, so it wasn't as long a journey as it sounds. Tarrafal has one of the only white sand beaches on Santiago, the island we were on. Cape Verde is made up of volcanic islands, so most of its coastline is dramatic cliffs and jagged rock. The beach was hidden in a sort of cove and definitely held some pirate booty at one time or another.
The ride back followed volcanic ridge lines and took us through the agricultural heartland. The countryside was an interesting mix of tropical West African life and Portuguese style villages. There were breathtaking rock formations and rich green landscapes as fas as the eye could see, until I had to close my own eyes due to car sickness. Everyone was thankful when we hit the cobblestone and were forced to slowdown.
Besides its delicious seafood (tuna steak was standard fare) and the Carnaval celebration, Cape Verde is also known for its music, which is in the Afro-Carribeean style. There was an excellent live music place in Praia that had live music everynight, so we went a couple of times. It was also the only place really open after dark, as Praia, and Tarrafal too, turned into seaside ghost towns after dusk.
"Sodade" by Cesaria Evora, one of the most celebrated Cape Verdian musicians
The laidback vibe of Cape Verde, and the fact there were grocery stores with apples, was a perfect transition as I made my way back, slowly, to the states. It helped that I had two great travel partners, Chris and Brittany, who could combine Spanish and French to make a Portuguese sounding language and were always up for wearing sparkling masks.
After our couple days, I headed to Paris with Brittany and found myself extremely unprepared for how cold it is north of 20 degrees latitude.