Thursday, December 03, 2009

Our Next Trip, Planned

This morning I was shocked awake at 7:20am by the phone ringing. Any time before 9:30am it must be an emergency, because anyone who knows me (or has known me for the past couple years when my arising time changed from 7 to 9), knows that I am in bed. Ian, who gets up around 7:30, was also still in bed, and also jarred awake. Being me, though, or being female and thus able to change states of being more rapidly, I was the one who leapt out of bed to run to the phone. Alas, I didn't make it, but the caller was TACV, Cabo Verdean Airlines.

Ian and I are planning a long-awaited trip to Cabo Verde in January, a set of formerly Portuguese islands off the coast of West Africa, about the same latitude as where Senegal and the Gambia are. We are flying British Airways to Lisbon (using airline miles), then TAP Air Portugal to Cabo Verde (because we're flying over large stretches of ocean and we weren't sure about TACV for such a lengthy journey), and then TACV internally in Cabo Verde.

TACV has a website, and at first glance it appears to be quite first-world and comprehensive. Dig just below the surface, however, and you see that it is not, in fact, helpful in any material way. Click on "buy here" and you get a list of options. Click on any of the options and you get a definition of that option, such as "E-Ticket: The E-ticket service makes it easier to prepare a trip, buy a ticket and speeds up check-in formalities." Below this is a link to, where e-tickets may be purchased. Clicking this link returns you to this place.

The website also does not seem to include a phone number. Fortunately, our Lonely Planet guide (or rather, the chapter on Cabo Verde from LP's new Africa book which we were able to buy and download separately—cool service, by the way) did list phone numbers—one in Cabo Verde, and the other at the TACV office in Boston. I had also happened to see an ad in the New York Times for a deal TACV was offering, and their Boston number.

Flying is really the only consistent way between islands in the Cabo Verdean archipelago, and yet the only company on which to fly is TACV. Lonely Planet says that flights are frequently overbooked, and thus it is necessary to reconfirm, and reconfirm again, and show up early at the airport, and insist that you board the flight that you've booked and paid for. And yet, they are remarkably vague on when you need to purchase tickets. Before going? Once you arrive? Can you be overbooked at the last minute and still get on? Should you plan ahead and overbook early? At any rate, this all has given trip planning a flavor of exoticism that I've missed a little when traveling in Europe and even, as we just discovered, in at least one South American country.

There are some ferries, but the islands are far from each other, and right in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean where the seas and winds are often perilous on longer trips. At least one ferry ride, which is the only way to get to one of the smaller islands, is only scheduled to be weekly, but is cancelled as often as not. We're not going there. Our ultimate destination, Santo Antão, is a ferry ride away from São Vicente, where we are flying to on TACV, but the ferry is regular and daily and we feel at least a meager confidence that we will be able to accomplish our goal: to hike in the hinterlands of an otherworldly place for five days, and make it home successfully.

Anyway. After being shocked awake this morning, I immediately called TACV back, since I knew they were in the office. I again got the voice mail, and I left a message asking them to call back later—like, noon their time—or I would call back later. I had no confidence that this message would be collected or followed, though, so I brought the phone and my paperwork into the bedroom and got back into bed. Sure enough, about ten minutes later, another call.

I was able to book our flights, from Praia to São Vicente and back, allowing a full day in Praia each direction. It was necessary in one direction; only one flight going. In the other direction, it was deemed, by the sales agent, unsafe to take the evening flight back to Praia, just in case we were to miss our TAP to Lisbon, and so we'll be having another day in the big city.

When it came time to pay, I could've sworn Carlos said "We accept MasterCard, and all other major credit cards."

I said "Can I give you a VISA number right now over the phone?"

He said "No, I'm sorry, we only accept American Express. I have to give you the TACV bank account number, and you deposit the amount in our bank account."

"Oh, okay. I can do that."

He gave me the account number and the name on the account, and asked that I deposit the money, then fax them the deposit slip, with my email address on it, so that they can send me our e-tickets. I'll be doing that this afternoon.

I am bemused, and charmed, and eager to go.

This is where we are going. Spectacular, no?


Jacquie Cozens said...

LP and all those other guidebooks that haven't really taken the time to cover Cabo Verde or update it properly are wrong about TACV. The flights are fine, almost without exception my flights have left on time and not been overbooked (and I have taken a lot of flights). The prices are ridiculous but other than that there really is not a problem. You also have Halcyonair now. Have a great trip anyway.

Deane said...

It may be unsurprising to learn that TACV is 100% state-owned. As for their recent apparent adoption of passable service, Halcyonair ( was approved to begin service in July 2008. From what I've read, Halcyonair was created by Cape Verde tourism companies who were fed up with the crappy and expensive TACV service. Competition is a wonderful thing! (For consumers.)