Thursday, February 04, 2010


I've often noticed when traveling that there are not many facilities for folks with physical handicaps. Restaurant toilets are often up or down a narrow flight of stairs, and cramped and difficult to maneuver in as well. Sidewalks are cobbled and narrow, streets are steep, there are no curbcuts for wheelchairs. As a result, there aren't many wheelchairs to be seen. My belief is that many people who would have chosen a wheelchair in the US choose a cane or crutches or something like that instead, so that they don't lose their mobility completely, but the fact is, I don't see many canes or crutches either, and so mobility is probably simply lost. There are, in general, more really slow elderly people out walking their errands than in the US, but I don't know what that signifies. Probably that you do what you have to.

At any rate, we were quite surprised to encounter a young man in a wheelchair our first night in Ponta do Sol. There were some kids around him, and he seemed to be a part of the group. Over the days that we were there, we saw at least 3 more wheelchairs with people of various ages in them, including in our inn. The morning before we left town, we told the woman who served our breakfast (I believe the Grand Matriarch, with a couple generations below her also living in the house) that we were wanting to take the ferry the next day. We assumed that it still sailed in the afternoon, and so we were confused when she told us that breakfast would be earlier, at 7:00am instead of the more leisurely 8:00am that we had chosen initially. We couldn't make head nor tails of what came next, and so she told us to wait and went across the hall from the dining room into a bedroom that fronted the street. A minute or two later she called to us and we went across the hall and into the bedroom of an old man who was lying in bed. He apologized in English for lying down and gestured to his wheelchair sitting at the foot of the bed.

This man explained that the ferry was only running once a day at the moment, and only in the morning, and it was the smaller ferry as well, and so we had to leave early to make sure we had tickets. He then told us, in fact, that he would call Vitorino ("You have seen him, I think?"), and ask him to buy tickets for us so we were sure to have a berth, and then he would pick us up in his aluguer as part of his rounds in the morning. We thanked the man profusely and went away. We had seen Vitorino, in fact, because he was the driver who had brought us to Ponta do Sol and recommended the Dedei Inn. We had liked him the moment we saw him from the ferry, and indeed he took good care of us getting us back to the boat.

Eventually Ian came to a realization about life on Santo Antão, though, which made all the sense in the world: If you are in a wheelchair, there is virtually nowhere else on the island that you can live. There are a couple of other towns that are relatively flat, but they're bigger and busier and less friendly and secure. And so it was likely we saw the only wheelchairs ever to have been around.

There was one exception—in the next village over from Fontainhas, there was a man with dreadlocks and an atrophied leg who ran a small bar where you could buy a cold Coke or Fanta or Stela (the Cabo Verdean beer). He made his way around with a cane, serving drinks and collecting stools for us to sit on, and generally happy with his life. He must have ridden a donkey if he ever left home, because I'm pretty sure no motor vehicles could get in there to collect him. The driver we hired for a couple outings later in the week, Danial, did say that you could drive to every village on the island, but I don't believe him. But maybe this village with the incongruous bar (Fontainhas, much larger, didn't have one that we could see) was too small to be considered a village.

1 comment:

Ian said...

I agree with the donkey theory for the dreadlocked guy. No car I know of could get to his shop, which is just out of view at the bottom of this hill, having first passed through these switchbacks.