Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Rest of the Last Hike

Today was a classic Cabo Verde day through and through. We began, as you know, by hiking up a tall, steep, hot, dry, and dusty mountainside--with Ian in his optimistic role of believing we were almost to the top from less than halfway up, and me (the realist) knowing we were somewhere not yet at the top, and likely far from it, but refusing to make any statements other than yes, indeed, I thought we should ration our water.

We ate our yogurts at 2000 feet where we stopped to calm our hammering hearts and take a picture, then continued to climb up maybe another 200 feet over the next several minutes, to where we came over the saddle between peaks into a broad, high plain, with an asphalt road winding gently down to Tarrafal on the coast.

Soon after entering the plain, drenched in sweat, I realized that I was hovering on the edge of a heat-related crisis. I began to feel dizzy, and I had a teeny hint of a headache. We paused near a low stone walk and I sat down and poured about a tablespoon of water into the crown of my hat to start cooling my head, and shrugged off my day pack so the breeze could begin to dry my back. Ian went off down the gentle slope and into one of the few buildings across the road, several hundred feet away, and I worked on chilling out.

We had attempted to hike a circuit of Monte Gordo, São Nicolau's highest peak and most vaunted "must do" hike, which includes a national park with various solicitously cared-for trees, and views of other islands on clear days, but we could not find a single aluguer to take us in that direction, because everyone on the island was going to a huge festa in a town just behind Vila (and up about 1000 feet), which was in the opposite direction. To go on foot would mean repeating our first crushing hike up the ribeira, which was not going to happen.

After about an hour of waiting for a ride and asking various drivers to take us, we decided instead to complete the remaining 2/3 of our attempt from yesterday, which involved our hike up to the plain, a short traverse across the high, yellow fields, and then a steep descent down into the valley where the festa was going on, celebrating the last day of the week-long post-Easter celebrations. The calendar for today included some sort of horse event scheduled for 3 pm, followed by a bike race and a foot race from the airstrip to the village (maybe 5K), and then some boxing. We thought we could make it in time for the horse event, and then walk home (our familiar trip down the same road as yesterday's 1/3 of the hike), ready to flag down an aluguer if one was heading back to Vila.

At my recovery on the high plateau, Ian soon returned with cold Sprites. As we were drinking them and appreciating the pastoral views of distant cows and goats, an aluguer stopped on the road near us. I heard a voice say "touristas!", and then about a half dozen young men, dressed to the nines in fancy colored pants, their hair slicked back, joking and pushing each other around--clearly in high spirits--asked the way to the festa. We laughed with them and pointed to the track over the saddle that we were going to take ourselves, and off they hurried into the sere wilderness. Only in Cabo Verde is that how you get to a party.

We arrived at the festa on rubbery legs after a decline as steep as our climb had been, and began to ask around for the horses. No one really seemed to know, making vague gestures and indicating vague times. We wandered, looking for the food area, or the bar area, or the toilet area, and eventually found a bar with a bit of shade under a thorn tree, and the only other white people around. They were French but spoke English and Portuguese well, and like us, were completely baffled by what was happening, and where, and when, but then we realized that no one seemed to know.

We had some beverages out under the tree and shared stories (they were 4 months into a 5-month trip to mostly Lusophone countries), then Ian and the woman went in to return bottles and ask for food, as she had heard that traditional stew was going to be available. The bar owner told her that his wife had made some stew for the day, and a guy at the bar was sent to lead us to the owner's house, where lots of people were coming and going, and the wife pulled out bowls and spoons and served us large portions of goat cooked with green banana, cassava and potato, and would accept nothing in return.

Leaving the French couple back at the bar, Ian and I eventually found the horse event, which consisted solely of 8 horses being ridden back and forth, and around, the local soccer field at varying velocities of gallop. Not racing, just running back and forth.

After the riding demonstration, the riders all went back up the street toward what came to be clear was the "center" of festivities, with a giant speaker blaring Kriolu pop music. People milling in the street were suddenly cleared away and a red and black striped plastic ribbon was hurriedly held across the road, and moments later the winner of the bicycle race broke through. About 30 seconds after that, the second and only other cyclist, the loser, crossed the line, and the street filled again. We never saw a runner.

We took our leave of our French friends, who wanted to stay for the boxing, and began walking back toward Vila da Ribeira Brava and home, pausing at the edge of town to buy, for about 7 cents, two more frozen plastic baggie fresquihas, these of a tart and delicious tamarind juice.

We flagged down a pick-up aluguer at the top of the steep and winding descent back into town, and rode home in cooling, breezy style on benches in the bed.

There is no place even remotely like this, anywhere else on earth. I recommend Cabo Verde to everyone, and I hope you all stay away :-)

Tomorrow afternoon back to Sal, then the red eye to Lisbon, a day there, and back in Seattle Wednesday night. What a trip!!!

one-fingered on my phone

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