Cape Verde characters - explorations ashore.

5th Apr 2003 This morning at 10.30am on the outskirts of Mindelo Simon and I met with Oscar David Fonseca Melicio, president of the Cape Verde Marine Institute. A warm and affable man, Oscar had given up part of his weekend to do an interview for the documentary we are making.

To date the Cape Verdean people we have met have had our best interests at heart, glad to help the stranger. The one exception thus far, a chap by the name of Zeven (we think), hopefully proving the rule.

First let me tell you of my favourite Cape Verdeans, Carlos and Ze, two men in their late twenties, maybe early thirties, doing their best to eek out a living on the island of Boavista; the third largest of the islands (just over 4,000 inhabitants), its coastline is lined with endless beaches, the interior dotted with palm tree oasis amidst drifting sand dunes. It has a fledgling tourist industry, popular with windsurfers and divers. The Italians have taken a shine to it building hotels, apartments and restaurants.

We came ashore to the island at Sal Rei on the evening of Sunday March 30th. Aside from a group of maybe 20 men, women and children enjoying themselves on the rocky shoreline, the small pier seemed deserted, the red rusted gates at the end of it securely locked. While we waited for Simon and Matthew to row in, Ian ventured further up but was soon deterred by some barking and less than friendly looking dogs. Then Carlos appeared: Small in stature but with a huge smile, and swinging a key on the end of a lead, he greeted me like an old friend. I took him for the harbour master. He was nothing of the sort. Nor was he the mechanic he made out; he was I believe something of an unofficial tour guide. He certainly had more English than we Portuguese and he seemed to know, without the information passing between us, what we wanted.

So he led us to the centre of small coastal fishing town, through the impoverished settlements and open sewers, past the newer apartments and into the old colonial square that was once a thriving hub. Today many of the magnificent buildings are in partial or total disrepair. But not all; those that have been maintained or renovated a hint of prosperous times past.

Everything was closed so we settled for five cold beers in a restaurant offering pasta and pizza!

We returned the next morning at first light, Carlos having promised to arrange 4WD transport to take us across the island to a beach Simon wanted to inspect for cetacean remains. But where Carlos had arranged the 4WD hire there was none. Enter local “taguer” Ze; you don't stand on the streets here for very long without someone enquiring of your wellbeing. We bartered a price, pilled onto the back of Ze's old but solid looking 4WD and off we headed into the wilderness. He drove carefully, stopped whenever we asked to film or for Ian to look at one bird or another, and always wore a smile. I am sure as the day wore on we must have tried his patience, though he never showed it. When he got the chance he sat and read our travel guide.

Anyway between the jigs and the reels we managed to loose Ian after depositing him at a lagoon near Sal Rei; where we were supposed to pick him up is still a point of debate, but Ze was unstinting in his efforts to try and find him, walking faster and further into the sand dunes of the estuary where we thought he should be. We drove up and down, back and forth, checking several places twice. When we got back to the town centre, Carlos greeted this disappearance with great dismay and joined the search. Of course Ian had wandered back to the pier and was waiting to get back out to the Anna M when we eventually checked there.

Neither Carlos nor Ze sought greater reward for the extra time and effort they put in, though we gladly gave it. The conditions in Sal Rei were trying physically and mentally for those used to the basic comforts of the west, but the warmth and friendliness of these people made a greater impression. They are