Farewell Cape Verde

28th Apr 2003 This morning, our last in this part of the Cape Verde before we start on the journey homeward, we are anchored off the southern end of the island of Sal. It seems fitting that we end our expedition proper here, gentling rocking in the bay of Sta Maria; it is what I expect much of the Cape Verde to look like within the very near future, a tourist Mecca guaranteeing warm sunny days and boasting beach front hotels with swimming pools, clear blue seas and for the windsurfers the regularity of the trade winds. Sta Maria is a window into the future of these islands.

How different this vista from when we first arrived in the Cape Verde a month ago: peeking out of the Atlantic at the other end of the island, the seaside town of Palmeira, a ramshackle collection of buildings surrounded by dusty volcanic plains, watched over by dormant volcanic cones, its inhabitants somehow making ends meet, was our first port of call.

Palmeira offers a window into the past, a glimpse of how things were in colonial times, and how things still are for many Cape Verdeans. Saving fishing, salt mining or banana cultivation not much else grows here. Tourism, eco or otherwise, is where the hopes and aspirations of many people lie.

A month ago it would have been tempting at first glance to conclude that Palmeira was somewhere to be avoided, Sta Maria the place to hang. But having visited both, Palmeira on a number of occasions to drop off and pick up crew, it is the less prestigious of the two that is now one of my favourite places in the Cape Verde; Palmeira may not be the prettiest of seaside villages, indeed it is hard to imagine living in some of the tumbledown homes or getting by on seemingly scant resources, yet so at ease seem the locals with their time, it makes it hard not to wonder do we squander our own with worries and cares beyond our control.

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It is also hard to believe we have been here a month. It has flown. I think we may have squandered some of it. Of course knowing what we know now, I daresay we would approach things somewhat differently if we had the chance. But it is only by experience that we learn these things. That so few marine biologist and scientists have ventured to do research in this part of the world is not surprising; it is hot and dusty and the wind always blows making conditions at sea trying. So Dr Simon Berrow deserves credit for having taken this expedition on. So to skipper of the Anna M Joe Aston who has done so at some personal expense.

I think we all will take home positive memories from these islands propped up in the sea off northwest Africa. So many visual images spring to mind as I type; two little boys suddenly appearing from the early morning mist in the high altitudes of Santo Antao on their way to school, three old women sitting by the roadside in Mindelo, sharing a clay pipe as they laughed and chatted and not a bother on them, the stunning beauty of the girl in the internet café in Esparagos, helpful and polite to a fault and what a smile and she knowing it. And if I mention smiles then I must mention Humberto, the mechanic who spent his weekend and more fixing our Perkins engine. We teased him, his friends and the research team aboard the Anna M, that such were his looks, his winning ways and a killer smile that he must be a lady's man – he swore there was only one woman, the mother of his four children. And it was easy to believe. Any adventure that delivers you an Humberto must be judged a good one.

So many of the Cape Verdeans we have encountered have been more than generous with their time, including Oscar David Fonseca Melicio, president of the Cape Verde Marine Institute who gave up part of his weekend to talk to us. Even Zeven who fleeced us with his washing scam was hard to dislike, hard and all as Dr Berrow tried! Cape Verdeans discriminate very positively when it comes to spending time nurturing and cementing