Thursday, April 05, 2007

Logbook: Cape Verde

Capeverde1I had my Wednesday morning coffee as we cruised into the small archipelago that is Cape Verde. My first impression of the dry, barren islands was not very positive and I said to myself, “I don’t think this is a place for me.” Looking at the hot, dusty landscape and the poor, ramshackle collection of half-built dwellings, I was tempted to skip the half-day tour on our itinerary, stay on board to hang out with the crew and join them in whatever spontaneous fun they would create. As it turned out, I should have -- as always -- followed my instincts, but I decided to be a dutiful explorer and give the tour -- and the islands -- a chance. Here is what happened: We took the Zodiacs ashore and landed at the dock in Porto Novo then boarded three mini-vans to begin our tour. The main road on the island is a two-lane, cobblestone monument to what you can build in ten years when you have plenty of human labor and no other available work. No kidding! The road goes for miles and miles, winding up and around the mountainous landscape, at times traversing the ridge line between peaks.

Capeverde2After driving at breakneck speed for about a half hour, we stopped to look from the heights down onto the clouds which covered the other side of the island. Ten minutes later we were back in the vans and screaming along the road for another half hour until we stopped again to view an agricultural area -- and one of only a very few sources of drinking water on the island -- in the basin of what appeared to me to be a volcanic caldera. Again, ten minutes later we were back in the vans and racing down hill to a small town where -- twenty minutes later -- we made a ten minute rest stop. I tried to buy a cold drink at the mini-mart but was unable to use dollars (or euros!) and didn’t have time to change money at the bank. So, back in the van again we drove a few miles down the coast to stop at a “grog factory” which was supposedly one of the highlights of our tour. I half laughed, half groaned when we entered the factory and saw nothing but a couple of cows yoked to a beam that turned a press that squeezed the juice from sugar cane into a concrete cistern in the ground. Oh, and there was a woman standing at a table with bottles of every conceivable shape, size, condition and product trademark full of foul looking liquor. No thanks. Ten minutes later we were back in the vans and racing non-stop, all the way back across the island to the port where we had thirty minutes to “walk around” in a dead-zone of the aforementioned “poor, ramshackle collection of half-built dwellings.” Oh, and let me add that during the entire tour there was only one half-English-speaking guide who changed vans at every stop and explained nothing of interest or value about the island.

My frustration about spending half of the four hour tour riding in a van and the other half making short, dumb stops was compounded when I got back to the ship and asked the crew what they did: “Oh, we went ashore and walked around until we found a market, goofed around with some locals, got some beer and snacks then went to the beach for a swim, some sun and silly water games.” Macgellan is an idiot. I know better than to go along on “tours” and I was mad at myself for not following my instincts. Really mad at myself. So mad, in fact, that I had to give myself a little talking to and get my head straight again.

With that accomplished, I settled back into my onboard routine and spent the evening enjoying life at sea. Yesterday and today have been days at sea en route to the Canary Islands, my last aboard MV Polar Star and probably my last for the next few months. I have packed up my gear, said my farewells to the crew and other friends on board, and generally gotten myself ready to get moving again. Oh, I also had a brief meeting with Gary to let him know that although I will be along for the pre-paid ferry ride and hotel stay in Tenerife, I will most likely not be going on any of the group tours over the next three days. Wise man that he is, he was not at all surprised. The learning curve continues on The Voyage of Macgellan!

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