Saturday, 29 March 2014

Pirates, Slaves and lots of coal

Where Senegal on the West African coast has that little knob pointing due West lies Dakar, and as the little promontory is nice and green it is called "Cap Vert", the green Cape. Now guess how the islands are called that are to be found 450 km off that coast...

After three more days at sea we spot land on a clear blue, but very windy day. The steep silhouette of Saõ Vicente lies ahead of us. We reach our second last destination of this voyage, way over 500 years after its discovery (on January 22, St. Vincent's day, hence the name).
So convenient was the position of the islands that it quickly became the stopover place for the booming slave trade of the period, and the otherwise barren and inhospitable archipelago accumulated legendary wealth. Which can cause a bit of trouble in an era where pirates, corsairs and privateers where commanding the seas more often than the fleets of His/Her Majesty. Many raids are reported, and none other than the infamous Francis Drake sacked Ribeira Grande twice in one year.
After centuries of slave trade this lucrative "business" went down, and so did the economy of the - still barren - place. Only exception was Saõ Vicente with its well-protected and deep natural harbor. The British East India Company established a large coal port there for trans-Atlantic ships. A little later, the immense Atlantic Cable Project had a base for most of its infrastructure right in the same place, Mindelo. So, things went well for this island; for others, not so much.
But after coal was replaced by oil, after the big recession in the first half of the 20th century, also Mindelo was on the decline, forcing many Capverdeans to emigrate to different countries.
The relationship to the former colonial masters from Portugal got tense in the middle of the last century, and a strong but peaceful independence movement was forming, finally leading to the formal separation from Portugal only in 1975. Today the flag of Cape Verde reminds of these times: Blue at bottom and top for sea and sky, white for hope - and red for the blood that was shed during the fight for independence. (The ten stars stand for the nine inhabited islands, Nr. 10 for the Capverdeans abroad.)
Mindelo is vibrating and relaxed at the same time, Mindelo is African and Caribean and European, too. Mindelo is the color of houses, of people's garments, of fruit at the market, boats. Mindelo is the chatter of the fishermen at card games, it is the wrinkles in the old people's faces and the smile of the boys. It is - Mindelo, hard to compare with anything we went before.
And we do have an overnight, so we can go, explore this very friendly place until after nightfall and well into the next day when we have a guided tour along the waterfront and in the city's neat center.
And now we have cast the lines one more time; Canary Islands, here we come!