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Friday, March 24, 2017

Cape Verde - A week in the sun! (and an ethical dilemma!)

Hi honies, we're home!

As I hinted to in my last post - beach wear has been required. We had ourselves a little week in an all-inclusive resort in Cape Verde on the island of Boa Vista:

A lot of people have asked for my opinion on the island as a holiday destination since hearing i was going, so I thought i'd take some time to write, both as a bit of diary of the holiday and also for anyone thinking of going there.

As you can see from the above screenshot of the map - there's not a lot there! Boa Vista is a small island around 620km² ..... That's basically 618km²  of nothing and a couple of hotels.

When we arrived the airport kinda gave away the idea that the island is still very much in it's pre-tourist era. Reminiscent of spanish airports in the early 1970's, it was a hut and a short runway, which you walked across (on the pedestrian marked crossings of course!) to get to the aforementioned "hut". In through a door, straight on the back of the queue for passport control, and behind that the two baggage carousels. This isn't a complaint by any stretch, it was efficient and clean and there (at the moment) is no need for anything more. It was beautifully simplistic after Gatwick's cattle market. (I truly felt there like the ball bearing in a game of bagatelle - put in one end and manoeuvred across acres of corridor til i fell out the other side on a plane!). Anyway as we landed i could hear many people in the plane who could see the sister hotel to ours out of the window and who had clearly been before "there she is/won't be long/beach still looks perfect" (it does seem that a good proportion of visitors were repeating the experience - i heard many over the weekend say that they'd been before)  That hotel was seemingly very close to the airport (it wouldn't have mattered noise wise, there are only 10 odd flights a day at the moment).  Ours was a little further, around half an hour - as you can see by the map above - we had a road....... most of the way ;)

The hotel stands out like a village, in fact it felt as big as the capital city that we went to later in the week. Obviously it's not .... well not quite. As we approached it appeared like an oasis. 

That is a tiny corner of it!

Keen to explore we checked in and dumped our bags and headed out to get our bearings. Our room was at one far end of the complex, at the furthest end from us was an infinity pool, and stairway to the beach, the exercise area (didn't visit that again!) a bar, and the spa area.  Coming back toward the middle was a massive pool area surrounded by sun loungers and umbrellas, a big buffet snack restaurant (which doubled as the African themed restaurant in the evenings) A pool bar and another stairway to the beach where as well as loungers etc there were also volley ball nets and football nets, and the water sports centre. Also in this middle area - but behind was the main square where there was a stage for evening entertainment, the big main restaurant, bars, themed restaurants, a couple of shops and a doctors! (handy but luckily unecessary!). Back at our own end there was an area for adults only (which we didn't have access to but apparently included another pool and another stairway to the beach) I understood from listening around that the hotel has been extended and it was massive! Someone said around 2000 rooms, but the information says 800 (to be honest 2000 seems more likely given the size but who knows!)

Our first evening buffet was interesting. Never having been on an all-inclusive holiday before, we weren't used to the melee that surrounds mealtimes. To get to the food felt at times like trying to cross the M25, but we soon got the measure of it and i'm sure by the end of the week looked like pro's (or maybe still looked like rabbits in headlights but just felt a bit more comfortable). The food choice was amazing and I amazed myself at the combinations i managed to create. Why is it that given a large buffet to choose from you find yourself incapable of putting together a normal meal, but instead grab whatever you fancy - vegetable lasagne and pork chops anyone? Nice!! For this reason (mostly) by the end of the week i was bored to tears with the food on offer.  It was still great food and a very large variety, but every night had been that same variety. And as I hadn't managed to gain the ability to choose a theme at any stage during the week, I'd eaten the best bits (most nights) and still didn't fancy the rest.  We did eat in the other restaurants - there was no restriction on how many nights you used the others, just that you had to book. But we soon realised that really they were also just offering the same food for the most part, but in a more sedate setting (which was welcome!) 

At 9pm there was an hours entertainment, which generally was of a very acceptable and watchable standard. There was only one night where i chose to withdraw, and that was more about my likes than the performance. I don't much care for the original Justin Bieber or Katy Perry, so someone else doing their songs isn't likely to float my boat!  However the Abba night, the Rock Gods night, and the various dance nights were all very watchable and good fun.

So what followed were essentially 7 days of moving from pool to beach (beach mostly), listening to iTunes, and reading. We did two excursions - whale watching, which was rubbish - not because there weren't any whales but because it was bloody freezing, rough as heck, windy, cloudy, windy and did I mention COLD! (and I was sick as a dog despite taking pills, which peeved me more than a little)  Most of the people on the trip felt it should have been cancelled given the weather, or at least we should have been offered the chance to rebook. No one had clothing appropriate for the conditions.  And we didn't see any whales! Not that that is a problem - on a sunny or calm-ish day the boat trip would still have been a pleasure. But this really wasn't.

The second was a trip to the capital city, up beyond the airport. 
(Where we saw the only colour other than green that we had seen all week!) The guide was local, and hugely informative. His English was excellent and the trip was well thought out and flowed from one part of the town to another. There were two stops for local food tastes, and an opportunity to buy souvenirs from a fixed price vendor if you didn't fancy running the gauntlet with the market (i say market, it was 4 stalls! but they tried bless them) A look at the local fish market, and the area where the island inhabitants get their drinking water. The laundry, the harbour,
 the school (the only high school on the island, and not accessible really to anyone living outside the capital city) and a church.

And it was this trip that got the old grey matter working......
An island with 15000 odd inhabitants. That grows no produce, has no livestock save a few cows and quite a lot of free-roaming goats, has one city and two shanty towns (around half the population live in the capital, the rest are split between the two villages). Where the village dwellers still have to walk 2.5km to fetch their drinking water which they carry back in 25litre containers on their heads, or if they can afford to get them taken back in the wagon. Where there is no public transport at all, and if you want to go to high school from either of the villages, it's around 10 Euros a day in transport costs, which is unattainable to most. 

A stunningly beautiful empty island:

Where you know that tourism gives the population a chance of employment and earning something, but you also know in your heart that they are probably being taken the mickey out of. Without employment they have no chance of sending their children to school, or getting any more built. With tourism may come a public transport system of some sort that could get children to school and food and water to the villages. That will more than likely bring the possibility of electricity to the villages. But already the cost is that 90% of the coast line is sold and in 15-20 years I would say this island and the others in Cape Verde will be unrecognisable. Already there is a huge landfill site off the main road that you can just about see where the garbage from our wasteful tourist existence goes. That the workers in the hotel are mostly resident in the shanty towns, and despite these massive hotels having been there a few years now, there has not been a big improvement in those living situations. That the food and everything for the hotels is imported for those hotels, and therefore is not helping the nutritional standards for the villages in any way. But that the island could not in any way support these hotels even with massive investment. The land is desolate and barren. Even the goats had trouble scratching a living! (You could almost see them gathering around waiting for a green shoot to appear) - although it made for great merriment when they got in the hotel grounds....... instant decimation!) It was a real dichotomy of feelings.

The hotel was amazing. The staff were attentive, clean and courteous. The hotel and rooms were beautifully clean (there was a smell of untreated water in the toilets, which was a bit hard to take if you'd drunk too much! but at least they flushed!! :D and the bigger toilets in the public areas didn't seem to suffer the same fate so we tried to use those as much as possible) It was large and spacious and apart from getting the food at the evening buffet, it was calm and unrushed.  The drinks were acceptable - wine was a bit rough, but the spirits were fine, and the food was well cooked and tasty, if a little repetitive.  There was no lack of anything at all. You really could'nt have wished for more.  We were unlucky with the weather in that it was cloudy all week. So even at 28Deg C with the island breeze and a cloud covering, it felt cold.  I spent a fair amount of time with a hoodie on! But we got a tan despite that and at least we could walk up and down the beaches to amuse ourselves for a couple of hours without risk of sunstroke! We watched a few men fishing (and in truth the week would have been better for both of us if someone had taken a fishing rod!!!) and spent hours looking out to sea... because both of us can do that for a good few hours seemingly! (I should add that there was a red flag every day for swimming and apparently that is the case almost all the time)

Would we go again?  I think so if we wanted this kind of holiday. But I'd take more things to do. Definitely a fishing rod for his nibs (preferably a fairly cheap one we could leave there for a local to use when we left). A pack of cards!  I'd probably ditch the company excursions and try to find a local taxi to use to go to a couple of different beaches or the other side of the island (I believe there is a single beach bar round there!!!!) I'd take more cardigans! (in the hope that I wouldn't need them!) And my binoculars! Because on the last day, we did see our whales... from the hotel beach. 3 or 4 humpbacks about halfway to the horizon (so probably a mile and half or so) and easily seen with the naked eye. But Bino's would have been better. (although the amount of sand that got blown around i'd have to think carefully about that i suppose!) Generally though we like a slightly more active holiday, or at least the choice to be more active/get out more/see more. I've been to Gambia and the Azores and both of those holidays had more to offer in terms of things to see. But for sitting on an amazing beach - even if I was freezing some of the time.  Well for just that, this would be hard to beat. 

T'il soon ❤️