If Brava had the wonderful miles of black volcanic beach like Fogo, it would be perfect. ;) The empty beach and heavy, white surf in Sao Filipe, Fogo was the best thing there. I wished I liked Fogo - more specifically Sao Filipe - as much as I expected to...but somehow it wasn't a good fit. Maybe it was the run in with 2 purse snatchers in one evening....Sort of put a damper on the good stuff. We did yell at the thief and whipped out the HD video cam and he definitely didn't want to stick around. And everyone we told the story to - locals - were genuinely shocked that we had this happen. But then we look like tourists.
There were a few things about Sao Filipe I did like in the city itself - like the charming Fogo Lounge with lots of Emigrantes (and Expats) and great food and good prices. I'll show pics later so you can find it if you ar ein Sao Filipe. The site for Fogo Lounge belongs to the same people who are very proactive in promoting Fogo to the world. If someone in Fogo reads this and wants to show Michelle and I a good time there - let us know!
When we went back to the US, Michelle and I saw our Nana (she is Bei in the family pics and mom's mom) to tell her about our trip. Nana is in a home and going on 89, but she is mentally on point as ever. So we said, "Nana, we loved Brava but weren't crazy about Fogo." Nana replied, "Ahhhh...Fogo is no good [LOL], but Praia sta SABI." She said, "Fogo is no good, but Praia is great." We wholeheartedly agree with Nana. I expected to dislike Praia and we found the people there very nice, and they went out of their way for us everywhere we went. My cousins in the US said, "Yeah, people in Fogo aren't known to be friendly." This is all coming from born and raised people from Brava, so it is biased opinion.
Fogo does have the volcano and where else can you climb and run down an active volcano in the same day? And stay in the caldeira while eating French food and drinking local wine? Ah, but we'll get to Fogo soon - the good stuff. Brava still has alot to talk about.
Luckily for any traveler, there is a public internet phone service on Brava for 10 cents per minute. You go to an International Phone/Cyber cafe storefront, and ask for the phone to America and they hand over a regular cordless phone. You dial like you normally do in the states. They track the minutes used on the phone on a computer and charge you accordingly.
If you are looking for wireless, I heard there is free wireless in the Praça in Nova Sintra, but I never took the laptop out there to test this. The phone service shops used to offer wireless, but I guess they stopped, so you need to find an open connection or know someone who can hook you up.
Here's a picture of Michelle on the phone to the US in Fogo (10 escudos per minute or about 12 cents per minute there):
Unless you are a native speaking Cape Verdean (crioulo), you will stand out as an American or foreigner immediately. Even some Natives who have gone abroad will be noticeable as such, but if you speak Crioulo, it's better. No matter what, stay on your toes, especially in Praia. It will help to know some Portuguese, although Crioulo is different. Most people will understand you, and we are finding many people speak at least a little English (young people especially, of course). Some have been living in the Boston area and speak very well, but they won't say so up front.
In our case, our mother speaks the language and the friends of the family are also bilingual so they help us out. I can understand about 75% plus of what's being said (not word for word) because I spent a lot of time with my cousins as a kid. However, I always answered in English and so now it's going to take some time till I get to the point of speaking myself. When I grew up, my mom said no one wanted their kids to be called a “greenhorn” so parents wanted their kids to speak English only. That was fine for then, but now it's not so good for me! If you had to learn one thing, learn numbers in Portuguese up to 10 and then counting by tens up to 100.
There are small variety stores, some bigger than others. The one I like is on a side street off the main road into Nova Sintra, about 4 blocks past the praca with the gazebo. Take a right and go ½ block on the right hand side. There is a restaurant on the one side. They have Snickers bars (Yay!) all kinds of beverages – juice, soda, wine and hard liquor. You can see Coke, Pepsi and Sprite, but don't ask for diet anything. Beer came in Super Bock and Sagres, and I did see Heineken and Corona but those were more expensive. Super Bock and Sagres was about 120 CVE per bottle or about $1.50. The bigger markets have all kinds of basics to cook Cape Verdean style at home, stuff like diapers, bandaids, soap, all kinds of snacks, etc.
The Chinese loja came in handy after losing our luggage and we needed under garments and clothes to change into. The prices were great – like I paid $4 for a plain ladies t-shirt, and the selection is surprisingly good for a small shop. They also carried a lot of ladies/children's shoes, some guys shirts, and all kinds of personal items like toothbrushes and shampoo.
Hats and hair clips are a good idea for women as the weather is damp, and you are in the mountains where it's foggy and moist. When the sun is out, it can be strong, and there is often a breeze off the water like any island. I used the flat iron on my hair, but it can need more touch ups than normal because of the humidity. Without the flat iron, my hair looks more afro than natural curly LOL.
Surprisingly, there aren't any real coffee places or cafes, but you can get an espresso (ask for an “express”) at the Shell station – the only one of 2 gas stations on the island. It costs 50 cve (cape verdean escudo or pronounced “es-COOD”) for a shot of espresso and a bit of hot milk added. You have to drink the espresso at the bartop table in a nice demitasse serving. They also have some cake and cookies in the case.
If espresso is too much for you, you can also get strong coffee with hot milk added or "cafe com leite." "Leite" is milk and pronounced like "late." We brought our own cups and took our coffees to go - pretty American - which got amused looks like when we drank beer straight from the bottle instead of pouring into a cup first. I have to say, Cape Verdean people are well mannered, and still appreciate things like dressing up in a suit and dresses for a birthday party. I think we've gotten too informal and crass in the US!
The weather was beautiful - a really beautiful day. There's a man in an older truck sitting by the wall taking money for passage on the boat. He does not speak any English, so my mom helped communicate. He asked how many passengers (we had 3 of us) and said 1,500 cve total price. All we had was 2,000 cve bills, but he had no change. So he agreed to payment in american $$, but we were confused about the exchange rate and offered $13 US. He got upset and said in crioulo, “Hey I am not trying to cheat you! That's not enough money to cover.” So we figured out we needed $21 US and he gave us one ticket for all 3 of us and wrote our names down. This is Roxanne and mom trying to pay $.
I heard the limit is 27 passengers so getting to the boat from the airport ASAP is critical. Also unlike everything else in Cape Verde the boat leaves exactly at 3 pm. The captain is a stickler for the time.
The boat people were pretty friendly to us. The inside of the boat smells like diesel, and its actually not a ferry but a fishing vessel, so there are no seats for passengers on the outside. However, if you have never traveled by boat, especially rolling seas, I recommend you take some Dramamine (as little as possible because it can make you really drowsy). If you tend to get seasick, I DO NOT recommend going into the cabin. The diesel smell is too strong and if anyone gets sick, you will too, guaranteed. Anyway, the sea air helps keep you feeling better.
Here's our friend's Mimi and Imad and mom, enjoying the ride. Mimi has horror stories about crossing to Brava (but not on this boat).
The boat ride is about 45 minutes. The sea had some swells, but basically the day we traveled was great, no fog, clear skies. There are life jackets, but we were told they are in a box locked up because someone might take them. Hopefully they are accessible, if needed.
I heard in 2010, there will be a big ferry like they have for Martha's Vineyard and the islands on Cape Cod, and that will be a big improvement. But it will be bad because it will bring many more people to Brava which is so peaceful and quiet because it's hard to get here.
PS. Here we are riding the light swells to Brava. Why are we all in red??
There were people looking for targets as soon as we left the baggage area. You have been warned. You arrive tired after a long, pretty much sleepless flight. Then someone asked us in excellent American English, “Are you from Boston?” Now, if I thought about it, the plane was in from Boston the usual time. Then we were chatting among ourselves with Massachusetts accents as we left so it's easy to hear. Naively, we spoke to the man who was an older Cape Verdean man who obviously spent some time in the States in Massachusetts.
We were looking for the Bank window to change money. The same man changes tone and he says “hey, this lady here can change your money for a better rate. You don't want to use the bank” I saw the scam coming and said a directly curt no. Then I saw another older man in a striped shirt with those two. I realized right then I needed to be much more aware and careful than when I walked in.
I got the money exchanged just fine. We got checked in and went to go through security to the gate. I look over and see the man in the striped shirt talking to my mother. I asked her what he wanted . She said, “He said 'I recognize your accent, you are from Brava?'” Then he said, “I know, you are from Furna right?” I saw what he was doing so I grabbed my mom and said to the man. “Are you going to the gate? Where is your ticket?” He shrugged. “Oh, you don't have a ticket? OK mom, let's go!!” We went to the secured area at the gate – a much better place, very quiet and no riffraff, and we could sit in relative peace with a cool beverage until the flight left.
Tip #1 Luggage – TACV said only 10 pounds per carry on. But I noticed a lot of people with rolling suitcase carry ons. And you know it's more than ten pounds. Then I got a clue...
Many people told us once we got to Brava, they had missing luggage when they got to Fogo. One lady said that every trip for 6 trips now, she has had missing luggage with various outcomes.
Tip #2. Move to the baggage claim opening at Fogo Airport ASAP. When you get off the plane in Fogo – get as far ahead of the crowd – probably should even sit towards the door as close as possible to deplane. Then waste no time getting to the baggage claim and grab a spot as close to the opening as possible. Otherwise, you are stuck at a small conveyor and the crowd is insane: Luggage falls off the conveyor, other people grab your luggage and leave it, and you get caught in the crowd and can't move.
Unfortunately, we didn't even get our luggage and waited in the hot, dark (no lights) room for about 30 minutes trying to see if our luggage made it to the end of the conveyor, basically for nothing. So, do yourself a favor, pack a decent sized carry on, bring everything of value with you, plus bring makeup/toothbrush, medication, underwear, a change of clothes, night gown and sweater for evening.
We left for Brava after the luggage fiasco barely 1 hour to catch the boat, but the luggage wouldn't go to Fogo until the next day. However, the next boat to Brava wasn't until the following day after that. So we had 2 full days and nights in Brava with only what we carried, hoping our luggage really would arrive.
Update: We paid a taxi driver our friend knows/trusts in Fogo to get the luggage at the airport on the first day, hold it, then take it to the boat for Brava the next day (3,000 cve or about $37.50). We paid a guy to from the boat a few $ American to load the luggage and watch it on the boat over. Then we paid a driver to take us from Nova Sintra to Furna to retrieve the luggage from the boat for another 1000 cve or $12.50)
Also we heard WHY the luggage goes missing. The plane to Fogo is a smaller one, and can only hold so much luggage/passengers by weight. So they have to adjust by taking off some luggage. However, they don't seem to check if the luggage is going all the way to Brava or not.
3. Here's another tip. Do NOT put valuables in your luggage AT ALL. That includes gifts like cigarettes, jewelry, or expensive personal items like my $150 flat iron (arggh!). Once the luggage is lost, you will eventually get it back but it may go to Amsterdam or Johannesburg (both happened to people we know) or back to the States. If it's stuck in Praia, then there is a good possibility someone will go through your bags and take whatever they want! Of course, it's not right. It's a reality though.
Update – Our luggage was fine and everything including the cigarettes and the flat iron made it to us.
BUT our friend had chocolate, tootsie rolls, school supplies and an Obama t-shirt stolen. And her bag was torn and taped all up. But the new phone she got her brother was still intact – go figure.
4. Here's another tip: Buy travel insurance. We bought travel insurance to cover for medical emergencies as there is limited if any medical care on Brava. We paid about $65 each and it included compensation for lost or stolen luggage as well as luggage delays. We were covered to purchase up to $300 per person per day in the event our luggage was missing.
Normally they recommend we use credit cards to buy replacement items, but Brava is very limited in credit card processing and it's 99% cash here. So we asked for a handwritten receipt when we went to the chinese store (the closest thing to a local Walmart!) to buy whatever we needed. Receipts aren't big here either, just pay cash for the service or product.
We were able to call the travel insurance company and make the claim. Also if your bags or contents are lost or stolen, you can replace them for up to $1,500. Hopefully we won't need the complete replacement, but we definitely got the use of the $65 premium. TACV airline only takes certified checks or American Express, but if you buy airline tickets to Brava using a credit card through another carrier, you may have replacement coverage all ready.
This image is from our family's pictures, probably pulled from a pile in a box, along with many others of people and a place that could have been forgotten in another generation. It was taken (by whom?) long after my mother left Brava with her aunt in a Belgian freighter in 1957. In those days, getting back and forth to Cape Verde was no easy matter, although the trip by freighter was much more comfortable I am sure than going in the Ernestina and some other sailing vessels.
Soon I am going to make the trip to Cape Verde, with my mom and sister, in a 7+ hour flight across the Atlantic. How do I feel about it? Well, I've had many feelings since we started this 6 months ago. I was thrilled, excited, in awe, and ready to get there. Now I'm experiencing a kind of surreal feeling and thinking this must be crazy!
It's my first trip there and so not a return for me really...But my mom is going back after being away 52 years and I know she was thinking that, in fact, maybe she never would see Brava again. I can't speak for her. Instead, I will ask her how it feels and let you know.