It is not very often I go back to the same places, but that is what happened to Old Town of Santiago. I have had the opportunity to island of Santiago by the time of the first direct flight of TAP between Lisbon and Praia, and by that time I made to visit Ribeira Grande, the current Old Town of Santiago, a town thought to be the oldest colony created in the tropics by Europeans.
This time, I arrived in times of calm, days after a storm had destroyed part of the edge of the Old City.
My (second) visit to the Old City
Still on the Beach, I asked where I could take a Hiace to the Old City of Santiago. I like to ride local transports and, besides, the price that taxi drivers asked for was too high for a lonely traveler. "Sucupira market," was the answer.
When I arrived there, and although it was Sunday, it was not difficult to find a van bound for the Old City. I was practically out of the way, so I had little to hope for. That is, the driver would still have to stop for long minutes at a grocery store to carry merchandise, and in another place, outside Praia, for reasons that I could not see. All normal, therefore.
On arrival at the Old City, I left Calhau Street, near Pelourinho, in the heart of the village. I should have realized later that I could have left Hiace closer to the fort.
I took a tour around the historic center, which UNESCO includes among the places classified as Cape Verde World Heritage Site; the Pelourinho was very calm, almost without people, and there was only one seller of crafts with the bench mounted in the square.
He might have continued to know the heart of the Old City of Santiago, but he had decided that before he even walked down Banana Street or enter the Cultural Center and Church of Our Lady of the Rosary, he wanted to climb up to the Royal Fort Filipe.
In my mind, the memory of the first visit to the Old City where, for some reason, I did not properly explore the fortress. This time, I would not make the same mistake.
I started up the access road to the old Cathedral of the Old City, which I loved to visit. The state of conservation of the building is not the best, but it is notorious the effort to preserve the place with dignity and open to the public.
By this time, he did not know the existence of a shortcut to the Fort of São Filipe so that, looking at the road that would still have to travel under a scorching sun, I made a stop sign for a Hiace who had meanwhile left the Pelourinho towards Praia. Two or three kilometers ahead, the driver stopped and the door opened for me to leave - it was at the intersection with the access road to the fort.
The Royal Fort of Saint Filipe was built on top of Achada Fort, in a dominant position over the city of Ribeira Grande.
It was where I found a shy boy staring at the cell phone, who sold the tickets. "Do you want to see the movie before or after?" He asked. I had no idea what he meant, but after realizing that the subject was the strong one, I chose to see immediately. I talked a little about the history of the fortress, and despite the rudimentary documentary techniques, I did not give my time as a misuse.
Soon after, I entered the fort. To my astonishment, I had the fortress only for me. I visited her quietly, watching the ramparts and the guardhouses; the walls and the vaulted cistern; the Portuguese cannons and the views over the Old Town, below, still and always quiet.
When I finally decided to go back to Old Town, I did not go on the road anymore. I had asked the young Cape Verdean who sold me the ticket as the fastest way to return to the village. He had indicated to me a trail, to the left of the fort, which would have been down there much faster than to meander the road.
It was the way that I followed, until I quickly arrived at the exact place where I had picked up Hiace: the old Cathedral of the Old City. It was, indeed, very close.
A little way ahead, a viewpoint allowed to contemplate the views on the beach. There were a couple of tourists on the stones made sand, some Cape Verdeans bathing, and a handful of boats dotting the watercolor.
The morning had long taken place in the afternoon, so I stopped at one of the restaurants near Pelourinho for lunch. After waiting for what seemed an eternity for the meal, I then went to the Cultural Center, where I enjoyed the simple art exhibition, before entering Banana Street to the Church of the Rosary. Unfortunately, the door was closed.
I was preparing to turn back when, as if by magic, a lady of respectable age appeared with the key and opened the door. Perhaps she had been warned of my presence; perhaps he had seen me pass from the interior of his house. Anyway, as soon as I left the church she locked the building again.
For me, it was time to have a cool drink on a Pelourinho bench and catch new Hiace back to Cidade da Praia. Despite the storm, life remained quiet in Santiago's Old City.
Here are some tips for a peaceful arrival to the island of Santiago:
- When doing the check-in of your flight to the island of Santiago, choose a place in the front row. That way you'll be the first to get off the plane; and will avoid long waits to obtain the entry visa in Cape Verde.
- Once you have collected your baggage, accept the offer of CVTelecom or Unitel phone cards. Then just carry the card to have telephone and internet during your stay in Cape Verde.
- Apart from the occasional hitch, the only way to get from the airport to Praia is by taxi (1.000 escudos, fixed price). Change money inside the terminal or use the existing ATM next to the games.
How to get to the Old Town
To go to the Old City of Santiago you can go by taxi or in Hiace (it is said i was). The taxi is more comfortable, but the Hiaces, collective transportation used by locals, are much more interesting. The trip lasts the longest (you never know where or how long the driver will stop), costs 200 shields and picks up in Sucupira.
Where to stay
I stayed in the Oasis Praiamar, located in Prainha and although it is not my preferred style of accommodation, it is one of the best hotels in Praia; another is the Hotel Pearl, next to Gamboa beach. If you prefer something more intimate, consider the elegant Sightseeing, installed in Plateau (the historical center); or the simple but welcoming Syd's Guesthouse in Prainha.
A World Nomads offers one of the best and most complete travel insurance recommended by National Geographic and Lonely Planet. Other excellent and cheaper option is IATI Seguros, which has no age limit and allows multivariate insurance (including long-term travel) to any destination in the world. It's the insurance I use in my travels.
I traveled at the invitation of the organization Sete Sóis Sete Luas.