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The island in focus

Where it all began 24 June 2004

You can’t say you’ve seen Cape Verde if you haven’t been to Santiago  
It was here, on Cape Verde’s largest and most populous island, marked by valleys and mountains, that the story of the mid-Atlantic Creoles began. Here the new lives in harmony alongside tradition, and the rural alongside the urban in an almost non-chalant manner. An example of this is the fruit and vegetable market on the Plateau, smack in the city center, where the aromas, sounds, colors and flavors of life in the countryside make it a must-see for anyone really wanting to discover the island.

Where it all began
But Praia, where a number of buildings that tell of a recent colonial past still stand, is just the beginning. Because the tourist who wants to get to know the island has a number of long paths to make his way along, either through the mountainous interior or along the coast.
 

And it is in the interior of the island, particularly in years in which rains has been plentiful, that one can discover the most authentic aspects of Santiago and its humble but dignified people, always ready to welcome the wayfarer, be it just for conversation or for a plate of cachupa, the island’s traditional food made with corn, beans, meat and vegetables.
 
Those attracted to the sea will also have no reason for complaints. The coastline of Santiago, due to its very geographic structure, is dotted with calm and welcoming bays and coves, many of them as wild as when nature moulded them and waiting to be discovered. Of the better known bays there is one, São Martinho, near the city of Praia, that is internationally recognized as a touchstone in aerial navigation – Portugal’s Sacadura Cabral and Gago Coutinho visited the bay in 1922 in their hydroplane, in a voyage that opened up the air path to Brazil.
 
Nearby is one of the most important tourist spots on Santiago and in all of Cape Verde – Cidade Velha (“Old City”), the first European city in sub-Saharan Africa. The town’s importance has made it a candidate to be included on UNESCO’s list of world heritage sites. The patrimony that over the centuries resisted the attacks of pirates is currently being restored so as to lend greater value to the space and bring it closer to qualifying for the UNESCO title.
 
Even so, more than just natural landscapes and historic sites, what is most enchanting in Santiago are other aspects of its culture, beginning with music. Particular highlights are batuko and funaná, markedly African rhythms present at all moments in the life of Santiago natives. In addition to sounds, there are also flavors. The island’s renowned cuisine is based on various dishes made of corn and beans.
 
The little canyon  
Santiago is not discovered only on official paths. The island, especially its interior, has countless corners to discover, as is the case of a practically inhospitable region baptized by a Portuguese journalist as the Little Canyon. The “Little Canyon” is a gigantic rock gorge whose features seem as if they were hand-sculpted, punctuated by long, green vines hanging down from a region notable for its aridness. The valley, which is not very long, opens up onto a rocky beach.
 
But there are countless other places like the Little Canyon, some of which even contain springs that resist the long periods of drought that afflict the island’s hinterlands. Some of the landscapes, veritable treasures, have been discovered by tourists who, travelling in groups with powerful jeeps, cut across the countryside in authentic adventures of discovery.
 
Marilene Pereira
Fragata magazine, nº3 - 2003

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