It feels very surreal to be composing a blog about the isolated Cape Verde Islands while we are watching continuous live coverage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This war is being live-streamed on the various news channels (MSNBC, FOX, BBC, Skye News, Skye Australia, notably no CNN) that are available via the ship’s shaky satellite internet. There are at least ten Ukrainian crew members onboard. Our cabin attendant said that one of the Ukrainians was crying because of fearing for the safety of her family members in Kyiv (Kiev). I was told that Olga, the ship’s Ukrainian classical pianist, has two young children in Kyiv. Russia’s invasion is a tragedy for the whole world, and the outcome remains uncertain.
I first heard of Cape Verde Islands in the title of a jazz composition by pianist Horace Silver, The Cape Verdean Blues. I learned that Silver’s parents were from Cape Verde. Cape Verde is a nation of ten volcanic islands lying several hundred miles off Africa in the Atlantic. I doubt that its residents are concerned with Ukraine or news about other conflicts around the world. The Cape Verde islands have a combined population of around half a million inhabitants. Over a million Cape Verdeans have emigrated to countries around the world, with the largest diaspora population living in Portugal, Brazil, and the US. The islands were uninhabited when discovered by Portuguese explorers in 1456. The official language is Portuguese. It’s population is mostly “mestizo,” the designation given to the mixed race descendants of the original Portuguese colonists and the Africans who were originally brought as slaves to the islands. Their second indigenous language is “Creole,” which is a mix of Portuguese and African languages. One problem for the country is that differing versions of Creole are spoken on different islands, because the different versions of the Creole language evolved in isolation from each other prior to being united by modern transportation.
Cape Verde was a Portuguese colony until it gained its independence in 1975, following the overthrow of the dictatorship in Portugal. Cape Verdeans have strong ties to Portugal as a trading partner and primary emigration destination. The Cape Verde islands are very barren. Thus the country must import ninety percent of its food. It’s main industry is tourism. Thus the covid epidemic caused a national crisis which continues to cause its residents to seek to emigrate. Nonetheless, its residents have strong national pride in their culture. The Cape Verdean culture developed over five hundred years of relative isolation, leading to its unique Creole language and history.
Our Viking Star landed in the second largest city in the country, Mindelo, on the Sao Vicente island. Mindelo has the best natural port in the country, and is thus the main entry point for tourist ships. The island of Sao Vicente is unfortunately mostly barren mountains. There is not enough ground water available for the population, necessitating a large desalinization of sea water. In addition, climate change has had a drastic effect on Sao Vicente. Our guide told us that there had been no rain at all for the last three years and only one day of rain four year ago! Thus, agriculture has been mostly halted for the last four years. Our tour of the island took us to the peak of the highest mountain, over two thousand feet high, named Green Mountain. Due to the prolonged drought, there was very little green to be found on Green Mountain.
There is a local fishing industry with the catch consumed locally. We saw goats grazing on the grassy terrain. But the farmers’ fields were dry and barren. On our bus tour, we saw a shrimp-growing facility, marked by large plastic-lined pools filled with sea water. Our guide said that this industry hoped to expand to breed tuna for export. Israel has similar desert-shrimp-growing facilities. Shrimp are not kosher and therefore are forbidden to eat under Jewish law. But the Israeli entrepreneurs say that because the shrimp are in rubber pools never touching Israel soil, they are technically “not in Israel.”
Because there are no trees on Sao Vicente, all houses are made of stones and concrete. I didn’t manage to get a good photo of them, but I saw “houses” consisting of shipping containers embedded in hillsides, probably without electricity or plumbing. To Cape Verde’s credit, there is a large windmill presence to provide power based on the nearly constant ocean winds. Many of the major roads are cobblestone, which are rough and noisy to drive on. The busses for our tours were relatively old and not air-conditioned, unlike the busses in most of our other destinations. Thus, the nation of Cape Verde is considered a “developing” country. Its standard of living is one of the highest of all nations in Africa. It is gay-friendly, unlike much of Africa. And the Sao Vicente island hosts a famous annual three-day international music festival featuring local musicians as well as international musicians from Africa and Brazil.
In conclusion, Cape Verde is a country that we would only have visited as part of the cruise itinerary. I’m glad we visited, but I wouldn’t want to live there. Visiting Cape Verde stimulates thoughts about the contrast between living in America or Europe or other “first-world” countries as opposed to living conditions in “third-world” developing or undeveloped countries. We are blessed or cursed by the fate of being born in a particular location, which strongly influences the course of our lives. I urge readers of this blog to be thankful for your lives in our modern countries and appreciate that we have plenty of food, water, jobs, cultural amenities, and opportunities to enjoy our very high standard of living.