How to Get There
I’d first spotted this lighthouse from the back of a scooter when I visited São Vicente for the first time. I already knew I wanted to dedicate a day to visit the lighthouse upon return to São Vicente after Santo Antão island.
The lighthouse is called “Farol de Dona Amélia,” but if you’re in a public vehicle or a taxi in direction of São Pedro, all you need to know is the word Farol – ‘lighthouse’. Everybody knows which one you mean if you’re in the right area. This lighthouse is located on the tip known as Ponta Machado. Click here to see the location on Google Maps.
First, you need to get to a hamlet called Santo André. If you’re in an aluguer or public transit, they’ll likely drop you off at the crossing with the main road to Santo André. If you’re in a taxi, they can drive you all the way onto the beach till the trail begins. Since it’s quite a high price when you take a taxi, make sure to enforce your beachy drop-off point.
Here is my experience:
Early Mornings on São Vicente
Events occurred on Saturday 2 March 2019
Even with the best of intentions, there is not a day when I don’t struggle to get up for physical exertion. This time, I did myself – and my partner – the favor of realizing my predicament, and not turning on an alarm. I don’t know when I woke up, but by 8:25 we’d left the house with a backpack full of water and sandwiches, ready for the hike.
We first walked to the southwest end of town, where the road leads to the airport and São Pedro. Our experiences over the past 6 weeks in Cabo Verde have taught us that it’s best to walk to the road where you’re going, then wait till an already-filled aluguer comes by to pick you up. There is just one issue: while that method works very well for the other islands in the Barlavento, it doesn’t apply to São Vicente.
São Vicente is a little special; 93% of the island’s population lives in the city of Mindelo. Mindelo, in turn, is the second-biggest city of Cabo Verde, after the capital Praia. There are plenty of buses inside the city, connecting the neighborhoods, but there are almost no vehicles leaving the city. So we walk, and we wait.
An Aluguer That Actually Isn’t
We walked almost all the way to Lazareto (a small town near Monte Cara). Jonas was already irritated at the situation, and I was doing damage control; I tried to hitchhike every vehicle that wasn’t a taxi that came our way.
Once I managed to stop a vehicle with my thumb. The guys inside the small car were happy to take us, but they were only going to the nearby Lazareto. So I thanked them and wished them a good trip and a good day.
By 9:30, I managed to stop a big Hilux pickup truck. It had a sign out saying ‘aluguer’ and already had one paying passenger inside, so I thought it was all good. I confirmed he was going to São Pedro, and climbed in.
We drove on and further specified and confirmed that we were going to the ‘Farol’. Our driver nodded and then a conversation between him and his other passenger happened in Cabo Verdean Creole. Something about who gets to be dropped off first, since she’s the first paying passenger and initiator of the ride.
It felt good to be finally going to the lighthouse, and I was excited. Jonas was also happy something was finally moving. We enjoyed our 10-minute ride past the windy valley and the airport.
Discussions with the Driver
We took a right turn off the main road to Santo André. This already felt a bit wrong, since I was sure the lady sitting in the passenger’s seat wasn’t going there, and we were wasting her time. I’d rather have walked the bit to the lighthouse from the main road since it’s not so much longer.
I told the driver “aqui” to stop him from driving onto the beach. Jonas got out of the car and grabbed his wallet. I made the mistake of asking “Quanto seja?”, and the driver pointed up his finger and said “one”. I repeated back “one-hundred?” and he corrected to “one thousand”. My face went pale.
Jonas handed him a 500 CVE bill through the passenger window, expecting change for the short ride over such a smooth asphalted road. We had a short argument about the price, where the guy repeated his extortionate demand; he claimed he was a taxi, and not an aluguer, even though by all definitions we were sharing the vehicle. Jonas budged, added another 500 CVE, and we left the scene.
I was really fucking upset. Paying nearly €10 for a 10-minute ride was nuts. I apologized thoroughly to Jonas for not making clear beforehand what kind of situation we were in, but he wasn’t mad. He said, “In 9 out of 10 cases, it’s fine to not ask for the price. In the 10th case, it goes wrong. This is calculated into our strategy.” This was mostly in reference to the previous week we’d experienced in Santo Antão, where we were trying to hike and hitchhike around the eastern part of the island.
Holiday from Hell
We walk downhill to the beach, past the resort. A couple of weeks earlier, we had seen this resort with a swimming pool. We had joked about how all that space was so obsolete without the tourists. As a joke, we’d looked up whether we could stay in that resort for the 6 days we would be back in São Vicente. The joke wasn’t that funny; a week-long stay in the most depressing room available would run at about €1000. No desk to work at, no kitchen to cook in, no unlimited WiFi, no fridge to save your snacks. Just a room: €1000 for a shitty week. Outrageous pricing model. But I guess that’s why we’re staying in the city after all.
We walk past a pack of dogs on the beach outside the resort. They’re not alerted by us, which is good news. We hike past the place we’d parked our scooter at a few weeks earlier and start the hike upward.
A Surprising Alternative
After the first hill, we see a truck-wide road carved into the mountain we’re about to hike up. It’s not on my offline map. This is an almost unknown situation to me, and I freak out a little. While unpaved, the road already contains some vital infrastructure, like the ditches that carry the water down the mountain swiftly.
Jonas and I discuss whether we should take the obviously superior road or continue hiking our vague trail. We decide on the modern road and I start GPXing the route on my smartphone, intending to add a useful piece of information to the Open Street Maps world map… but then Jonas wants to double back onto the hiking trail. I quit the recording and conclude that this should be done on the return trip.
The sidetrack is a false alert, so we continue on the hypnotizingly great vehicle road. It zigs and zags a couple of more times before a spray-painted white line announces its ending. I look on my map how far we are from our original trail plan, and it’s bad news: it’s next to us, but on a totally different level. We need to improvise another route to get onto the right level and then not deviate from the original plan.
A Friendly Hike
Once onto the path, the hike goes swift and smooth. The trail is skinnier than the other road and between a dazzling cliff into the sea and hovering rocks from above, but it’s just fine. We pick up a nice pace and nothing is as challenging as the map had suggested. Yes, it’s windy, but not the type of blown-off-the-cliff windy.
The path becomes much skinnier overtime. There is a stack of orange corrugated roof tiles lying about, of which we don’t yet know the significance. Some spontaneous stairs interrupt the glorious accessibility. Around some corners, the wind picks up. But when we turn the last important corner, we’re rewarded with a view of the pretty lighthouse.
Jonas asks me if I’m hungry for a cheese sandwich, and I say “No, let’s wait till we’re at the lighthouse”. The last bits to the lighthouse are full of rocks and even a handfast rope screwed in the rock to help people descend over the slippery rocks.
Confusion on Arrival at the Lighthouse Farol de Dona Amélia
A young guy is sitting at the entrance to the lighthouse building. It looks public, so I ask him in freely-interpreted Portuñol if we can enter. The guy responds by saying “Francês? Francês?” and then rambling on at us in French. I am so sick of people assuming we’re French. “Português o Espanhol? Não entendemos Francês.”
I repeat “Pudo entrar?” but he continues speaking French.
We give up, for now, to prioritize eating our breakfast. The lighthouse building casts a thin shadow, wide enough to relax at. I roll a rock into the shadow as a seat, and Jonas perches himself on the ground with the wall as back support. We munch and rehydrate.
I’m very happy we finally did this trip, just like I was so happy when we hitchhiked to Monte Verde two days before. I’m even more happy that it wasn’t particularly challenging or exhausting, unlike some of the hikes we’d done on Santo Antão island. Not too exhausting that we won’t be able to get some work done tomorrow, but also not too little of a challenge to refresh the mind. It’s about setting goals and accomplishing them, which – at least for me – helps to build a positive feedback loop of rewarding activities.
Leaving the Lighthouse
We depart the lighthouse’s premises at 11:05. The guy at the entrance has been polishing something while we were eating. He shows us a seashell he polished and asks – in French – if we want to buy it. I lowkey still want to enter the lighthouse premises but rule against it as dealing with people who want to sell me shit is taxing.
The first ascent reveals a fishing boat behind the lighthouse. I’m trying to up the pace for the return trip, but we still make plenty of stops to take photos. The beach of São Pedro is really, really big. It looks beautiful from far away, and not too intimidating. The first windsurfers of the day from the expensive resort enter the water. The wind has indeed picked up more.
The beach of São Pedro is right in front of the airport’s runway. We see a Binter plane approach for landing, and barely a minute later a larger non-Cabo Verdean plane drops in. The trail is actually quite a good plane spotting area, as you can see almost the entire runway. In two days, we’ll be the people getting hustled by taxi drivers for going to the Cesária Évora airport on São Vicente.
A Beachwalk to São Pedro
We arrive at the beach at 11:40, so we did the return trip in 35 minutes. Our shoes sink into the soft golden sand mixed with black volcanic sand. We take off our shoes and start the final 2 km to the restaurant on the beach we’d been to on our scooter trip. They have cold beers but don’t over-freeze them, which is quite a common problem in some Cabo Verdean businesses.
Jonas walks close enough to the water to get his legs wet. I choose to stay semi-dry, to not get my camera wet. The wind is coming from the northwest, where it blows through the airport valley and collects so much speed it blasts the sand onto our lower legs. It hurts, but not enough to do something about it.
There are some pretty birds in the surf. The long-legged kind that prefers not to fly, and just runs away from bigger waves crashing on the beach. They stick their beaks into the sand, probably to eat worms. This gives me and my bare feet the heebie-jeebies.
When we approach the restaurant, we see that a large pool of seawater blocks the access. Jonas wants to shortcut through it, but I don’t out of fear of falling over and ruining my tech. The detour requires us to walk past two girls who are playing. One girl approaches me and tries to sell me another fucking seashell. Luckily, she accepts no as an answer and runs to her friend to bitch about us.
Beers on the Beach
The final meters to the restaurant are hardened enough for cars to drive over it. There are lots of tiny glass pieces around, so we put on our shoes to cross without injury. “It’s a metaphor for something, isn’t it?” Jonas says. “Hmmm? You mean that something here is very very nice and pleasant, except for this one thing that’s fucked up yet crucial?” I ask. “Yes,” he says, “something like that. I can’t put my finger on it.”
We pick a table and ordered two cold Strela Kriola. We both take off our shoes again to let our feet dry and de-sand properly. The terrace is full of tourists. One French couple enjoys a glass of wine. Then I see the woman take a sip and make the most revolting face. The wine in Cabo Verde is very hit-or-miss, and my guess from her facial expression is that she had a ‘miss’. Also, French people are generally hard to please with non-French wine.
The population of the terrace rotates quickly, as people come, consume a beverage, and depart constantly. I hear Dutch, English, and French alternate. Most people are on holidays and only explore São Vicente and Santo Antão. I forgot that it’s generally still really fucking cold in Europe, which explains why so many people try to soak up as much sunshine as possible in the shortest amount of time. A TAP airplane approaches for landing, bringing in a new batch of sunseekers.
I hear meows from inside the restaurant. I’m pretty sure this is the kitten that we’d met for the first time on our scooter trip. She has three types of patches, has a chimera stripe in the middle of her face, and her left leg is in a permanent ‘leggie’ position: stretched out. It looks painful, or like it would be challenging to walk for the kitten, but she runs pretty quickly nonetheless.
The owners of this restaurant seem to take good care of the local street cat population of São Pedro, all things considered. After paying for our beers (outrageous at 150 CVE each), I pet the kitty one final goodbye. I’m sad.
Hiking and Hitchhiking Back to Mindelo
We start our journey homeward. At the entrance of São Pedro, we see a line of Hiace aluguers waiting, but our experience taught us that you may wait forever there. Best is still to hike away from town, then try to stop or hitchhike any vehicle that comes our way.
We’re on the downwind side of the airport. There is a sign saying “Danger- jet blast”, which actually sounds like a lot of fun. A fairly large plane is driving in our direction on the tarmac, getting ready for take-off into the other direction. We keep hiking as the plane takes off for probably a colder destination.
A van drives by, but they don’t stop for us. So we keep walking. We’re almost at the airport when another van without explicit taxi/aluguer sign approaches. We stop it and ask if they’re driving to Mindelo. The answer is yes, so Jonas asks how much it costs. The man says it’s for free and encourages us to get in.
It seems to be an informal kind of tourist vehicle from a specific hotel or resort. There is the driver, who is permanently on the phone, the guy we spoke to in the passenger’s seat, and two guys in different benches having a stimulating conversation. We sit behind them, and drive off past the airport and all the other towns.
In Mindelo, we get out on our street. We ask the guy in the passenger’s seat how much we should pay, and he waves us off to say “Don’t worry about it”.
Cabo Verde is a country with quite a bit of ups and downs concerning intransparent pricing, departure times, vehicle types, etcetera. We paid 1000 CVE (€10) that morning for a ride that was definitely, definitely overpriced for what we got. One that we should have never accepted. But then our return trip was for free. Jonas is right: it balances out.
We’re home around 13:30 and spent 1600 CVE for the whole trip.
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