I recently turned 25. This may not seem like a particularly significant milestone, but for me it was. The words ‘quarter-of-a-century’ began resounding over and over in my head, taunting me with the knowledge that life was flying by and there was still a long list of things I hadn’t done and places I hadn’t seen. It was time to visit somewhere I could seize the day and embrace a few new experiences. And where best to do this than in Cape Verde, a place that I’d never even heard of until I booked the flights?
Up recently, Cape Verde was still little-known as a tourist destination, but with more airlines flying there, this beautiful archipelago of ten volcanic islands, 350 miles off the West African coast, finally began making a name for itself. People started buying land and property in Cape Verde, hotels sprang up, and tourists began flocking in. Fortunately, Cape Verde has managed to retain its native charm and its natural beauty; vast, moon-like desert plains; towering volcanic peaks; cloud-capped mountains; and pure white beaches, lapped by turquoise waters.
If there’s one well-known fact about Cape Verde, it’s that this is a surfer’s paradise. Now, I don’t know about an adrenaline rush, but I was certainly looking for a new experience, and I was definitely no water-sport connoisseur – my one attempt on a jet-ski years ago had resulted in a near head-on collision with a banana-boat.
According to a local surfing pro, Ponta Preta on Sal Island is the best beach to hit if you’re looking for ‘killer waves, dude’, but considering my lack of expertise, I opted for Santa Maria Bay instead. Easier to ride or not, though, I wasn’t about to hit the waves alone. I’d read about a little company called ‘Surf Zone’ on the travel website ‘MyDestination Cape Verde’, who teach surfing to people of all levels, and so I signed up for a few lessons, thinking –naively – that I’d be riding the waves like a pro by the end of my holiday. Surfing’s pretty easy, right? Wrong. I think that mastering the concepts of nuclear physics would prove easier than mastering a surfboard. After three days, I managed to stand up on my board for the grand total of two seconds. But those two seconds were worth it. I may not be hitting the Big Surf any time soon, but I had an awesome time out in the waves, learning – or attempting to learn – a brand new skill.
Another activity on Cape Verde was horseback riding along the beach. Again, though, perhaps my expectations had been a little naive. I’d envisioned myself astride a pure white steed galloping through the sands, with the waves lapping around us and my hair whipping gracefully back as I rode into the sunset. My imagination, however, had forgotten one minor detail: I’d never ridden a horse before. Mounting the horse in Cape Verde, I was shocked by how high up I was, and ended up clinging onto the reins for dear life, counting down the seconds until I could plant my feet firmly on the ground again. But then the horse started moving, and suddenly the scenery was too distracting for me to dwell on anything else: we went from vast expanses of arid black-sand desert to stretches of picture-perfect white-sand beaches, all set beneath a cloudless azure sky. So awed by the landscapes, I even risked letting go of the reins for a minute to take a few photographs!
Sadly, I hadn’t been quite so daring in my choice of food; I’m ashamed to admit that my staple diet in Cape Verde had consisted mainly of pizza and chips. My palate may be adventurous but my stomach often isn’t. However, I couldn’t leave the islands without sampling the Cape Verdean national-dish, Cachupa Rica, a slow boiled stew of beans, pepper, pumpkin, manioc root, plantain and marinated tuna. I also tried a glass or two (or eight) of grog, Cape Verde’s rum-like staple-drink – an idea which had seemed great the night before; not so good the morning after.
Despite a raging hangover, a dozen bruises from my surfing lessons, and a sore backside from being bounced along the beach on the back of a horse, I knew that I couldn’t have picked a better destination for seizing the day and trying something a little different.
Author Bio: Ceri Houlbrook
Ceri Houlbrook is from Manchester, England – no, she doesn’t support United – and her passions include reading, writing, hiking and travelling the globe in search of some adventure!