Cape Verde is more than its beach resorts on the islands of Sal and Boa Vista. Its islands, with their diverse micro-climates, boast varying habitats serving many species of plants and animals. Its unique geography is home to both endemic and imported life forms, and we experienced varying types of deserts and rain forests, going from one island to the next.
The islands were known to me due to their significant presence in Charles Darwin’s notebooks, featuring in the first chapter of The Voyage of the Beagle. Notably, it was his comparison of flora and fauna between the islands of Cape Verde and the Galapagos, that lead to one of the keystones in his development of the Theory of Evolution.
Being previously uninhabited, the islands’ fascinating history and culture began with their colonisation by the Portuguese in the 15th century, the UNESCO heritage town of Cidade Velha on Santiago being the first permanent European settlement in the tropics. Its long history as a Portuguese colony, with its tortured past as a key port along the trans-Atlantic slave trade route has resulted in the island’s unique culture, which reflects its mixed African and Portuguese roots.
Sitting at a cafe in Ponta Do Sol, on the island of Santo Antão, listening to Morna played by a trio of musicians (the song was about the smell of a burning tyre being mistaken for a roasting pig), I asked our guide about the origins of Cape Verdean music and culture. “It all began here”, she told us. “When we arrived, there was nothing, and we had nothing. Everything started with us.”
Despite its rich culture and geography, island destinations, unfortunately, have most of their marketing done by resorts offering all-inclusive holidays with promises of cheap sunshine. For many, Cape Verde does not extend beyond the beaches on the island of Sal, and the private pools of their resorts. The irony is that, just a little further, beyond the Martin Parr-esque dioramas on its beaches, there are breathtaking worlds that seem almost lost in time.