Ponta do Sol a Fontainhas, Santo Antão, Cape Verde

A Vertiginous Journey from Ponta do Sol


We reach the northern tip of Santo Antão and Cape Verde. On a new afternoon of radiant light, we follow the Atlantic bustle of the fishermen and the less coastal day-to-day life of Ponta do Sol. With sunset imminent, we inaugurate a gloomy and intimidating quest of the village of Fontainhas.

After countless intricacies, capricious as the sawn cut of the north coast of the island, the road enters an unexpected geological appendage.

It intersects an ocher-toned slab, so flat and elongated that it houses the pitch of the local club, Solpontense FC.

As if relief hadn't arrived, at almost the tip of this point, there is also the runway at the Agostinho Neto Airport, which has been deactivated since 1999, as a result of a plane coming from São Vicente having encountered almost zero visibility and having crashed, at 1300 m altitude of Santo Antão.

Rua Direita proves itself in such a direct way that it almost enters the port of Ponta do Sol below. We identify it by its Pistol Mouth shape.

And by the abundance of handcrafted boats in dry dock, fitted with criteria that suffice for frequent entries and departures.

The Improvised Fishing Port of Boca Pistola

Each one, with its combination of bright colors and names that only owners and fishermen know why they chose them.

“Nha Sonho”, “Flor de Baía”, “Andorinha” and “Maria de Fátima” among others, all united by the code of the land that welcomed them: “P. Sun."

At that hour, more arrived.

They were lulled by the angry North Sea, which not even the ill-groomed pontoon, already broken by successive storms, could abate.

The men at the helm of the small boats were thus forced to count on the intrusion of the waves, so as not to bump into the opposing lava flows.

One after another, uneventful, more boats were pulled up onto the green ramp that the slimes made slippery.

They came loaded with the afternoon catch: groupers, charrocos, mountain ranges, red mullet, snapper and the stretched moray eels.

We saw part of the specimens being groomed on the salty lava puddles, by men with skins that the sun is barely darkening, with austere faces, but who, in the face of willing requests, grant gentle smiles.

Another part is sold right there, on the verge of seafood restaurants in Santo Antão.

These businesses complement an accommodation offer that has increased at the rate that travelers make famous the scenery and the countless unique hiking routes on the island, some along mountain trails that close Ponta do Sol.

Return to the “Outro Tempo” of Santo Antão and Cape Verde

There were colonial times when life and even the name of the village were different, quite different. During almost the entirety of the XNUMXth century, its Creole people could not even imagine that, remote as it was, the village would conquer such tourist notoriety.

Decades on end, it was from that same port, now a fishing port, that the people of Santanton suffered the displeasure of leaving to serve, without return, the distant farms from São Tomé and Príncipe, dislike, now, with worldwide fame, for the lyrics of Armando Zeferino Soares and the voice of Cesária Évora.

Although the topic addressed, in particular, the island's dramatic farewells de São Nicolau, where Zeferino Soares was born.

The airport neighboring the port, in turn, was named Agostinho Neto, as the politician, the first president of Angola, lived there the Cape Verdean exile that the Salazar government voted for.

The Colonial Era of Villa Maria Pia

In the same path of evocations and tributes, to Ponta do Sol, the Portuguese settlers named Villa de Maria Pia, in honor of the Portuguese queen, also immortalized as Angel of Charity and Mother of the Poor.

Treated by fate and by History in an inclement way, especially in the last years of her life, in which the regicide of her son D. Carlos and her youngest grandson, D. Manuel II afflicted her.

At the time of the implementation of the Republic, the so-called villa in the top of Santo Antão it existed for several decades, from a certain point on, as the headquarters of the island's governors.

When, in 1900, a fleet lieutenant carried out a survey by the Ponta do Sol Port Cartography Commission, he found and recorded a geometric grid similar to the current one, oriented along a southeast-northwest diagonal, based on a large cobbled square.

In the last century or so, as would be expected, the town expanded.

With the airport runway deactivated and the Atlantic delimiting it above it, it extended to the base of the slab, ever closer to the foothills of the mountains, thus providing shelter to its more than four thousand inhabitants.

Praça da Igreja and Grelha de Ruas in the Diagonal of Ponta do Sol

At the time of our visit, the religious and executive powers were still confronting each other in the square:

a white church with two towers, with the company of a palm tree against the palace full of windows, bright yellow from the town of Ribeira Grande, the second largest city in Santo Antão and the undisputed capital of the North.

Of the passers-by we came across, two faithful, both wearing a headscarf, coat and skirt, prefer divine protection.

One of them sits on a bench in the square, in an extension of the temple.

Let yourself be caressed by the soft late afternoon sun, watching life go by.

When we realized that the shadow was taking over the slopes, we started our way.

Part of one of the conversations on occasion, a fisherman had assured us that we could not miss Fontainhas. That same evening, we point to the opposite side of the base of the slab and ascend the mountain.

The view begins by being restricted to the houses of Ponta do Sol.

As we progress along the narrow road, narrower than the Rope Road that we had become used to, zigzag and beaten earth, by the top of the cliffs overlooking the Atlantic, we unveil new and unexpected scenarios.

An Unexpected Livestock Vision above Ponta do Sol

We had already passed by a complex of corrals, shortly before reaching Ribeira Grande. We saw them made of stone walls, semi-detached, perched by a narrow thalweg above.

From that high point to which the road had taken us, we unveiled another livestock reality in Santo Antão. Two huge structures of cement and stone filled, in a mirror, the almost top of a slope.

They were divided into dozens of pen compartments, each home to one or more pigs.

Amazed by the size of the structure, we stopped the car and watched with eyes to see.

The owners of the animals, residents of Ponta do Sol and the surrounding area, fed the pigs with leftovers, some through the barred gates, others, younger, perched on the dividing walls, all of them given over to a relaxed chat.

Detached from the road as we were, they quickly spotted us.

We wave, shout hello to the wind. Pressed by the sunset, we took some last pictures.

Shadow and Vertigo, on the way to Fontainhas

The road wound through a deep cut of the mountain. It skirted it in a wobbly and abysmal way that left us uneasy about what the rest of the way would bring.

We skitter over the hesitation when, out of nowhere, a man who has been controlling us for some time appears from the top of the corrals, dressed in a blue overalls. "Are you going to Fontainhas?" he asks us, panting from the steep rush. Take me there, please, I'm already late and it's a long time on foot!"

Without us even having answered, he jumps to the pick up box. The idea was even to open the door for him. When he realizes that we were trying to correct him, the sudden passenger bothers us a little more. “Oh. Let it be. Me, by car, over those ravines, I even prefer to go here.”

We resumed the path, with extra care. Thereafter, triplicated.

Below, we can see raw beaches, with black sand that the Atlantic invades, first, with the white foam of its fury.

Then, with a green that the shadow was already eclipsing.

We advanced, between terraces imposed on the slopes, the highest, almost looming, parched.

The rest, the closer to the bottom of the valley and to the bed of the deciduous river that filled it, the more fertile and verdant.

The Equilibrist and Retired House of Fontainhas

In the sequence, we see the first agglomerations of houses, resting on reinforced terraces, in a prodigious stacked balance.

These introductory homes give way to the unusual houses of Fontainhas.

We admire it, organized in two main blocks, the last one filling an entire crest of the relief, even if small, used by several dozen of the nearly three hundred inhabitants.

At that time, the village had a meeting point at Bar Tchu.

Among her and with the foreign walkers who are increasingly looking for it, curious to witness such a fascinating retreat.

Those who arrive at Fontainhas on foot realize better than anyone that exile is more visual than real. Despite the isolation at the bottom of the valleys, the village is a mere 2 km from Ponta do Sol.

In the early colonial days, cases abounded, these were extreme, of self-isolation.

In which, to ensure protection from pirates and other enemies, settlers took refuge in the true interior of territories at mercy.

In the case of Fontainhenses, in addition to the relative proximity of the village, there has always been a company of nearby villages, which are also members of the parish of Nª Srª do Livramento:

Spiders, Crow, Ants, Slope, Loin, Lombinho de Mar, Mane Corre, Selada, Zulinca.

And others never named.

Darkness was beginning to seize those ruts in the mountain. Unwilling to make our return in the twilight, much to photographic frustration, we find ourselves forced to anticipate it.

On our way back to Ponta do Sol, we come across villagers who are used to making that route a physical exercise, demanding, but dazzling.

When at last we descended to the ocher flatness of the slab, the sun had long since fallen behind the northern tip of Cape Verde.

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