We arrive at the roundabout that interrupts Circular da Praia near Cape Verde's National Stadium.
Two roundabouts imposed on the parched and thorny vastness distribute traffic to Praia and other directions. A sample of a herd of cows is kept on a central divider in the road leading to the Cidade Velha.
Strange, unexpected, the sight distracts us. It makes us miss the correct exit. We take another walk, accompanied, with suspicion, by the cattle. Finally, following the second roundabout, we hit the north of Santiago.
In a flash, the road narrows. Fits the two most common senses in Cape Verde. A few kilometers later, having crossed the Pedegral and the village of Ribeirão Chiqueiro, it enters a pre-gorge mode that prepares us for the imposing and jagged terrain.
One of the winding roads that passes through Caiada and Água Gato leads us to the municipality of São Lourenço dos Órgãos and to the mountainous and dramatic stronghold to which we hoped to spend some time.
The Mountainous and Verdant Domain of São Jorge dos Órgãos
There, in the most leafy and flowery sector of the Superior School of Agrarian Sciences of the University of Cape Verde, we find the National Botanical Garden Grandvaux Barbosa.
It was created in 1986, named in honor of Luís Augusto Granvaux (1914-1983), a Portuguese botanist hyper-dedicated to the overseas flora, especially to Cape Verde.
In the free rein we used to walk, we preferred to admire it in its context and natural ecosystem. Accordingly, we proceed to the heart of São Jorge dos Órgãos.
Right in the middle of the village, the relief confronts us with the blue church of São Jorge, tucked between elevations with sharp peaks.
We felt the urge to distance ourselves from the houses, to find a worthy vantage point. We got into that way, along a narrow detour, on badly beaten earth that zigzagged up one of the slopes above.
Suspicious about the damage that the aggravated floor could cause to the car, we found in a group of peasant women, sitting on sacks and sacks of dry corn, the ideal pretext to abort the madness.
A Well-Disposed Community of Solidarity Peasants
“We got together here in community work” they explain to us, as if it were a commonplace. “In these more isolated parts, the villagers struggle to handle the crops just for themselves. So we help each other.”
Raised in large part in the countryside of Beiras, we remembered when this community harmony prevailed there. But we were also aware of how individualism and facilitism had wiped it out, especially from the 90s onwards.
Delighted with the survival of this nostalgic solidarity, we surrendered to a chatterbox, in Portuguese familiar to everyone and in Creole badu to which the ladies resorted, among themselves, whenever a new remark or joke was imposed.
In his company, we contemplate the double peak of Pico de Antónia (1394m), the highest point on the island, third in Cape Verde, the heart of a national park of the same name.
Although, in this case, the namesake has to be told. The more we investigate, the more we see how much the name diverged from the zenith of Santiago.
The Unstable Historical and Semantic Context of Santiago roof
Supposedly credible sources explain that, from an early age, the mount was treated by Piku D'Antoni as it was one of the first elevations in Cape Verde recorded by the Genoese navigator António da Noli, in the service of Infante Dom Henrique.
Over time, it was referred to in documents and even in the lyrics of the Cape Verdean popular songbook. Nuns, it appears as António. In others, in the female.
Somewhere during the history of Santiago and its vernacular treatment, the people will have changed the gender of its discoverer. Surrounded by women from Santiago, we agreed.
Gilda, one of them, is late, more than an hour and a half on foot from São Jorge dos Órgãos, the village to which it was convenient for us to return. We give her a lift, we go down the mountain to talk and we give her to her life.
Then we went up to a viewpoint called Tancon. Leaning over its generous parapet, we once again admire Pico de António and its neighbors, now, from west to east, frontal and, as such, more defined and distinguished.
With renewed wonder, we resumed the path. Chã de Vaca is left behind. We alternate between the municipalities of São Lourenço dos Órgãos and the contiguous one of São Salvador do Mundo when a natural monument in Santiago demands a detour to the depths of Leitãozinho.
Pé di Polón: in search of the Biggest Tree in Santiago
We went down to the immediate slope. On the opposite side, we find the plant colossus we were looking for, Pé de Polião, in Creole, Pé di Polón, a baobab or kapok tree (ceiba pentandra) endemic celebrated as Cape Verde's supreme tree and one of the oldest.
At that time, already with some foliage, the woolen tree hung over the thalweg. It was sustained by colossal roots that rippled down the slope, thirsting for the water tables that Santiago's short rainy season unfolded.
Wild on arrival, the place quickly reveals its life to us.
Two young people from the area are walking along a path at the foot of the tree, loaded with sacks overflowing with some grain, as if that wasn't enough, one of them pulling a large goat attached to a rope.
Moments later, a couple succeed them on their way to their land, they too walking a pair of black goats eager for pasture.
Hundreds of photographs later, we set off for a walk that we considered to be short through the cultivated surroundings. We lingered longer than we counted.
Sugarcane and Grogue Production in the Region
A few meters above, between a solitary coconut tree and shallow banana trees, we came across a peasant. When she sees us, instead of greeting us back, she shows us an ecstatic, uncomplexed dance, and thus we are forced to conclude, drunk.
We praise you and your plantation with the diplomacy that comes to mind. Back at the top of the village, we detect the most likely reason for its animation.
We come across local residents gathered by the local warehouse, around a well of sugar cane juice in which a steaming yellow boil is bubbling. A worker in a beret stirs the liquid with a long shovel.
From time to time, take a sample to a dish and examine the thickness and appearance of the compost.
Dona Teresa and Sr. Zé Maria, owners or, at least, in charge of the warehouse, recognize the photographic effort we put into the operation. They call us aside.
Secure them with a half coconut shell, filled with alcoholized molasses. You know us like sour cherries. Much better than cherry, we must assume it.
Aware of the extreme orographic profile of what we had to do, we rejected a third dose.
Instead, we follow the assembly of the still, a process that proves to be too complex and dragged out for the time we had at our disposal.
Santiago Island Above: by Achada Igreja e Assomada
We say goodbye, grateful for the patience and welcome of the hosts. We've unlocked a bunch of big boulders just barely unloaded.
Once the top of the slope is clear, we return to the asphalt and head towards the north of Santiaguense.
We pass by Achada Igreja (Picos), a village installed on a crest, crowned by the church of São Salvador do Mundo.
And, prominently, by a huge and eccentric boulder. The people of these parts call it Monte Gullance.
He sees in it a man mounted on horseback, with such symbolism for the municipality that he is even compared to the statue of the Marquis of Pombal.
Next is Assomada, the city of Santiago's inland cities, peculiar to match, with its houses divided into two levels, one main and one above, on top of a plateau from which the serrated top of Monte Brianda seems to rise.
Another, symbiotic, lodged at the back of the table.
Assomada is home to the best-stocked and most active market in Santiago, and it is not unknown that the surrounding Santa Catarina county has become the island's undisputed granary.
The Gale Hills of Serra da Malagueta
We continue through Boa Entrada and Fundura. Soon, through the Serra da Malagueta above, sometimes exposed to some trade winds so powerful that we fear they will see our car.
From these same hills of the Santiaguense gales, still at a good distance, we admire the flatter lands that welcomed Chão Bom, the city of Tarrafal and, between them, the infamous prison camp of Morte Lenta, ordered to be built in 1936 by the government of the Portuguese New State .
They were stops to which we had decided to dedicate their own article. Accordingly, we turn to look west.
We admire the consolidation of the triangular silhouette of the Fogo volcano adorning the homonymous and neighboring island, overlooking and facing the highest lines of Santiago.