As soon as we leave the pastel houses of Porto Novo behind, Santo Antão returns to the rawness and haughtiness of its geological origins, made of millions of years of upheaval and erosion.
In the almost absence of human marks, the splendor of the volcanism that raised it from the depths of the ocean. All this time expired, the Atlantic renews, moment by moment, its intimate relationship with the iron mountains of the island.
The first vision that catches us is that of a set of measured peaks that the sunlight makes to shine and that a cloak of dry mist, very dry and very white, tries, in vain, to embrace.
The coastal road completely clashes with the Rope Road. Zigzags to the northeast. It crosses a series of streams that, at mid-year, only dust and sand flowed.
Crossing André Col's road, the asphalt reveals the almost perfect cone of Morro de Tubarão.
Measuring a mere 325m, well below the 1585m of Pico da Cruz overlooking these parts, this striated legacy of the island's mother eruption leaves us awestruck, eager for what would follow.
We cross the arid bed of Ribeira Brava and the imaginary line that separates the municipalities of Porto Novo and Paul. Twenty minutes later, we were confronted with Ponta de Tumba.
Ponta de Tumba and the Old Lighthouse of Fontes Pereira de Melo
We still see the white, octagonal, dirty and ruined tower of a lighthouse. On a rusty structure, its old bell has several broken glass.
Just above, the sun, much higher, lights a jagged and deep bay.
Each time the dry mist releases it, it reinforces the watery, almost emerald green of the wind-beaten sea.
From where we were, we could only glimpse the northwest coast of Santo Antão.
Interested in unraveling it, intrigued by the lighthouse's stoic resistance, we decided to climb the walled trail, littered with thistles and cactus, and investigate it.
A sign as worn as the rest of the structure identified the "Pharol Antonio Maria de Fontes Pereira de Melo” built in 1886, in the reign of Dom Luís “the Popular”.
It remained active until 2006. Shortly after our visit, it was recovered and resumed contributing to the safety of navigation, treacherous in these parts of the Atlantic, the Alísios rock and shake mercilessly.
When we reach its base, the old lighthouse serves as an observation point.
Its promontory reveals the vagaries of the coast and a series of coves furrowed by the continuation of the road that has welcomed us for a long time.
Pontinha de Janela: another Unusual Village of Santo Antão
After more than an hour without hardly seeing any buildings, the lighthouse suggests a sharp peninsula that extended into the ocean, covered with houses and agricultural terraces until the sea made it impossible.
No reason to complicate matters, the place was handled by Pontinha. Less obvious, would be the reason why, out of nowhere, that almost amphibious patch welcomed so many people.
As we approached it, we realized how abrupt and inhospitable the north of Santo Antão was.
We understand how, accordingly, even more exposed to the wind and waves, an almost flat strip of land with easy access to the sea had been inhabited as a divine blessing, with the effort and merit with which Cape Verdeans became accustomed to survive.
Despite the tightness, there is room for a football pitch that gives meaning to the União Desportiva da Janela club, another reason for the commitment and pride of the villagers.
A hitherto hidden bay surprises us with several of the organic contrasts that the island is lavish.
The white marine foam breaks up on a threshold of basalt pebbles and boulders.
A few dozen meters inland, the stones and pebbles give way to some rough sand, two wooden goal posts planted in it, in an obvious footballistic despair.
Further up, on the slope side of the road, coconut and palm trees sprout from a narrow but lush agricultural plantation.
After the Tip of the Window, follows the Window.
As we walk along the village, made up of houses, some white, some colored, others the characteristic gray of unpainted cement blocks, a few more palm trees and coconut trees sprout, graced with the moisture the Trade Winds carry.
In terms of landscape, there is the perforated cliff that frames the ocean on the other side and which inspired the name of the town.
As far as history and its controversies are concerned, a small scrawled rock focuses attention.
The Pedra de Letreiro and Gavin Menzies' Despised Theory
In 2002, Gavin Menzies, a retired British Navy officer published “1421 – The Year China Discovered the World".
In the work, he explains what they consider evidence of maritime exploration in the world prior to the European one, between 1421 and 1423, by Chinese navigators, including the Cape of Good Hope folding, the Strait of Magellan and the arrival to Australia.
Menzies substantiated his theories during his travels through 120 countries and almost a thousand museums, libraries and medieval ports around the world.
Now, the slew of information he studied included a famous rock of Janela, the Pedra de Letreiro, which the locals call the Written Stone.
Like other authors, Menzies guarantees that he preserves inscriptions made by visitors to Santo Antão prior to the supposedly European pioneers.
An alliance of distinguished historians lashed out at Menzies. In three strokes and without embarrassment.
They confronted him with his theoretical bravado, in reality, based on a total lack of methodology and scientific seriousness.
Along with the inability to question and interpret historical data that reduced Menzies investigative wandering around the world to nothing.
The controversy intrigues us. We are committed to investigating the book, a task that remains on an accurate list arising from our own ramblings.
We hurried to return, to Santo Antão, along the increasingly steep coastline of the north coast.
By Lands of Paul and Vila (now city) das Pombas
After Pontinha de Janela, there is the Paul area, which gives the name to the municipality we were visiting.
Denotes a hillside area irrigated by three streams that flow from the higher lands (including Pico da Cruz), Paul, Janela and Penedo, responsible for a much more drenched and verdant soil than is normal in Santo Antao.
It is so fertile that it allows for several crops of sugar cane, bananas, cassava and even coffee.
In Paul, the car we were driving broke down. We took advantage of the wait for its replacement, to walk along the streets, especially the seaside, more airy ones.
We surrender to the heat and some tiredness. We settled in a restaurant to lunch freshly caught fish off the coast, with other Cape Verdean snacks.
In the meantime, a rent-a-car employee arrives with a replacement pick-up truck. Once again on motorbikes, we discovered observation points over Vila das Pombas, today promoted to the main city of the municipality of Paul.
Pombas extends over a fajã comparable to Pontinha, although laterally.
From where we admired it, a hedge of coconut trees rose above the seashore.
Not to vary, made of large rolling boulders on which, even in precocious balance, two young men faced the vigorous surf, given a refreshing sea bath.
followed by the cemetery .
And, to the north, the seaside houses, once again with unpainted blocks, with a few exceptions, in pastel tones, in one case or another, with bright, clashing colors.
We proceed on the seaside road, paying attention to the picturesque fashions, uses and customs of these parts.
A lady had turned part of her house into a grocery store. Betting that customers would find a little of everything there, she named it Google.
In the absence of customers, she remained at the window, accompanied by a child whose nose only reached the parapet, left to figure out who were the strangers her mother was chatting with.
The centuries-old trapiche of Mr. Ildo Benrós
“Sõ Ildo? It's a very simple door that you find in a long wall”, she informs us in a Portuguese as little Creole as possible.
The door opens onto a farmhouse arranged around an old country house, worn pink, with a walled earthen courtyard in front of it.
From the center of the land, the fulcrum of all operations emerges, a traditional warehouse that is at least four hundred years old.
The owner, Mr. Ildo Benrós, welcomes us.
Accustomed to tourist visits, more pragmatic than smiling.
Ildo puts us at ease, so we follow as closely as possible the various steps in the manufacture of the grog:
Carrying sugar cane from the plantation above the house.
The rigging of the oxen on the arm, the rotation of the mechanism.
The gradual insertion of sugarcane into the press, the source of the sweet and still fresh juice that one of the workers gives us to taste, in preparation for the grogue and poncha we ended up buying.
On the last stretch to Ribeira Grande, we pass through the village of Sinagoga.
And, a few kilometers ahead, along a slope that housed dozens of pig corrals, twinned in stone walls, placed there so as to ensure a hygienic distance from the owners' houses and the city in general.
Ribeira Grande did not take long.
It would be the first of several incursions into the big city on the other side of Santo Antão.