The volcanic genesis and capricious geomorphography shaped the arid-green exuberance of Santo Antão. But not only. They also dictated an inaccessibility by air and respective isolation that only the brotherhood of São Vicente, right there on the opposite side of the homonymous channel, seems to alleviate.
If it weren't for São Vicente, Santo Antão would experience another level of Atlantic solitude.
São Vicente was confirmed as our inaugural landing point in Cape Verde. Unsurprisingly, it was from Mindelo, its capital, which we set sail for the canal, heading to Porto Novo de Santo Antão.
Almost residents of the archipelago, for months the trade winds hit both one island and the other. In such a way that, when we visited the facilities of the shipping companies in the port of São Vicente, the next crossings were to be confirmed.
Finally, with mid-afternoon, the wind gives itself. Enough to allow navigation, affected by turbulence that captains and passengers were already used to. When we embarked on the “Canal Sea”, one of the crew's first measures is to provide passengers with seasickness bags. Even if it was standard procedure, the Atlantic soon made sense of it.
The "Canal Sea” leaves Porto Grande bay behind. Glide, gently, towards the islet of Birds. As we saw the contours of the top of Monte Cara being defined, the waves of the channel formed more and more hollow ups and downs. They agitated the ferry and made it adorn without mercy. Spacedly, in such a way that, on the upper deck we were following, any sketch of displacement turned out to be an adventure.
We continued in this violent frenzy for a good forty minutes, at the mercy of the blue but crisp Atlantic, dotted with large crests of foam.
Gradually, Santo Antão usurped the leading role of São Vicente. The imposing slopes, full of grooves on the island's southeast coast, gained volume, shape and color. How did the multicolored houses stretched between the Ribeira do Tortolho and the port of Porto Novo where the crossing ended.
By the time of disembarkation, the sun had already disappeared towards the west of the island. We checked into the hotel. A little later, we went out again, hoping to still solve the eternal problem of the SIM card and one or two more annoyances essential to the tour through Cape Verde to which we were going to dedicate ourselves.
We walked through the alleys of the city closest to the sea, between houses and businesses tucked away in pastel colored buildings that, detached from the asphalt soil or sand and volcanic dust, disguised themselves as gaudy.
Meanwhile it gets dark. If even the Alisios surrendered to a truce and rest at night, who were we to clash.
The Vertiginous Ascent from Porto Novo to Lombo da Figueira
We wake up before the wind. We return to the Porto Novo seafront, hoping to find a car at the height of the natural roller coaster of Santo Antão. The first car we rent runs out of battery shortly thereafter. On the second attempt, we put our foot down on a pick up, more expensive but that we knew was another level of strength and reliability.
With transportation resolved, we confirmed that the most urbanized and passable section of the island was located in its upper third. Only two roads allowed travel from the largest city, Porto Novo, to the urban centers of the northeast coast of Paul, Janela, Ribeira Grande and Ponta do Sol.
One of these roads ran counterclockwise through the foothills of the northern mountains. The other ascended, without major detours, but by countless meanders, to a ridge that coincided with the limit of the municipality of Porto Novo.
Even before we leave, we stroll along the volcanic beach where the Ribeira do Tortolho flows, entertained by the contrast between the large black and polished basalt pebbles and the bright colors of the fishing boats. We appreciate them, lined up on top of the stony, in harmony with the sky and with three or four verdant acacias, like a well-considered fishing facility.
From there, we went back into the houses of Porto Novo, until we found the perpendicular of the city from which Estrada da Corda departed.
In a first section, the undulating cobbles of the track take us up the slope, in a gradual and not sinuous way, in a smooth ascent that the powerful pick up conquers without effort.
At a certain point, the road reaches much steeper sections of the slope. The Rope winds itself in successive walled zigzags, between thorny bushes and more acacia trees.
Plus this one, minus this one, we reach Lombo da Figueira. And a junction already on the border of the municipalities of Porto Novo and Paul.
The Stunning Agricultural Boiler of Cova do Paul
Forward along the way was the intriguing Paul's Cave. To the east, the road led to the Paul viewpoint and Pico da Cruz, these points, like the road itself, with some of the best views over the south of Santo Antão and the Atlantic below.
We give priority to the diversion. We stop at Paul's viewpoint. From there, we are fascinated with the subtle advances and retreats of the mist, stroking and irrigating the wooded slope below, one of the most leafy on the entire island, we would later conclude. We pass the chapel of Nossa Senhora da Graça.
In the village below, we fraternized with some Santo Antonians dressed in the cool and humid of the heights, who used to get supplies from the local drinking water tank.
We return to Estrada da Corda. After a few kilometers, we find the opening in the vegetation that provided the Miradouro da Cova.
Cova is one of several caldera that deepen the volcanic profile of Santo Antão. When we look at it from the side of the road, instead of the sulfuric air, an innocuous mist hangs over it, a kind of interior extension of the clouds that we had seen from the viewpoint of the Paul.
This mist is vital for the small and picturesque agricultural activity with which the people of Santo Antônio fill almost the entire kilometer of diameter of the caldera. With corn, sugar cane, cassava and, of course, stone beans. We went down. We walk around there, among the sugar cane hedges with which the peasants sprinkle the fertile land.
When the clouds cover it in full, a drizzle wets fools drenches us. We return to the Rope.
Arlinda, Kelly and the Castigo do Feijão-Pedra
Once in full control of Paul, we crossed Fajã de Cima. As we pass, we are attracted to the vision of a mother and daughter, sitting side by side in the sun, peeling stone beans from wicker baskets into small cans.
Their name is Arlinda Neves, the mother.
And Kelly Neves, the daughter. “I have my brother and my daughter-in-law living there near Lisbon…where is it…ah, it's in Baixa da Bath” informs us Kelly. “We only see them once a year. This year, it's still not right.” adds and shows us a framed photograph of the couple.
The conversation and the soft sun warmed the conviviality, so the conversation stayed with us. This, until the interlocutors finished the task and we realized that they wanted to dedicate themselves to someone else.
Estrada da Corda Below, with Pass by Corda
We return once more to Estrada da Corda. We snake through a forest of massive pine and cypress. We go around a secondary caldera, much smaller than Paul's and enter the Ribeira Grande domain.
From then on, still at an elevation of 1000 meters, up to the Corda that gave it its name, the road descends little by little.
13km inland from the starting point of Porto Novo, more than a village, Corda maintains several hamlets and villages, among which Chã de Corda and Esponjeiro stand out. It establishes a high-altitude agricultural community above another of Santo Antão's deep craters.
In the meantime, the road detaches from Corda. It gains momentum at the top of the Ribeira Grande gorge, at intervals, between terraces now planted and now parched and colonies of sharp and exuberant agaves.
Delgadinho's Highway Prodigy
Around this time, in communion with such intrepid flora, we arrived at the entrance to Delgadinho, a panoramic high point of Estrada da Corda.
A few peeks to one side and the other later, we confirmed that it was one of the places that best revealed the geological splendor of Santo Antão.
In practice, it is the unlikely Delgadinho that grants Estrada da Corda its continuity. Had it not been for that morphological crest modeled on the lava millions of years ago, high above the deep valleys of Ribeira da Torre and Ribeira Grande, the mountain shortcut between Porto Novo and the city of Ribeira Grande would have been impossible.
We stop at your entrance. We traversed it on foot, unsure whether we should be dazzled first by the geological sculpture on one side or the other, incredulous at both.
Until, out of nowhere, two people from Santo António appear. From above, a local resident appears, with a large bunch of pasture under his arm. Upwards, a motorcyclist pushed his stuck motorcycle.
Tucked into an overalls and under the shade of a cap from Super bock, José Cabral, a Corda native, realized that enough mechanics were enough. It only took a few minutes of cooperation for the duo to get around the bike. The motorcyclist thanks the help, says goodbye, disappears in the punishment of the slope.
While wiping the oil from his hands with an improvised herb shroud, José Cabral explains to us that he worked for many years in Portugal, maintaining dams.
We boast about his birthplace: Corda, Delgado. St. Anthony in his blessed whole. José Cabral returns the kindness. He advises us to continue the journey always with low changes.
The Vertiginous Descent Towards Ribeira Grande
In the 7km that separated us from the final destination, from meander to meander, the slope got worse. Only the knots and counter knots of Estrada da Corda collaborated with the pick up to curb the momentum of gravity.
Little by little, the then dry gravel bed of Ribeira Grande becomes wider. We glimpse the first housing nuclei at its base, already close enough to the coast to soften the spartan harshness of its retreat.
Without warning, we saw the Atlantic again and at the bottom of the V that seemed to support it, poorly finished buildings, too tall to belong to a village. We were on the verge of the second city of Santo Antão.
Almost 40km later, we had reached the other end of Estrada da Corda and north of Santo Antão.