To some, Cape Verde sounds like an island paradise. An island off the West Coast of Africa, bathed in light tropical winds with a perfect climate, the people are friendly, the beaches are apparently spotless...
Different when you are working there. Arrival on the island was a little late, so we touched down shortly after 11pm and i joined the line at immigration. Maybe 100 people, with 2 extraordinarily surly and unwelcoming Police officers on duty. An hour later my passport was scowled at for a good 3 or 4 minutes, all the time staring down without a word, they stared at various visas... and then asked "Visa?"
My answer must have surprised them. For I, like everyone else that day, and probably every other day they had ever worked at the airport, had discovered that you can only buy the visa in person once on the island. So no, i didnt have a visa. I was eventually given a form (including Profession, parents' names and i think it asked for my favourite colour) and joined the back of the line i had been in before, now at another desk. It took over 2 hours to get from the terminal door to baggage reclaim, a distance of about 40 metres.
The driver was there waiting and whished me off to my hotel. I was waved in the direction of a Grace Bros style lift which took me up one floor. Room 110 was posted down the corridor so off i went. When i bumped into my room, which i discovered by braille, I was so excited about the lighting arrangements in my corridor that i took a photo of the front door:
Once inside i took advantage of the facilities and slept. Until the alarm went off about 5 hours later.
The office was a huge sprawling place, fit for 1000 workers, but actually being used by about 20. I have no complaints about my treatment by the team there, excellent, hard working people who looked after me and made me very welcome. Even Anna, the mad young girl in the canteen who decided that the funniest thing she had ever encountered was a vegetarian.
The canteen was like a 1940s pre-hygiene food tent. There was a counter, and on the other side was Anna, a spoon, some tongs, and about a dozen plates. These contained one big pile of rice, one plate of vegetables, and about 10 different ways to cook bits of chicken. Or pork. Or lets face it, it could have been dog.
I was Anna's first vegetarian. So i got a plate of rice and vegetables. And each of my 5 lunches there was a lump of cabbage (boiled 45 minutes), some squash (boiled 45 minutes), a plantain (quite tasty actually) and some rice. And she never stopped laughing at me.
My host actually phoned a restaurant for me, as my Portuguese is not what it used to be, and was told they dont serve vegetarians. Irish, dogs and whores welcome, but no vegetarians. So it was off to the supermarket for home made cheese (Laughing Cow reduced fat slices since you ask) sandwiches.
One night we did go out to a restaurant. The chef was told at table side to prepare a feast of vegetables, to use his imagination, and surprise me. He did.
I got a plate of rice, plantain, squash and cabbage. And resting ever so neatly on top were 2 stone cold slices of Laughing Cow cheese.
The hotel was a great place to stay at night. No internet, no blackberry, no tv...One light in the room, no kettle, no fridge... the air conditioning had a hose running into a bucket by the window that i had to empty every couple of hours while wondering what the gestation period for legionaires disease is...
So it was no hardship at all to work at the office past 8 every night, and on the last night we arrived at the airport at 10.30. I arrived in the departure lounge after midnight. THere was only one flight, with little more than 100 people on, but again check in was painful and security was ridiculous. And we then left over an hour late which made my bag miss the connection.
Going to lost baggage at LHR was painful. I tried to explain to the man that i was travelling again the next day so needed my bag urgently. His reply - "Its not here." I know, say I, so can i borrow one? "No, your bag is not damaged, it is lost, and you can only borrow a bag if we have damaged your's." So being unable to prove that my bag was damaged, i left without a spare change of underwear....
So what did i see of Caboverde? In daylight - the walk from the office to the canteen. I had to wait outside the hotel every morning for the driver, so i include for your delight the Escolinha Disneyland - which proves that Cape Verde is one place the Disney lawyers have not yet reached which cheered me up. And the view from my window - the corner of the market place with women arriving with boxes of fruit on their heads. In civilisations where men do the work we invented the wheel 1000s of years ago. Where women do the work, they still carry boxes on their heads....