Cape Verde – Bitesize Africa

If you landed in Praia, you wouldn’t quite know where you are.

On my first day, I spent the morning strolling around Praia before it became too hot.

The old town is situated on the Plateau, overlooking the harbour and beyond that, open horizon where the old canons point to.
The buildings here are old Portuguese colonial style and are still in quite good condition although the colours are now bright, gaudy and distinctly African.


No matter where you go, there’s always people milling around or strolling around seemingly with some sort of mission or looking around in anticipation of something to happen.

People are quite happy to mind their own business. It’s rare that people stare but of course, like everyone everywhere, they are always curious. If you encounter someone, you can gladly say Óla and you’ll certainly get an smiled Óla back or, usually from the men, a thumbs up.

The traffic is quiet and when you sit in the shade, you’ll appreciate a cooling Atlantic breeze.

The first indication I got that I was in a different world, was whilst watching two ladies talk loudly in the doorway. One of the ladies had a tray of chorizo sausages on her head. This didn’t seem to make any difference to her temperament as she made her emotions quite well known to the other.

The middle-aged to older women seem to be the backbone of the society. They are busy, often selling fruit and goods from a street corner, cleaning, working in the restaurants or carrying children around.

The girls are very scantily dressed – reminiscent of Brazilian fashion – usually hot pants and string vests showing plenty of cleavage. Also judging from their self-confidence, they could easily be walking around the São Paulo streets. There isn’t a distinct attire for men – just casual. T-shirts, jeans, shorts, basketball caps, flap caps and crochet reggae hats. Every now and again, you’ll see a West African robe – usually this will be a Senegalese.

The streets are clean, the people are well-dressed and well-fed and everyone has the all-important latest technology: smartphones. There are plenty of cafés with cliental sipping on cappuccinos. Or enjoying a bottle of Strela with a frosted glass from the freezer.

Praia street

Comparing notes

An interesting experience was comparing my impressions – someone who has never been to sub-Saharan Africa – with those of a Mauritanian, Kan, who has never been to Europe but has traveled all of Africa.

Kan was beside himself – he couldn’t believe this place existed in Africa.

Look how clean it is!

He was also trying to find a reference point from which to start understanding this place.

They are African but they have European habits. Many of the European habits were invisible to me but the African aspects weren’t, since they were new to me and vice-versa.

Mind you, near the shopping mall at sunset, it was funny to see them jogging in the car park or partaking in a dance fitness routine. Spinning classes were advertised. At zebra crossings, cars would stop and at the roundabouts many will indicate. That didn’t go unnoticed.

I told him, I thought maybe Cape Verde is a bitesize Africa – an aperitif for beginners. He agrees but come to Mauritania or Niger, he says, and it’s completely different – that’s where true Africa can be found.

Physically, there is no distinct type of Cape-Verdean nor a traditional robe or dish. Just a mix of 500 years of shipping, traders, slaves, smuggling, music, catholicism, beer and fiestas.

Praia lady

A lady strolls into a shop.

Although the Cape-Verdeans seem proud to be African, they are also proud that they are not just African – they are something different.

En route to North side of the Island.

Technically, Cape Verde is still third world, which seems surprising when you sit in a cafe but the centre or if you see the tourist brochures.

We travelled through the centre of the island to the Northern most city. Throughout the island, you will find unbuilt buildings, stray dogs, burnt out cars. The unfinished houses, effectively just shells, are claims by the emigrant Cape-Verdeans for their retirement homes. There are 600,000 living abroad – more than actual islanders. Like a lot of poorer countries a good portion of the GDP comes from remittances, about 10%.

Many dwellings in land are very modest – brick built with tiled walls but no larger than a living room. There is no dire poverty – it’s rare to see people begging or in a desperate state. Care-free and content seem to be a common themes, no matter where.

It is this care-free atmosphere which is distilled at its clearest in the music. There is music everywhere.

The delivery truck bumps up onto the pavement and opens the driver door spilling out music. From the shop the radio is on. The cafe as the television on. At the end of the street a brass band plays. The taxi driver plays the radio loud and has headphones in listening to something else.