In the Dutch autumn of 2010 I traveled for the first time to the Cape Verde Islands. My friend Erick and I had a two-week vacation for the first time in years. And even more interesting: we had recently decided to leave the busy Dutch life behind. So we, both almost 50 years old, went looking for a beautiful place in the world, where we would like to spend the second half of our lives. The conditions: lots of space, beautiful nature, nice people and a pleasant climate. The goal: a pleasant life and start a business one more time.
Why Brava, Cabo Verde?
The friendliest people I ever met in my life were Cape Verdeans. I met them in my twenties on merchant ships and in European ports. Even then I became curious about where those Cape Verde islands would lie. And why those cheerful, open, cordial people had exchanged their homeland for ships and harbors. So 30 years later I wanted to start our search for a new place to live right there: up to Cabo Verde! And because I chose the country, Erick thought he should choose the island where we would go first. That turned out to be Brava, because he just loves islands where you can only come by boat.
We flew from Amsterdam to the Cape Verdean capital Praia, on the island Santiago, and from there to the volcano island Fogo. Except how we had to travel, we had deliberately done nothing to prepare: we wanted to be surprised. From Fogo, a kind of fishing boat took us within an hour to Brava, the smallest inhabited Cape Verdean island, also called Ilha das Flores, Flower Island. (Mind you, now it’s 2020 and the transportation has improved: there’s a ferry coming and going 5 times a week).
From the ocean, Brava resembles a mountain rising from the sea, with a cloud cap on top. On board we met a Swiss tourist who said he had booked a room in Fajã d´Água, a small fishing village on the west side of the island. It was the only address he could have found on Brava over the internet. We thought it was a good place, nice by the sea, so we got on the same pick-up truck as he and started the ride and we immediately fell in love with this island.
From the port town of Furna it goes up about 600 meters, via a road with 99 hairpin bends, to the main town of Brava: Vila Nova Sintra. Vila, as the residents call this place, is of an enchanting, sleepy beauty. Portuguese-style houses, and a main square full of trees and flowers. On the other side of the town, the connecting road continues, through the beautifully situated Cova Rodela, where you can see the ocean on the other side of the island, through a valley.
Brava – meaning wild, savage, untamable in Portuguese – has a dramatic landscape of rocks, slopes, sidewalks with sharp hairpin bends, banana trees, hibiscus bushes and fields full of corn and beans. A little past Cova Rodela we leave the main road and dive down. Rubber trees, rock walls … the road to Fajã d’Água is largely carved out of the rocks. On the way we meet nothing or nobody, except here and there a house on a rock or on a slope, a donkey, some goats, a cow.
And then we turn, after yet another bend, still high above sea level, into the breathtaking bay of Fajã d´Água.
Living in Fajã d´Água
The village consists of a row of houses along the bay, and the pick-up stopped at a large walled building. The Swiss turned out to have a reservation there. We looked at each other: no, we are not going to sit behind a wall, in a house that is so different from everything around it. So we grabbed our backpack and asked if there was a room for rent anywhere. “Yes, with the neighbor, 100 meters away there.”
Motel Burgo is still there, but has not been used as a “motel” for years and not even as a bar. But that day in November, ten years ago, it was bustling! Everything we hoped to find in the Cape Verde islands was there: a lot of cheerful, warm people, men with guitars and violins, dancing women, a double room and food for everyone. It was a party and we fell right in the middle of it. I have never had such a party there in the past ten years, but as a first entry to Brava it was fantastic. In the two weeks that followed we got to know the way of life in this fishing village, I learned to clean fish, we helped fishing boats to pull up the stone beach, and on foot we explored a new part of Brava almost every day: the ribeira, the sandy beach a bay away, the natural pool between the rocks, the abandoned village with an old Portuguese bath house, the hilly landscape on top of the island…
After two weeks of Fajã d´Água we said goodbye to the villagers, as if we were saying goodbye to our family. Because that’s how the people are here: proud of their island and always ready to share with each other. Life on Brava is hard and basic. Anyone who comes here and enjoys the island and its people, belongs directly to the family.
My boyfriend and I have lived permanently in Brava, in the village of Fajã d’Água for eight years now. We have seen a lot of changes in those years, but the most important things are still the same as that very first time. Brava is still hardly discovered by tourists, and therefore authentic. Here you need each other to survive.
We now have three apartments for rent, for those thrifty tourists who take the trouble to travel to Brava. People like us who can enjoy the village life here, the great walks you can take on Brava, the simple life. Every day I start with a homemade sandwich with homemade jam from mango and papaya and a slice of homemade goat cheese. Sometimes an egg from our cozy chickens. During the day some rummaging on the land, doing a job for a neighbor, swimming in the immense ocean.
When we welcome guests, we start their stay with a tour of the village: “Here is the shop of Elise, this is my friend Bibi, there is the shop of Maldiny, the bar of Zica, and next to it Nunuy’s bar. You can also eat at Nunuy, if you inform us in advance. And there is the fishing beach, where you can buy your fish at the end of the morning. If you want fresh vegetables, you can walk into the hinterland to visit Lucendo’s or Beito’s. ” And every time I feel proud of ‘my village’ and so happy and grateful that I got to know this life, these people and this island.