Travel Journals by Hilary Hopkins

October 20 - November 7 2013 / Morocco/ West Sahara/ Cape Verde: Skimming the Surface

In Which We See Many Hard-Working People and Many Beautiful Places
Part 4 - The Eclipse, Barely! and Two More Cape Verdes

Part 4 - The Eclipse, Barely! and Two More Cape Verdes

Today a sea day, but one with few pleasures.  The weather is quite dismal.  Earlier there were half a dozen rainfalls visible around the ship, and now we have apparently arrived, at 4 p. m., at our viewing site for the eclipse tomorrow.  Alex the astronomer has done his regular talks about it, but this time his boyishly enthusiastic voice sounds strained and almost angry.   The percentage probability of seeing the eclipse tomorrow is about 45.  All his elaborate instructions and precautions and whatnot seem irrelevant.  There’s nothing here except very heavy cloud cover in all directions and that is all there has been for the last 24 hours or more.  If only the eclipse were going to be visible from West Sahara, where we had brilliant total clarity of sky.

Well, I guess two misses out of ten will be ok.  But I have not really enjoyed this trip that much and to miss the eclipse is mightily disappointing.  Of course, perhaps there will be a big blue hole tomorrow morning…

More on these islands.  I learned that yesterday was a holiday, on Fogo: All Saints’ Day.  It did not occur to me that they would celebrate it.  So naturally everyone was hanging around.  But so listlessly, small groups just hanging around, watching the road, not even waving or looking with much apparent interest. What a tragedy for these children, for these women, the young ones, the young men, the old ones.  That in such a world of riches they have so little.  What do they dream of? 

But day before yesterday, Halloween, is apparently celebrated with much gusto and heavy-duty partying, at least on Santo. Antao as we learned from our cheerful guide on that African-rich island.  “I’m going to be Dracula, you know, with fangs and blood,” he told us.  He explained it’s mostly for adults—the kids don’t go looking for candy door-to-door.  Indeed I wonder where the candy would come from, in these poor places.

How did the Turkish vintner, with his little business in the black caldera, get here, and why is he here?  He introduced himself by saying he had first come to train guides for the volcano national park, I guess.  A huge, low black visitor center has been constructed near the cinder cone, but it is not finished and who knows when it will be.  What they have to show is indeed marvelous, but the road leading to it is tortuous and difficult, most of it, and when you get there there is not much to “do.”   At least that is what some visitors might think, I expect.

A lost owl flew alongside the boat at lunchtime today, coursing along for a while, and then he landed on one of the lifeboats up above.  Perhaps he is still there.  Where did he come from, and what will he do?  I guess our small ship looked like an island to him, and he landed here, and hopes for the best.  But what will he eat?  Where are his other owls? 

Well, my binoculars are taped up with their welders’ glass protection, and I have readjusted their focus for my new, insulted-by-cataract-surgery eye, and I know where I want to sit, tomorrow, and I have laid my plans.  But really, you know? I would rather be at home.

Is this what that couple meant, years ago at breakfast on the Holland America ship, that I would come to a point where I don’t want to travel any longer?

Zestful? No, no.

Eclipse Day, south of the Cape Verde Islands.

5:30 am   I have secured our spot with two chairs, tied together with my scarf, and even with cushions!  When I crept out this morning all was dark on deck, and only a few people were about; we passed each other in silence.  The air outside here is mild, and the sky, dark.  We will see.  Now to get a coffee.

5:40 am  Got coffee and cookies and I am back outside here in my nice corner.  Now I can see clouds, faintly, and a gray on black horizon.  We are moving, very slowly, and the ship is bucking and lurching.

This morning the Laws of Physics and the movements of the objects in the Universe dictated by them, will enable a brief event of vanishing consequence, common all over the Universe, except that we exotic species are here to see it.

5:55  It’s possible a few patches of blue might appear.  Small, tiny ones.  I don’t have much hope that I will see totality, this time, but it’s gonna happen, behind clouds, anyway.

6:15  Hmf.  Now totally overcast and a ragged raincloud looms in the east, not too wide, but putting down heavy rain.  If it and we intersect, I will just grab our cushions and bring them to a dry place for a while.

6:25  Not looking great.  More, bigger rain clouds to the south, though a few bits that look as if they could conceivably clear.  But we’ve never had such difficult weather, except that first time, in the downpour, in Hawaii.

7:15  Well, for a brief few minutes the sun appeared, veiled.  We are surrounded by clouds of differing thicknesses, and there was a sprinkle of rain.  First Contact in about an hour and three-quarters.

8:31  An hour to First Contact.  Looking, well, fairly hopeful or somewhat hopeful.  People are gathering on upper decks but we are here in our snug place on the lower deck.

8:52  Looking a little better, although the sun is only visible through cloudiness.  The Captain is doing his best to put the ship in a good place, but there will be a limit to success.  I shall just sit here, in my chair by the railing, and listen to the slosh of water along the ship. 

9:16  Fifteen minutes to First Contact.  Still a hazy view of sun, surrounded by clouds, but.

9:29  First Contact! And proceeding, proceeding.  The first bite is from the top limb of the sun.

10 am  I believe the lights on the foam and waves that the ship is making has dimmed; more pewter than silver.

10:19  Reflection of the sun on the water is flattened and oily.  Forty-one minutes to total.  I go up a deck to try to show this light effect to people but no one seems really to notice except one man who also uses the word “oily.”

10:25 The Captain repositions the ship to try to get in that tiny blue hole up ahead and over there.


10:35  Twenty-five minutes to go and clouds developing quickly.  I don’t think we will get this one.

10:45  Fifteen to go.  Darkening all around but still in clouds.  Not many light effects.  I doubt we will see the black disc or the corona.  I can squint and see a very very thin crescent now.  The light is flowing away.

10:50  Well…too bad..this will not happen for us…

10:55  silvery-gray light




…and within a minute the light comes back and a fervent cheer rises from the people, and all goes again only in reverse, but few give attention, and celebration begins!

At Brava Island, green, foggy, tiny, and rainy, I balked at entering the lurching zodiac, and so gave up my chance to set foot on its precipitous and inviting shore.  The crew had quite a time deciding from what part of the ship to board the zodiacs, and when they finally got something rigged, John and I were numbers two and three to board.  Just as John got his first foot onto the zodiac, a big wave squirted up between the rim of the zodiac and the edge of our ship, and although he made it on perfectly well, that was too much for me.  I shook my head, No, gave him a thumbs down, and came back to my cosy cabin here.  I took a comforting shower, a nap, and read my book. 

When he came back, he was extremely wet, not only from the rain and fog on the island, but the waves coming back on the zodiac.  Clothes wet with salt water, just when you are on your way home, is not nice.  So I was just as glad.  He reported that the drive on the island had been cut short, since a landslide earlier in the day (heavy rains) closed off one of the roads they were going to use.

Both his driver and guide had spent many years in America, and had returned to stay now on their home island.  It seems this is a common thing.  People leave Cape Verde, go to America, mostly in our part of it—New England and Rhode Island, since that is where their whaling ancestors lived—and then, often in retirement, come home.  The driver’s parents are still in America, but they may return soon.

At cocktails I handed out a few website cards, but I have socialized so little that I have not given out all that I had expected.

Here now our last island, Sao Tiago.  It’s a pretty populous place, and we drove over quite a lot of it this morning.  Up hill and down, around twisty corners and there are houses everywhere, and fields of bananas, corn, papaya, sugar cane, and even coconut palms.  It seems rather prosperous, and the folks are out there working in the fields, some of them.  Women by the roadsides or on their steps are selling from piles of used American clothes.  Wash lines everywhere.  We drive a long distance, or it seems like a long distance. 

Just now a truly ugly German cruise ship, called Aida Cara, is taking off from here, just a few hundred feet from my window.  Its decks are lined with passengers.  A really stupid lipsticked mouth is painted on her bow, and two eyes, with blue eye shadow, along her sides.  Her captain must be embarrassed to sail such a thing. 

She sails carefully by a partially-submerged wreck that’s also in the harbor, a cargo boat that has been sinking, for the last several days, due to overloading.

Our young guide of today graduates from college on Friday.  He has a very similar spiel to the rest of the guides we have had.   We give him an extra-big tip to honor his graduation.

I can’t get hold of it here.  Everyone says how poor they all are.  Yet their land looks rich, and their cinderblock houses are for the most part in fair shape.  Lines of wash hung out are not in rags.  Various governments have paid for some very good roads.  People do not appear listless though they seem little interested in us. 
Well.  I guess I will have to wait until I get home—day after tomorrow!—to try to sort it all out. 

Tomorrow is a complex day in which we get herded off the ship early, then do some other tour, then to the airport, then a four or five hour flight to London, and at last end up in a hotel at Gatwick airport.  The next day, a bus to Heathrow, and then a DIRECT flight home.  Yay.

And that is enough.

Months later, I remember all of this with fondness!   Go figure!