A Portuguese guitarist softly plays traditional ballads the acoustic melodies leave his guitar, his lips, and drift out across the harbor to where we are moored here at the far edge of the Marina. We are in Mindelo, Sao Vicente, part of the Cabo Verde chain of islands located one hundred miles west of Dakar, Africa.
It's one of those far away places westerners may have heard of but most likely have never seen. It happens to be Christmas Eve, the crew have been out for the day enjoying the holiday, later we will all be good Catholics and feast on a classic Italian Vigilia fish dinner, ours will be pasta con vongole, followed by pesce al forno.
A few days ago we were in Lanzarote, in the Canary Islands, a few days before that we were in Palma de Mallorca, in the Spanish Balearic Islands of the Mediterranean. It's a typical pattern, a path followed by hundreds of small private sailing vessels seeking adventure, solitude, or simply warmer waters during the winter season; the real island hopping.
The destination islands of the Caribbean however are a different universe compared to the passage islands boats typically stop at along the way. Pick a traditional sea route route anywhere in the world: Panama to the Marquesas, New Zealand to Kerguelen, or Cape Town to St. Helena, these obscure dots of land represent much more than a way point, more than fuel and fresh provisions, for serious sailors they are a destination apart, a coup de grace they will proudly note in their logs.
It's only just occurred to me that it's been months now since I last stood on a mainland. And once we cross the Atlantic and begin our journey across the Caribbean it will most likely be months more before we will stand on anything remotely considered continental. These small fragments, tens of thousands of them around the world, each unique in its own way, are separated from the rest of us not by some imaginary line drawn on a map but by thousands of miles of open sea. Representing the vary idea of the term insular, they cultivate a powerful since of independence, not just physically but inside our imagination.. a true independence that is real and tangible. Over the centuries most have changed political hands several times, suffered countless battles over their strategic importance, revolted against their oppressors, fought for their own flags, and hosted many a famous historic figure passing through on their way to some place else. They've adopted new languages and blended their cultures to become something completely other, something unique and apart from anywhere else.
So we find ourselves in Mindelo, a cheerfully painted colonial town. We walk in for dinner one evening to find a Portuguese speaking fish restaurant that serves Neapolitan style pizza and is decorated lavishly in hand carved African mahogany. Our group is engrossed in a rapid crossfire of Italian and Spanish, the table next to us is speaking Swedish, the one behind English while the rest are filled with locals speaking a mix of Portuguese and an African dialect. We finish off several bottles of Super Bock, marvel at how well the Bacalou and roasted grouper are prepared and yes the pizza wasn't bad either. The next island we step foot on will be Antigua, cheers, Happy Holidays - Aguri!!
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