19 January 2014 - The Sunday Mirror - Steve Myall
The Old Man and the Sea was how I saw it panning out – far out in the ocean, strapped into a fighting chair wrestling a gigantic marlin on the end of my line.
It didn’t turn out quite like that.
Sure we were out in the ocean, and there was a fighting chair, but instead of marlin and succulent tuna I was battling something called a pig fish.
As the name suggests it isn’t a looker – Disney won’t be rolling out the merchandise based on a movie called Finding Pig Fish.
Still, I caught it. That, and a little haul of shark bait (I didn’t catch a shark either). I took it back to my hotel where they cooked it for me.
It tasted fine, as most things do when fried – with a pile of chips and a cold beer in the blazing sunshine of an exotic holiday.
Cape Verde was the location, roughly six-and-a-half hours from the UK.
It’s a collection of islands 350 miles off the west coast of Africa and a former Portuguese slave colony, which was once sacked by Sir Francis Drake.
It’s a place that is increasingly looking like a go-to location for those seeking winter sun who don’t have Barbados-loving Simon Cowell’s deep pockets.
I hadn’t really heard of it before but as soon as I started telling people I was going it was surprising the number who said they had either been, knew someone who had or were considering it.
It’s hot and unsophisticated – and that’s where its charm lies.
The people are lovely, friendly, charming and helpful and the food – once you get away from the buffets in the all-inclusive hotels – is perfectly good warm weather eating.
Tuna carpaccio sliced wafer thin with peppery olive oil, sea salt and peppercorns, grilled octopus, sea urchin linguine, moist steak and the ubiquitous pizza.
If you go, and if you read no further I think you should, you must try cachupa, the typical dish of the region.
Usually served for breakfast it’s a bean hash with meat, often chorizo-type sausage, which comes sometimes with fried eggs.
I’m writing this in the depths of a British winter and it would be ideal to keep the chill at bay but is just as perfect in the early morning heat with a cup of strong black coffee on a Cape Verdean café terrace.
I stayed at the lovely Odjo d’Agua hotel in the quiet fishing village of Santa Maria on the island of Sal – a world away from the all-inclusive buffet horror of other resorts.
The classic building has bags of charm, with a pool and lush gardens as well as a nice restaurant and cute beach bar.
There were plenty of options on the breakfast buffet – I couldn’t resist the lure of eating fresh fruit overlooking a quiet sandy beach.
Around-the-clock security and air-conditioning in rooms made me feel comfortable.
Some nights there was entertainment with a beach barbecue and traditional food and each night a band played local music.
I quickly fell into an easy rhythm of rising early for breakfast, lying in the sun all day reading, before a late afternoon beer, a shower and then off to try a recommended restaurant.
While I was there I tried Pastis, a tiny restaurant run by Italian Herbert, which was delicious. It’s popular, so book ahead in the high season.
It’s wedged in what looks an alleyway and with just creeping vines for a ceiling.
I loved Le Privé – a French-influenced upmarket place with great alfresco dining in a walled garden. I kept going back for the superb seafood.
And if you want excellent value and warm atmosphere you can’t beat Tam Tam, which is run by a friendly Irish couple.
My breakfast/sun/dinner routine was pretty much day one to seven but if you want to get out and about there are a couple of excursions worth checking out.
Quad-biking around the island isn’t cheap but you get a real sense of this windy flat island – it’s a Mecca in winter for kite- and windsurfers – and a chance to see the coastline.
And since I was on Sal (Portuguese for ‘salt’) I felt I had to see the salt mine and float Dead Sea-style in the soupy, warm volcanic water.
The trip was part of a half-day island tour which also took in the Blue Eye, a water inlet where a hole in the rock allows the sun to shine on to the water, making it glow an impressive sapphire blue.
One thing you simply must do is visit the turtle hatchery to see the valiant conservation efforts of a group of volunteers to save the loggerhead turtles which nest on the beaches here.
You need to pick your travel time carefully if you want to take a night safari to see the turtles coming ashore to lay eggs – as you do to have a chance of catching marlin.
However when I visited we saw new hatchlings uncovered and even released our own turtle late at night in pitch darkness on a secret beach.
Even the hardest heart will be melted by the sight of a tiny turtle weighing just a few grams wriggling away to the sea.
You can sponsor one for a few pounds.
If you want ancient monuments to wander around and photograph stick to Egypt – there’s none of that here.
And if it’s a luxurious five-star break you seek, save up for the Caribbean.
But if you’re looking for rustic unfussy beaches where locals sell fish on the pier and you can stroll for miles along the shore with the turquoise waters as a backdrop, then Cape Verde is perfect.
There isn’t much to look at inland as the flat sun-scorched landscape lends a Martian feel, but for a relaxing beach holiday when it’s cold and wet back in Blighty, you can’t go wrong.
And while I didn’t quite get the Hemingway style fishing experience I was expecting, I loved it – pig fish and all.
When to go: Cape Verde’s climate is pleasantly tropical with year-round average temperatures between 26°C and 30°C and uninterrupted sunshine from November to May.
Due to the location in the Atlantic Ocean, and some of the islands being flat, it can be quite windy.
Any rainfall typically occurs between August and October.
Do try: Cachupa - Cape Verde’s national dish, a slow-cooked stew made with beans and fish or meat.
Buzio - a tasty traditional stew made with shellfish and soya sauce.
Grogue - a strong alcoholic drink made from sugar cane.
Caipirinha - Brazilian cocktail made with sugar cane and local liquor.
Good to know: Euros are widely accepted although you are likely to get change in Cape Verdean escudo. Currently £1 buys you around 130 CVE.
Book it: T he Cape Verde Experience offers seven-night holidays at the 3.5-star Odjo d’Agua Hotel on the island of Sal from £829pp, with flights from Gatwick, Birmingham or Manchester in March (saving up to £134pp). capeverde.co.uk , 0845 330 2071
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