So a few words on Mindelo. It is small. It is poor. It is colourful. It is littered with signs of a Portuguese colonial past. In the crumbling, paint flaking buildings. In the mixed race faces. In the tempting hip loving custard tarts winking at me in the bakery. In the twingtwang phonemes of the local creole. But there are also sights and smells of Africa (as I imagine it). The incredible jaw dropping beauty of the human form. Especially the women. Oh my goodness. Hey that is not to exclude the men as they aint bad either. But they don’t compare so noticeably to the stunning casual beauty of the women who are mesmerising (well some of them at least). All brought squarely to the fore during carnival when most were basically naked shaking their sequinned body bits about. More on that in a mo. Then there are the women carrying things on their heads, dozens of eggs, kilos of bananas. (yes And what about the older women having a roundness of bosom and stature that is welcoming, sat on street corners with large plastic boxes of homemade cakes and pastries and fudge. But the thing that gets me the most, are the derrières. The further south we go, the better they seem to get. More round, more muscular having a far greater profile. They assume a life of their own…so imagine all this and then we hit carnival.
We arrived on a Friday. From the get go we could here this one song blasting from shore all day all night. We later learnt it was the anthem written for this years carnival. Every year it changes. This year had a catchy repetitive tune of which we (somehow) never tired despite it being the only song we ever heard for the ten days leading up to carnival and for the whole week of carnival. The first Sunday we were here there was a practice run for carnival, where a PA system on the back of a truck drove around the route. We followed that procession and had fun. We didn’t realise then that a week later they would be carnival proper.
So all week we hear music and drums and the word ‘carnaval’ on everyone’s lips. We see kids coming back from carnival practice. We even bumped into a Mandinga out for a practice run. The Mandinga are a whole show in themselves. Their purpose is to celebrate and remember Cape Verdean’s African ancestors. Anyway, we bumped into one (the first one pictured below) on Saturday. We stood still gawping in true tourist fashion. Mr Mandinga did not hesitate in stopping to show us how mean he could be. I asked for a photo, he raised a flat palm inviting a token. I pressed some silver and took some snaps. At the time, Olive was on Ben’s shoulders and Alfi was strapped to my back. The mandinga posed for shots and only after did he seem to notice our kids whereupon he stopped dead in his tracks and reverted to very sweet uncle mode. Straightening Alfi’s head in the sling so she was more comfy, stroking her head whilst being a bit stunned by her blonde blue eyedness (or so I thought). Olive meanwhile just stared on…after we parted company I checked in with her to see what she thought. I asked her what did she think of the man in his dressing up outfit. She stopped for a moment and declared calmly ‘he’s a princess mummy’. Of course! It must have been the pink and blue plastic gems he had in his head dress. Toddler logic trumps again.
So by Saturday night we hear the streets alive with samba mayhem. Not that we saw it being aboard watching Pippa Pig (again). But we know that it is all hotting up out there. The next day we saw kids carnival and the Mandingas proper and this is how the show kicked off…
The girls didn’t really know what to make of it all. The Mandinga with the ring through his nose made Olive cry a bit…but also a few local toddlers too…I think that is their point, to be a bit scary. They are black black black. And oh so shiny. They had black oil on them, or something. They were dark. And percussive, with tied on bells and blackened bottles full of something that made them rattle and clash as they pounded their feet. It was brilliant to be present and to observe and for our little children’s minds to be blown just a little bit.
So on Wednesday few days later we saw the ‘proper’ carnival…the girls wore tutus and fairy wings. Even I put on some slap and wriggled into a dress. It was a Jolly Exciting Occasion I can tell you. Excepting the dinghy to shore ride. Not jolly. We climbed into the dinghy. Wings and tutus off, life jackets, on. What followed was the wettest ride I’ve ever had. The wind was blowing hard. We were heading into it. Sure enough within a second of untying and motoring off, we all got soaked. Well, I did. Olive did. Drenched. It made me instantly furious with Ben (of course all adverse conditions are his fault…). By the time we hit the shore I laughed, stripped down to undies (unusual. Perhaps buoyed by the fleshy carnival spirit?), wrung out the sea water from my dress, put it back on, reapplied lipstick (I know girls! Lipstick!), put the girls into their tutus and wings and off we set.
Immediately we hit the crowd, it didn’t matter. Frankly I’ve always found the crowd as interesting as whatever the live act is. There were derrières everywhere! Some that had no friends, that really should not have been double skinned in leggings and orange hot pants…but then again, I could not help but admire the wearer’s ambition and self belief. What skill I thought…but mostly people looked amazing and freaky and hot. I started to wonder what Halloween would be like here. Then there were all the procession folk limbering up, waiting, rearranging boobs, applying a bit more glitter, pulling up tights, unsticking netting from their shoes…all of which I found utterly fascinating.
In the end, we opted for a spot not far away. The procession had not yet started so we were standing in between two floats whilst they waited back stage as it were. We took loads of pics which was easy as the locals were dying to vogue it for the camera. We were there two hours, in the sun, within ever decreasing space, mostly silent in a mild state of happy disbelief. Every now and then the carnival anthem would boom out and the soon-to-be-on-duty performers would all start moving, at the same moment, practicing their moves but not in unison, whilst a few trumpeters ambled by…
Then we met mudman. Well, I presumed that was mud. I presumed this was just all part of the show. Then I realised that even the locals thought he was a bit barmy. See feathered cap man in video below.
By the time we realised all our photos were of the same groups and that we had better go see others, Olive was red and hot and a bit overwhelmed. Were we surprised? No. Poor lamb, she had no frame of reference for carnival, let alone the dark naked glittery skin, huge headdresses, floats, live drumming, booming PA systems. Hardly surprising that she focused on the ground, spotting orphaned sequins and lost feathers and retrieving them into her sticky palm. They were small. Accessible, familiar, comforting…Alfi meanwhile slept. By the time she woke we were in a cafe drinking coke. Ben and I were taking turns to go back to the pavement alone to watch, video, enjoy carnival. The second best highlight for me were the drummers…man, such a deep powerful sound.
I ran back to Ben to compel him to go see them. He did and thereafter produced the best highlight. As he ran back to me all excited, he tittered in true schoolboy style, ‘go quick, there’s a naked woman, totally naked…’. I of course immediately dashed off laughing to hear him shout ‘she’s between the drummers and the school kids!’ Hilarious. Sure enough there she was. Basically nude save for some small coverings where fig leaves should go…she had swirling lines all over. I gawped on like all others, in awe of her beautiful female curves but more by imagining how she must be feeling. Wowsers. Naked, free, sun on her skin, dancing to an audience all admiring her during carnival…phewy! Here she is…
Anyway the naked lady came and left in a bum wobbling way. I returned to the cafe. Soon after two tall dressed up procession girls walked in. Silver hats, canes, bra thing strapped to a skirt thing. Naturally, everyone’s heads turned. They got a drink and walked back to a table opposite me where they stopped. Their skirts were sort of gladiator style, short. In fact skirt is a gross misrepresentation…they were basically some rectangles attached only at the waistband and carefully (or not?) placed to reveal their bum cheeks. Oooooer, titter titter no sex please we are british…anyway as I was piecing all this together, they just helped themselves each to a piece of pizza that belonged to those sat at the table. There was a nice looking man, mid 30’s say and a cute kid, daughter one presumes. As the pizza grabbers grabbed, they looked their hosts square in the eye, everyone was smiling. How could they do anything else. It was a wonderful moment.
After this we decided it was time to go. We regretted that He and I could not come back later to party…as we would in the olden days, before kids. Oh how we lamented…We got home, flannel washed off the glitter, watched some Peppa Pig and fell asleep to the noise of a humming carnival. That was Wednesday 18th.
By Sunday 22nd they were still partying! More Mandingas having it large. Squeezing every last drop out of carnival juice. We bumped into some outside the supermarket yesterday. One of them stopped at the window and starred through at Alfi in her pram as we were standing at the til. He was all orange and scary with a beaming inquisitive smile aimed at her. There he stayed as we dodged the other happy drunk Mandingas on leaving the supermarket. They asked for some money but then Ben ‘communicated’ that he was giving it to the poor guy in the wheelchair. This was instantly accepted by them as they then raised an affirmative hand salute our way. Nice mandingas.
So what now? Well it is still windy! The wind here accelerates so that whatever is the forecasted wind speed, you can expect another 30%+ on top. So where blowing 20 knots at sea, here will be 30 plus as the wind funnels up over the peaks and then rushes down. I hear and read the words kabatic and venturi. I’ve never experienced anything like it. Suddenly the wind will roar, as if a giant ‘wind on’ lever had been pulled. Despite the fantastic holding in the harbour, that level of wind gets very tiring at anchor. Shore rides are a pain, two nippers jumping about and squabbling over who will drive. Sense called us into the marina. Though whilst more convenient (power, shore access, showers) it is probably worse here. The boat is tied up. She is not very happy that is for sure. Going to sleep in the foc’s’le I will describe using two metaphors. The first, it is the same movement you get in the dodgems at the fair. Exactly the same. That jolty, unpredictable slam. But then last night’s realisation made me feel like I was inside the head of a horse. A horse that was chomping at the bit, flicking its head and tossing it side to side. We, the peas inside.
Amidst all this our minds are very focused on leaving. Daily weather checks, top up provisioning. Cleaning. Varnishing. Repairing. Waiting. Oh yeah, and childcare.
Next week things look calmer. As it always does…but if the current forecast holds, we plan to leave on Monday 2nd March.
Meanwhile, potty training is going great guns. Olive gets it. Motivated by stars and special treats. ‘Ten stars and you get a toy’ has been our cry since arriving. It’s like a game show. But it seems to work. I found her today perched precariously on the edge of ‘the bucket’ declaring she wants to use mummy’s potty! Wonderful. Her dinghy driving is also coming along and so too is her love of lime…here she is enjoying both and driving us to shore whilst sucking on a lime. Think she needs a Capri with a monogrammed ‘Olive & Alfi’ sun visor?