19-20 March 2014. Out of Africa: Dakar, Senegal to Cape Verde

By Corey Sandler, Silversea Destination Consultant

We flew through the night from east to west, from America to the west shoulder of Africa.

(Just for fun, we endured a snowstorm at Dulles Airport in Washington which deposited about 10 inches or 250cm of snow on the roads, the runways, and our plane. Airplanes full of chatty travelers always go silent when the de-icing trucks arrive before takeoff.)

Once in the air, our high-flying jet was miles above the well-traveled path established five hundred years ago by European explorers and conquerors. Then came the traders: slaves from Africa, finished goods from Europe, gold and sugar and tobacco from the New World.[whohit]-19MAR2014 CAPE VERDE-[/whohit]

Our journey brought us to Dakar, the capital of Senegal, to meet up with Silversea Silver Wind, beginning a trip that will bring us through the Pillars of Hercules past Gibraltar and into the Mediterranean and beyond.

Dakar and Bezeguiche or Palma Island just off-shore was first developed by the Portuguese, but control went back and forth with United Netherlands which renamed the island after a place in The Netherlands, called Goeree-Overflakkee, which quite sensibly was shortened (and put through a French filter) to become Gorée.

Senegal came under the French in 1677, emerging in 1960. It is one of the relatively few, relatively stable governments and economies in Africa but life is still hard-scrabble.

Silversea Map 2407

Our itinerary on Silversea Silver Wind.


In Dakar, a Presidential guard outside the sprawling palace, a remnant of the French. Another reminder of Colonial times is the ornate railway station; the French and the trains are long gone, but a city of about three million people presses on. Photos by Corey Sandler


Goree Island, offshore of Dakar, was a major point of departure for slaves from West Africa bound for Brazil, the Caribbean, and North America. At right, the Door of No Return, an evocative reminder visited in modern times by world leaders including French President Hollande, America presidents Clinton and Obama, Pope John Paul II, and millions of tourists from both ends of the slavery chain. Photos by Corey Sandler


On the island of Goree. Photos by Corey Sandler


From Dakar, Senegal we sailed nearly due west to Cape Verde, an archipelago about 570 kilometers or 350 miles off Western Africa.

If we had somehow missed Cape Verde and continued west along the same line of latitude, we would have come to Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, and Cuba in the Caribbean.

A long journey: about 2,800 nautical miles, 3,200 land miles, or 5,200 kilometers.

That actually happened many times in the Age of Discovery—not the missing Cape Verde part, but heading west to the New World.

The islands were uninhabited when Portuguese explorers discovered and colonized them in the 15th century as they began to circle Africa and go as far as India.


In Sidade Velha, the Old City, the still-functioning Church of Our Lady of the Rosary is the oldest Colonial church outside of Europe. Photo by Corey Sandler

In 1462, three decades before Columbus, they established the first significant settlement in Cape Verde.

It was called Ribeira Grande, large river. The port was a stopping place for two great navigators:

Vasco da Gama, in 1497 on his way to India, and Christopher Columbus, in 1498 on his third voyage to the Americas.

After discovery of the Americas, the settlement became an important port for trading slaves from Guinea-Bissau and Sierra Leone.

Slavery made the port one of the richest cities in the Portuguese realm. And the wealth attracted lured privateers and pirates.

Among them, Sir Francis Drake, who operated under a Letter of Marque from the English crown and twice sacked Ribeira Grande in the 1580s.


Part of the fortress erected by the Portuguese above Sidade Velha. Photos by Corey Sandler

But while we’re on the subject of east-to-west movement, meteorologists keep a close eye on Cape Verde during the Atlantic hurricane season.

Storms that develop here are usually the largest and most intense because they have plenty of warm open ocean over which to develop before encountering land.

The Republic of Cape Verde is a horseshoe-shaped cluster of 10 volcanic islands, nine of them inhabited.

Geographers divide them into two groups: the Barlavento or Windward Islands (Santo Antão, São Vicente, Santa Luzia, São Nicolau, Sal, Boa Vista,) and the Sotavento or Leeward Islands, which includes Santiago and its port of Praia, as well as Maio, Fogo, and Brava.

Scientists believe the first volcanic activity was about 125 to 150 million years ago; the islands themselves are a bit younger, about 8 to 20 million years.

Similar to the Hawaiian islands, the Cape Verde islands owe their existence to their location over a hotspot in the earth’s crust: the Cape Verde Rise.

The most recent eruption in the archipelago was at Pico do Fogo in 1995.

On older and now volcanically quiet Santiago, arid slopes give way to sugarcane fields or banana plantations along the base of towering mountains.

The ocean cliffs were formed by catastrophic debris avalanches, from volcanic activity or landslides.


The Public Market in Praia, the capital of Santiago and the Republic of Cabo Verde. The white disks mixed in with the vegetables are a form of cheese, soaked in brine; think of them as a distant cousin of feta cheese. Photo by Corey Sandler

Santiago, Portuguese for Saint James, is the nation’s largest island and most populous, holding half of the nation’s people.

It is also home to the capital, Praia.

Praia means beach in both Portuguese and Cape Verdean Creole.

Cape Verde has few natural resources.


A Flame Tree in Praia. The tree bears no edible fruit, but its pods are used as percussion instruments in the lively music of the islands. Photo by Corey Sandler

More than 90 percent of all food in Cape Verde is imported.

There is a small wine industry and some export of minerals including pozzolana, a volcanic rock used in cement, and limestone.

Today, much of the economy is based on service industries including tourism; about 20 percent of GDP comes from remittances sent home by expatriates.

No decent person would argue the end of slavery was a bad thing. That said, the decline in the slave trade in the 19th century caused economic distress.

The same occurred at the other end of the line. The Caribbean and South America suffered after they lost essentially free labor.

On the Portuguese colony of Cape Verde, simmering resentment grew to become an independence movement.

Amílcar Lopes da Costa Cabral, an agricultural engineer born in Guinea-Bissau of Cape Verdean parents, was a leader of the anti-colonial movement in western Africa.

Cape Verde’s boom-and-bust economy led to waves of emigration during expansion to the New World, during decades of neglect that followed the end of the slave trade, and during the difficult early years of independence.

Today these émigrés and their descendants greatly outnumber the domestic population.

By one estimate, there are about 500,000 Cape Verdean immigrants and their descendants living in the United States.

The largest groups are in New England: Massachusetts coastal communities including New Bedford, Brockton, Dorchester, and Pawtucket and East Providence in Rhode Island.

Other significant Cape Verdean populations are about 150,000 in Portugal, plus tens of thousands in Angola, São Tomé and Príncipe, and Senegal.

American whalers from Nantucket and New Bedford first called at the islands in the 1790s. Whaleship captains began hiring Cape Verdeans to augment their crew, and many came to New England with the ships.

So, we have a place that has only four decades as an independent nation.

A place where, as far as we know, humans did not live until about 600 years ago. A place whose residents are mostly mixes of African and European races and cultures.

A place far younger than Africa or Europe or the indigenous populations of the Americas, and just barely older than the European colonies that were established in the New World—many of them with ships, crews, and slaves that passed through Cape Verde.

And we have a place with many more émigrés than current residents.

But there’s something about the place that seems to ingrain itself deeply in Cape Verdeans—those still on the islands and those spread around the world.

There’s a Portuguese word, sodade, that has no direct equivalent in English.

Perhaps the best translation is: “The love that remains after someone is gone.”

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