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The Cape Verdian Ferry: Yes or No?
São Filipe (Cape Verde), November 9th 2006
It doesn’t matter what travel book you read, they all advise you not to travel by ferry between the Cape Verdian Islands. This is a pity for a country that solely consists of Islands, making the much more expensive air travel the only alternative. The advice not to travel by ferry is not related to the safeness of the boats, but with the lack of comfort on the boats. And comfort seems to be an important issue for the traveller of today. We decided to buy a ticket for a ferry to experience the truth.

Cape Verde consists of nine inhabited islands that can all be reached by ferry. Seven islands (all, except Brava and Santa Antão) are also reachable by plane. Most tourists use the plane as means of transport between the islands, also for the fact that it saves you a lot of time (shorter travel times and more frequent flights) which means you can see more of Cape Verde during your journey. Many tourists are also scared by the lack of comfort on the boats. This scare is confirmed by travel websites like www.bela-vista.net who write on their website about the ferries Barlavento and Sotavento: “Tough passenger ship of the 1980s, technically ok, but the interior was never repaired. Unfit for 99% of the tourists”. Not really an invitation to travel by ferry.

The Barlavento serves the islands of Santiago, Brava, Fogo and Maio
During our journey to Cape Verde we wanted to see Brava very much (see for more information about Brava and Fogo the following article). Brava is one of the islands that can not be reached by plane, so the only alternative is the boat. The ferry “Barlavento” is the boat that serves Brava.. We buy our tickets in Praia (Capital city of Cape Verde and situated on the island Santiago) and hope the best for the trip. It seems that the sailing schedules were very unpredictable in the past. This is not our experience in November 2006. The owner of the Barlavento (Polar; with an office in Praia) tries the sail in conformance to the schedule as much as possible. By the way, the Barlavento serves the following island in a fixed pattern: Santiago, Brava, Fogo and Maio.

We have a ticket for the boat of Monday evening at 23.00 hours. The journey takes 8 hours, making the expected arrival time at Furna on Brava at 07.00 in the morning. We were asked to be in the harbour two hours before sailing time. When we arrive in the harbour, a lot of activity is already going on, at and around the Barlavento. People are loading the ship with two cranes. The Barlavento is besides a passenger ship, a cargo ship that supplies the islands it serves. All kind of goods are loaded on the ship, from bananas and engines, to bags of rice and even goats. The passengers are waiting on the platform for boarding. Some people try to get a good place in the queue to be sure that they can board as on of the first. Everything seems to be pretty organised.
Passengers try to find a comfortable sleeping position
The boarding starts an hour before departure. It is becoming more hectic because more people try to board as one of the first. An older lady tries to keep the boarding under control and is checking the tickets before one can enter the ship. The first people literally run to the second deck of the ship. The ship has besides the two decks also the body in where the seats are located for the travellers. Approximately 75 chairs are available. The chairs are quite comfortable and are comparable with the seats of an airplane. You can even change the position of the back of the seat. The space for your legs is even better than in an airplane. On the two decks are no seats. There are only paths to the different cabins (not for passengers) and some benches you can use to enjoy the view.

The passengers that get on the boat first, take immediately a position on the highest deck. They start improvising their beds for the night with blankets the brought from home. The blankets are spread on the floor and benches. It gives us the feeling that spending the night on the decks is more comfortable than in the body of the ship.

Because of our position in the queue, we have to find our place in the body of the ship. We choose two seats in the back, so that we have no passengers behind us. That makes it possible to put our backpacks under our seats without having the fear that somebody snatched something out of our backpack from behind. Also in the body of the boat people start improvising a bed for the night. Some passengers take very uncomfortable positions on a couple of seats, while other make a bed on the floor. Because many people stay on the decks, it is fortunately not crowded in the body of the boat. However, it is very hot. The only ventilation are the small windows in the side of the boat. We take our seat and watch the activities of the local people going on to create a comfortable place for the night to come. And we? We prepared ourselves on a sleepless night.

The Barlavento just arrived in the harbour of Furna on Brava
The boat leaves the harbour with only a delay of 20 minutes. When we are outside the harbour, the sea wind starts blowing some fresh air through the small windows in the body of the boat. Fortunately, the temperature decreases to an acceptable level. The sea is clam and the Barlavento sails with a speed of approximately 20 kilometres per hour in the direction of Brava. We decide to try to catch some sleep. Ivonne tries to find a comfortable position on a couple of seats, while I try to find my position on the floor. After all, it was quite a comfortable and enjoyable journey for us especially when you like to learn a little bit about the “ferry life” in Cape Verde.

But, we want to make one little warning. The story about completely changes when the sea is rough (waves with a height of 10 metres are possible). In that case, passengers are not allowed to stay and sleep on the decks. That means that everybody must find their place in the body of the boat. Another fact is that the small windows in the body will be closed, which reduces the ventilation almost to zero. When you also know that many people get sea sick when the sea is rough, we don’t have to tell you that eight hours in the body of the Barlavento can be a horrible experience. Our advice: watch the weather when deciding to travel by ferry.

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