Tarrafal De Monte Trigo

Written by Pieter Jan on Feb 5, 2020 — 5 min read

From: São Pedro, São Vicente, Cabo Verde
To: Tarrafal De Monte Trigo, Sant'Antão, Cabo Verde

We wanted to see more than one island of Cabo Verde, so we sailed to the nearby island of Sant’Antão.

A French sailor recommended Tarrafal De Monte Trigo. “Beautiful green valley, friendly people, but the swell is terrible. Maybe on a catamaran it’s better”, he said. I didn’t expect the swell to be a big problem. After all, the wind had been not too crazy the last few days and São Pedro bay was calm as a lake.

We sailed for a few hours in shifty winds to Tarrafal and arrived around sunset. The swell was terrible.

Good waves for surfing
Good waves for surfing

We watched in awe as the breaking waves crashed on the beach, rumbling and taking kid-sized boulders with them as they retreated. It would have been an excellent surfing spot, if not for the deadly rocks at the end of each wave.

Next morning the waves were even bigger. The town looked inviting, but the landing did not. We spent a few lazy hours on the boat. The kids did their homework. Now and then I looked at the waves to see if they were getting any smaller. They were not. Sometimes a fishing skiff picked people up or brought them ashore. It involved a lot of patience, expert timing and at least one person getting very wet.

Bad waves for beaching the dingy
Bad waves for beaching the dingy

In the afternoon Hannah and Antoine paddled away on their surfboards to hike to a spot we passed on the way over, that looked a bit less deadly to surf.

A fisherman came by. “Taxi?”, he asked. “Why yes please.” “Ok, somebody will come.” We watched in amazement as at least 10 people on the shore lauched a rowboat into the waves. Again somebody got very wet. They rowed over to Vite & Rêves. We got the kids into their lifejackets and stepped aboard the very wobbly boat. One of rowers was bailing every few minutes.

We arrived at the surf. A multitude gathered on the beach and started shouting as the rowers turned the boat with the bow into the approaching waves. “No stress”, they said, “Tranquil.” “No stress?”, I replied. It didn’t really help my peaking stress levels. The surf was now very close, very loud, and very high. And these guys planned on beaching the boat backwards?

Suddenly a wave pushed the boat a little too far. The next wave would surely grab us, and not in a good way. The crowd’s volume turned up a notch and the rowers started rowing as if their lives depended on it — which was probably quite literally so. The next wave approached but by now we had enough speed. It deposited us neatly on the beach. We had a few seconds before the next wave. Several pairs of hands grabbed the kids and helped us disembark. And suddenly we were out of reach of the waves and safe.

We thanked the rowers. One of them led us to a bar and looked quite disappointed when we said we wanted to explore the village. We promised we’d return.

Vite & Rêves waiting patiently for our return
Vite & Rêves waiting patiently for our return
What a valley!
What a valley!
What is this 'school'-thing again?
What is this 'school'-thing again?
Walking back to the beach bar
Walking back to the beach bar

After walking around and taking in the sights, we went back to the bar. We drank a quick beer. No time to eat, because the rowers wanted to be back before dark. The sun set and we went back to the launching spot.

Sunset signals it's time to get back
Sunset signals it's time to get back

The crowd brought the boat back to the surf. We got in. The village elder was consulted. After waiting a good five minutes, he shouted “Vai, vai!!!” and everybody started pushing. A slightly smaller wave crashed in front of the boat and the retreating water took us into the sea. The rowers started rowing like crazy and we cleared the next wave just before it broke. “Perfecto,” the rower smiled.

On getting us back to the boat safely, I tried to give them some money, 500 CVE. The eldest rower started making a big fuss. “What’s the problem?” I asked one of the rowers. “He wants 5000.” Barbara and I looked at each other in disbelief. “5000? I can take a taxi from Brussels to Ghent for that money. I can buy 20 of your boats for that money. We don’t even have that kind of money on us.” The older rower sat in the boat, sulking and muttering.

I tried to offer 1000 CVE. He didn’t want it. We found it very strange that he didn’t even bargain. In the end, darkness was falling quickly. They rowed back to shore, leaving us bewildered. Why was it all or nothing for him? We really wanted to give them money, but not half a month’s wages, that seemed… excessive.

Hannah and Antoine were not on the boat when we returned. I worried because Hannah said she didn’t want to be paddling the boards in the dark. After an hour or so, I heard splashing in the water that didn’t sound like the splashing Vite & Rêves usually makes. I saw dark shapes gliding towards the boat. They made it back! Turned out they slightly miscalculated the trip back.

They found a good surfing spot, the best on the island, but it was as deadly as the one in town. They didn’t risk surfing but spent a fun afternoon watching three local surfers who were crazy enough to take on the waves.

We had a big bowl of pasta to celebrate all of us surviving the day.