News: 9 Jul 2010, Ponta do Sol







I was at the airport at eight to derig the FIB. As usual the Bombeiros were very kind and helped me load it onto the small truck which Carolin came with a couple of hours later. On her way into the airport she discussed the matter of landing fees. Usually airports like this charge fees by aircraft weight and their smallest charge is for something like a 5 ton aircraft, so I was expecting a good argument once we pointed out the FIB is actually one tenth of this. It transpired no arguing was necessary, they'd discoveed Praia has excused us of all fees because of the film we're making. Having thanked them profusely for their help, we took the FIB to the ferry dock in Mindelo.

Although the ferry to Santo Antão doesn't go until about four pm we were advised to get there early so they could think about the novelty of us pushing an aircraft up the ramp into it, and so it could be filmed.

All went well, we arrived before the scrum, I hired a couple of assistants, or, because us foreigners are a soft touch and rarely have small money in their pockets, I hired the first two of many assistants to offer their services and we got the FIB off the truck and onto its wheels on the dock. All was well, the crew of the ship Mar d'Canal seemed ready to load it straight away, then a policeman intervened and said no. This was a 'fiscal policeman' and even Antonio had difficulty understanding exactly what it was he wanted, it was some sort of paper, but what? Nobody could decide, including the policeman. Carolin went back to the hotel to get her huge file of papers. She had one which eventually satisfied him, but still we couldn't load because by this time another kind of policeman had gone to lunch and wouldn't be back until two. We left the FIB on the dock with one of my assistants guarding it and went to lunch as well.

All this was filmed. You may ask what's so unusual about that? Well I'm certain this is one of the very few places in Africa where officials of any kind would be happy to be filmed doing their job without wanting to see lots of permissions first. In fact in many countries you wouldn't be able to film on the dock at all simply because it might be considered a strategic asset, and easier to say no than yes. I've been in trouble in Africa more than once for simply taking a snapshot which inadvertently has a police station or a bridge or something in the background, so the ability to do this kind of ad-hoc filming without question is really very unusual and strikes at the core of what Cape Verde is all about: It is confident pluralistic society which quite simply is more grown up than its neighbours.

Superficially, Cape Verde is a sort of 'Africa lite' but it's more complicated than that; the place has quite an ancient history and the Portuguese ruled their colonies much more interactively than the other great colonial powers. This has resulted in a population which is a great mix of European and African blood through many dozens of generations which seems to have neutralized all those hang-ups about the past all too common elsewhere in Africa. With so much immigration now in Europe, maybe we'll get to the same place by the year 2500.

And there are an astonishing number of very pretty girls.

The ferry crossing was quite pleasant. Mar d'Canal went much faster then the Tarrafal had from Praia and there were plenty of passengers. On deck it was very windy, I wondered how much flying we would get; not much I suspected. From the rail I studied the flying fish which leapt from the bow wave at frequent intervals, they go a surprisingly long way, and the looming island of Santo Antão which had only been visible across the 12 mile channel from São Vincente as a shadow towering from the horizon into the clouds. They told me it is the greenest of all the Cape Verde islands, but on the other northern side to where we were landing at Porto Novo.

Disembarkation was the normal sort of scrum, but we got the FIB loaded onto a truck which was waiting for us fairly easily and set off on the road to Ponta do Sol. The first part was along an astonishing and relatively new road which wound its way through a Martian landscape of ancient volcanic activity. As we drove anticlockwise around the coast I'd imagined the 'green' side would emerge as a sort of sloping plain, something like Hawaii, but not at all, it became even more precipitous with 1000 foot plus cliffs falling from the clouds into the sea with our cobbled road somehow tacked onto the side. The green parts are actually deep valleys which occasionally form a break in the cliffs. As we passed them I could see terraces with bananas and sugar cane.

We rounded another headland and my truck driver said "Aeropuerto da Ponta do Sol", and there at the foot of a cliff in the distance was a sort of flat spit of land sticking out into the sea at the north east tip of the island. I was beginning to understand why there was no other place to put an airport on this island but in a place which is exposed to the prevailing wind but blows across the runway.

The others had gone ahead in their faster Toyota minibuses so when I arrived at the rusty airport gates they had already been prized open and Francisco the airport superintendent was waiting in front of his semi-derelict terminal building. He was terribly excited, he's been in the job for thirty years and at 80 years of age is due to retire soon, this is the first aircraft he's seen since 2003.

He was a little bit concerned we really did have the right permissions so Antonio phoned the Aviation authority in Praia on his mobile, and they phoned Francisco back almost immediately on his office phone. He was pleased to know we did have permission, we were pleased his phone worked at all, it's probably the first official call he's received on it for years.

Aeropuerto Ponta do Sol is quite a short tarmac strip, starting and ending in the sea. Cabo Verde Airlines had a Twin Otter which could land here but it was flown into a mountain in cloud with tragic consequences and that was the end of flights here. Quite how the accident was achieved is difficult to guess because you only add 5 Km by routing to São Vincente round the end of this island.

Initially it was thought we were going to have to keep the FIB outside, and then someone asked what that garage door was for, Francisco said it was the fire station. "Could we have a look inside" we asked. He expressed doubt that we'd actually get the door open, but with a bit of persuasion it did. Perfect; it looked like the wing might just fit in fully rigged.

Once everything was safely locked away I was expecting a ride to our hotel 20 minutes away, but I'd mis-heard this particular piece of information and it was really 20 metres. It's actually more like 100, but I can see the strip from the balcony of my room in the Blue Bell Hotel now.

Joint Aviation Services, suppliers of insurances to the expedition
Micro Avionics - Suppliers of pilot intercom and radio equipment to the expedition
Polaris - manufacturer of the FIB
SKYDRIVE, the UK Distributor of ROTAX engines
Cam-ARA - Suppliers of video equipment to the expedition
Articole Studios - GRP mouldings