Cabo Verde: Learning about the peaceful isles brings a holiday vibe to Birmingham

This week we are on an archipelago of ten volcanic islands, 350 miles to the West of Senegal and 900 miles south of the Canary Islands. We are in an African country that has pretty much never been to war and was uninhabited when the Portuguese discovered them in 1456. It is a land that offers more protections to LGBTQ+ people than most African nations, meaning people such as the titular lead in this week’s film Tchindas, are able to live openly and play a key part in island life. The documentary reveals the day-to-day lives of a small gay community as they prepare for the annual carnival, focussing particularly on Tchindas, a transgender woman who runs a bar, sells doughnuts and teaches the local children how to dance. She is so well known that Tchindas has become an island synonym for homosexual. It is one of those documentaries that doesn’t aim for a narrative, instead it just kind of leaves the camera running, showing the normality of their day-to-day existence, from gutting fish to sewing costumes to threatening a drunk man with a baseball bat… It gave me hope that Africa’s appalling gay rights record could soon start to turn around.

These peaceful islands’ wealth and existence was entirely linked to the Atlantic Slave Trade, and even once that was banned, they continued to prosper as a stop-off for traders. The peccadillos of those rich traders is investigated in this week’s book, The Last Will & Testament of Senhor da Silva Araújo, which has also been made into a film. It’s an easy read, but failed to really open my eyes to what Cabo Verde life is like…

One of the particularly enjoyable parts of this week was that it required absolutely no cooking! Instead our dinner was made by Vaz Café, Birmingham’s #1 Cabo Verde/Portuguese restaurant. Our host was half-Cabo-Verdian (born in Porto), and our chef was from Cabo Verde! Visiting their tiny little restaurant was like going to a friend’s house or a beach café. Every other table was speaking Portuguese, and the holiday atmosphere was amplified by my decision to work my way through the cocktail menu, as well as their collection of Verdian Potxi liquors.

If I had given more notice they would have made me a special vegetarian Cabo Verdian dish, but instead I plumped for their speciality from Porto — Francesinha! We followed this with Verdian CuzCuz, a delicious desert/breakfast dish made of corn or yukka flour served with fresh cheese and a sweet syrup. I bought one to take away and was given a second one for free so that I could try it hot and fresh…

But the joy did not stop there… back in the Armchair I sampled another incredible Verdian liquor called grogue which tastes a bit like banana rum and which I bought from the whisky exchange. I supped it while listening to the relaxed sunny vibes of this week’s playlist, and revelling in my decision to explore the world this way.

I wonder if this week’s joy can be beaten by next week’s tropical paradise — the Cayman Islands?



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Armchair traveller

Armchair traveller


Zero carbon lockdown travel through books, drinks, food, films, music and the magic of living in multicultural #Birmingham.