The first thing you notice is the noise: a roaring, booming, and crashing that is more bodily vibration than audible sound. It is the swell stirred up by storms in the howling north Atlantic finally, after thousands of miles of open ocean, throwing itself against jagged cliffs that rise like castle walls out of the sea. It is an ominous thrumming, an omnipresent backing track to every minute of every day.
The northern coast of Santo Antao, the northernmost island in the tiny archipelago nation of Cape Verde, is a hostile place: the island abruptly ends with thousand-foot cliffs that fall precipitously to the boiling sea far below, a landscape weathered by crashing waves and whipping winds, creating a natural fortress that is impervious to the ocean's onslaught.
This uncompromising terrain is interlaced with beautifully built cobbled paths that contort themselves to delicately pick their way across cliffs and through steep valleys. The paths are so perfectly constructed and the ground they cross so unforgiving that their existence is almost paradoxical, as if they live solely to emphasize the untraversable nature of these islands.
Towns teeter on fins of rock, though their position is not nearly as precarious as the terraces used to grow food. It's not that the locals want to spend their time on steep, crumbling hillsides. Water is a scarce resource on these islands: though the cliffs are stained and scoured by the memories of waterfalls, the rainy season lasts only a few months and the blue skies that dominate the rest of the year, despite being amazing for hiking, leave the climate as arid as any desert. Wherever a dribble of water seeps through the rocks, a village springs up, no matter the locale.
The waves crashing against the shore combined with clouds scurrying across the sky create beautiful shafts of light that dance their way through the valleys, a constant tango that completes the dreamlike atmosphere.
The wild unpredictability of Cape Verde isn't tamed by the presence of people. One gets the feeling that the few signs of civilization here are only grudgingly permitted by nature, a temporary lease to enjoy this spectacular place.