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Cape Verde travel guide: Discovering ‘morabeza’ in the mountains of Santo Antao

Cape Verde travel guide: Discovering ‘morabeza’ in the mountains of Santo Antao

When we first spot the men who teach us about the Cape Verdean concept of “morabeza”, they’re picking congo beans on a terrace hacked out of a rock face hundreds of metres above Santo Antao’s Paul Valley. With our local guide Claudio Evora translating, Mark Rammers, the photographer for the trip, asks whether he can take their picture.

Two hours later, we’re perching on hand-carved stools outside the taller of the two, Adrienne’s, thatched cottage, listening to zouk and sipping home-roasted coffee. Every so often, our hosts disappear into the greenery and return clutching papaya, guava cherries and sour tangerines with green skins, which they peel daintily and present to us in bite-sized segments. I feel like a spoilt child being doted on by two benevolent uncles. Or a deluded captive being fattened up for sacrifice.

With its volcanic valleys pregnant with fruit trees and moonscape mountains, Santo Antao is the least visited and most beautiful of Cape Verde’s nine inhabited isles. Our eight-day itinerary takes us from the cloud-drenched Cova de Paul crater to the black sands of Tarrafal beach via the village of Fontainhas – which clings like a candy-coloured parasite to the northeast coast – and the pitilessly dry Cha da Morte plateau.

Santo Antao’s landscapes range from black sand beaches to volcanic valleys

(Mark Rammers )

The word “morabeza” comes up again and again when researching the trip; as a Londoner yearning for community, I’m intrigued. Definitions vary from “hospitality” to “chill out” but they all agree on one thing: though difficult to put into words, morabeza is unmistakable once felt. I have a strong suspicion I might be basking in it right now.

“I love the peace of this place and eating my food fresh from the fields,” says Adrienne. “Morabeza is about sharing that lifestyle with visitors – showing what it means to live simply and with heart.”

Antonzinho, his best friend since boyhood, chips in: “We don’t have money here in the mountains but the important thing is heart and we give that freely whenever we can.”

As we continue our hike from Cova de Paul down vertiginous slopes to the Paul Valley (knees screeching, eyes wide), Claudio informs us that there was nothing unusual about this interlude.

Though difficult to put into words, morabeza is unmistakable…

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