Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Island charms

A few weeks ago, I got in touch with a Swedish traveler who wanted some advice on what to do and see in Cape Verde. It appeared that his main hobby was to visit all kinds of different islands around the world.

Afterwards, I found myself slightly intrigued by this idea of only traveling to islands – although initially I thought it was a bit odd. Why only islands? I started to search my memory for travels that I have made throughout my life, identifying my favorite spots. Well, there turned out to be a very clear pattern: A great majority of these places was in fact islands. Whether on Bali, Manhattan, Corsica, Corfu or in the Stockholm archipelago, most islands that I have visited have made a special impression, and often a very positive one.

This made me wonder: What is it that makes islands so interesting places to visit? As I am now living in Cape Verde, one of the world’s most unique island countries, it seems natural to give this question some more thought, both in a general context and in a Cape Verdean perspective. These were some of my conclusions.

A sense of overview: Most islands have a limited and clearly defined land area, which I think is generally appealing to many people. Some islands can be circled by foot, others by vehicle; yet others will require days to cross. It creates a certain sense of comfort, of control, of never having to worry about finding your way. This sense of overview is valid for individual islands of Cape Verde, but hardly for the whole country. The islands vary widely in almost every aspect (culture, dialect, size, geology, development, nature etc) and in order to get a good understanding of the whole of Cape Verde Verde you need to visit all of them – which for practical reasons is something of a challenge.

Exotic and unique. I believe all travelers are seeking something different, something out of the ordinary. Many islands are truly exotic, embodying such aspirations. In fact, when you to picture something exotic, you probably think of something like a Caribbean island. I find Cape Verde very exotic in many senses (although for sure very different from the Caribbean).

Less traffic. In most places in the world, traffic is both dangerous and annoying, being a main cause of accidents, stress, noise and pollution. Since on most islands road infrastructure is limited and vehicles can only be imported by boat, the traffic intensity is lower than in the mainland. This means fewer accidents and less noise and pollution, which will create a sense of safety and tranquility.

Island nature and wildlife. Islands often have a very interesting biology, with unique (or as biologists say, endemic) wildlife and plants which cannot be found anywhere else. Many of them also offer great diving. In Ecology, there is even a special theory called the “Island Theory”, which holds that the number of species found on an island is determined by two factors; the distance from the mainland and the island size. The wildlife in Cape Verde can hardly be described as rich, but there are some completely unique plants, birds and reptiles.

Isolation: There is something challenging, something tempting, about being alone in the middle of the sea. It gives a sense of exclusiveness, of uniqueness, which, I believe, many people find themselves attracted to. When being geographically separated from the mainland, it might be easier to disconnect also mentally from all the duties and problems that you confront back home. Of course, in certain situations the feeling of isolation can become too strong. For me, this is almost the case in Cape Verde. When I think about how far it actually is to the mainland, and how extremely dependant I am on a boat or a plane to leave this island, I actually become a little anxious.

Quaint languages or dialects. Somewhat depending on the distance to the mainland, dialects, or in the case of some islands such as those of Cape Verde, separate languages, easily develop. This adds to the flavor and exoticness that make islands special. The Cape Verdean Kriulo certainly makes this country much more interesting.

Island culture. Many island populations also form more distinct cultures than on the mainland. There are some common denominators which will contribute to this: the sea, fishing, isolation, limited infrastructure, absent friends and family who have left for the mainland, etc. Cape Verde has developed a very distinct culture and music style, captured by the word “sodade”, which means something like “loneliness” or “longing”.

Boat trips. Islands all have a special relationship to boats, as the main means of transportation. Most will agree that traveling by boat is usually a pleasant experience. There is something fresh and exciting about boat trips; it makes you think of the smell of sea-salt, strong wind in the hair, sun-drenched decks and adventure. I have never been much of a sailor, and I can’t stand the thought of spending more than a few days at sea – but I do like short journeys by boat, to or in between islands. In Cape Verde, the distance between many of the islands is, unfortunately, too big to easily travel by boat, except between some of the closest ones (e.g. Santiago to Maio or Fogo).

Island food. Just as culture and language on islands tends to diverge and become distinct from those of the mainland, most islands will also develop a specific cuisine. Cape Verde’s national dish is Cachupa, a bean and corn-based casserole with or without meat and fish. I must confess: I am not particularly fond of Cachupa (although at times I can appreciate the “refugada” version, which to some extent reminds me of the Swedish dish “pytt i panna”). But it is certainly different to anything I have tried before.

In summary, it is easy to see that there are many great advantages of islands as compared to the mainland. And for those of you who visit Cape Verde, you will encounter many of them.


Carlos said...

Hej.Snacka om nyheter,här sitter jag och blogghoppar och så hamnar jag här.Kul var det i alla fall och intressant också.
Med vänliga hälsningar,


Ulf Björnholm Ottosson said...

så kan det gå!