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Notes from the home of the hitchhiker

The New World. Finally!

Pharmacy in the capital city of Praia in Cape Verde
'She's under the bed, under the bed! Oh shit she's stuck in the closet. We need to get a key.'
Caroline, Hughes and Alex, all three of them were running around the room like crazy trying to catch a cat, little furious creature that was brought in the morning by Alex as a gift for Hughes' birthday. I was standing in the corner and observing that strange scene for at least fifteen minutes. After breakfast we said goodbye to Sandro, a Frenchman who owned a guesthouse we stayed at, and started to climb up towards Cova crater. 'Hold on a second,' said Alex disappearing in a local shop and coming back shortly after with another meowing box.
'One more cat?'
'Yeah I want one for myself.'
So both boats had new crew members. Loïck got black and white fury later named Peca* and Antouka, the boat of Alex which at that time was my home already for a couple of weeks, was joined by Piada** - tiny grey tiger, so small that we had to feed her with a syringe. Nowadays sailors with nowadays parrots.

The trail was getting steeper and steeper up the valley of Paúl. We were on the island of Santo Antão, the greenest one of all the Cape Verdean islands. The windward slopes were all covered with banana, papaya and cane plantations and cane meant not only sugar, but also rum. There were many small, family run distilleries producing fine beverage. The trip to Santo Antão, where we got by ferry, was a nice refreshing event. We were waiting for the weather change for a couple of days, the wind was too strong to leave Mindelo. Our next destination was Santiago island as a last stopover before the long passage to the New World.

Hitching the next boat was so easy this time, it actually felt too easy, as I didn't do any effort about it. Alex, a professional diver in his late thirties, offered me a lift basically straight after arriving to Mindelo. He knew the crew of Loïck from Agadir and when they mentioned about me he just said: 'Paluch, wanna go with me?' When I entered the saloon of Antouka for the first time I had a strange feeling of emptiness or loneliness, maybe because she was bigger and more organised in comparison with Loïck with her cosy mess, and Alex was living there alone after all. It was a beautiful steel ketch with a hull painted yellow and white and red sails.

We finally left Mindelo on Sunday the 6th of May. It was a fine day with gentle breeze and calm sea, nothing like the days before. We also had company as Loïck was going with us. On the beginning we had a little race, taking pictures and filming each other, something Caroline could later use for her next documentary. It was strange to sail with an electronic autopilot on. It was making such weird noises, almost like having a robot messing around somewhere under the deck. In the middle of the night I was visited by dolphins jumping and playing near the boat. Really beautiful animals. We arrived in Tarrafal, a small town built around the cove in the northwest of Santiago after thirty three hours.

Cat onboard a sailboat Antouka
Piada, anotrher crew member
'I would like to stay here maybe for two weeks,' Alex raised his eyes from above his plate, 'I wanna chill out here, go diving, fishing and take a rest before the passage.'
'OK.' I agreed, even though he'd mentioned a few days before. But he was the captain at the end. I was trying to look at the positive side of all that. I could learn more about diving. Maybe even try scuba diving. So days were passing slowly and peacefully. I was swimming, snorkelling a bit, watching the guys spear fishing, going for little walks onshore sometimes and at some point I tried scuba diving and it's hard to describe how amazing feeling it was, like, like flying in a slow motion. But... somewhere in the back of my head I couldn't wait to leave, to hit the ocean again, to be on the move.

Hitchhiking was always a synonym of freedom for me, but hitching boats means becoming a crew and being a crew doesn't have much to do with freedom. You are under orders of your captain, you don't decide. I learnt that and accepted quickly. And being a crew of a boat going from point A to point B moved by the force of the wind is a pure pleasure, but being a crew of a boat at anchor is another thing. You cannot just say: I'm going to town, see you later. You are surrounded by water and there's only one dinghy. Even such little thing has to be arranged. Another thing I wasn't aware of. I was repeating in my head: come on be patient, that's what hitchhiking is all about, but two weeks changed in to two and half weeks and that turned into three. And even after making a clearance in Praia, the capital city, we were still in Tarrafal for another week. It was like hitching a car which after five minutes of driving was parked in a car park for hours, before moving any further. Maybe I wasn't made for such a long chill out, or maybe I was still too young for that, I wasn't sure.

When we finally set the sails and took the western course I was shining, glowing, radiating with happiness. I said thanks for the last time to Hughes and Caroline over the radio for all the knowledge they shared with me and started to look out for an outline of Fogo - the highest of all the island of the archipelago, still active volcano. Together with Brava it was the last peace of land we would see before getting to Tobago, our destination on the other side of the Atlantic.

Tarrafal Cove with Fogo Volcano in the background in Cape Verde
Tarrafal Cove with Fogo in the background
Days were passing quite fast, even though there was not much to do. The weather was great with steady trade winds blowing from abaft and just a few white horses on the sea. The sails, once trimmed properly, almost didn't need any retrim at all. All we had to adjust from time to time was a windvane self steering installed for the passage.

There were not many words between me and my captain, as we were both completely different people, with different personalities - me more extrovert and Alex rather withdrawn, enjoying silence. So I had plenty of time to read. First there were adventures of Joshua Slocum who sailed alone around the world in late 1800's. Classical sailors' book. There was Jack Kerouac again, of course Stanisław Lem, a few others, but the book that made me think a lot about the world around us was George Friedman's The Next 100 Years, where he tried to forecast the geopolitical situation of the world in the twenty first century. Brilliant mind training.

When I was tired of reading and didn't feel like playing with the cat, which was up for fun all the time, I was just sitting in a cockpit with my eyes fixated on the horizon and thinking, something many of us don't have time to do in a routine of everyday life. I was thinking about my past, about family in Poland and about Galway and all my friends over there. Oh how I missed those bastards, bunch of crazy heads, who were probably at that time sitting in The Salt House or The Crane Bar and sipping beer. I had to leave that amazing place, the travel bug I had was eating me alive, but maybe in future... Yeah I was thinking about future as well, trying to imagine what my life would be. In a month, in a year... It seemed impossible to predict, it was just a blank page. It made me feel good.

The sunrise in the morning of the 18th of June was the best birthday gift I could ask for. With the sun getting higher I could see the island of Tobago crawling out of the darkness, with coconut palm trees above white beaches and waves breaking on the coral reef. After eighteen days and nineteen hours at sea we arrived to our destination. I arrived in the New World. Finally.

* Peca is a short for pequena, in Portuguese meaning small.
** Piada in Portuguese means joke.