Further down the valley the little town is drowning in dense tropical foliage. In the main cobbled square, the local women fill water-buckets from a standpipe and youths play table football. Remarkably, a stone pillory where slaves were hung or flogged remains the square’s centrepiece.
Of all the islands, São Vicente best captures the Creole vibe. The island’s rocky interior is parched by the hot Saharan Brumaseca winds. But there are stunning black-volcanic beaches dotted with picturesque coastal villages where fishermen mend nets and locals kill time drinking a local cane-spirit called grogue. The island’s crumbling colonial capital, Mindelo, is extremely easy on the eye. I wander cobbled streets surrounding multi-coloured 19th-century townhouses watching gnarled old men playing whist on the waterfront near a vainglorious statue of a Portuguese mariner now coated in pigeon shit.
Late in the day, the locals migrate towards the surf of Laghina city beach. Mindelo’s nights are long, reverberating to song and music. The evenings start with aperitifs: I try grogue blended with honey (called ponch) which is akin to a serious malt-whisky drinker adding Coke but certainly better than suffering gut-rot. Then it’s dinner – I’m tempted by cheap, fresh lobster-tails, but plump for a typical Creole dish, cachupa, a fusion of African staples like sweet potato and cassava and Portuguese bean stew.
It’s finally around midnight that Cape Verde’s liveliest music scene explodes into life. I follow the music: first to a packed bar where accordion-led funana (the music of slaves) has set reveller’s gyrating; then in the small hours I mellow out to morna, soulful ballads that reduce the audience to tears.
I regret not having time to properly explore Santo Antão Island’s dramatic jagged uplands, reached by ferry from Mindelo. But Fogo is a spectacular choice and proves my favourite island. An active volcano, the obvious reason to go there is a spectacular scramble to the 2800m summit of Fogo’s still smoking cone.
But below the main cone, within another larger crater, is the lovely village of Chã des Caldeiras. Here, stubborn villagers refuse to abandon their homes despite repeated eruptions, choosing instead to grow their grapes and ferment wine on the black volcanic slopes. Almost everybody in the village is a fourth or fifth generation descendant of Francois Montrond, an 1870s French philanthropist whose generosity in the bedroom obviously knew no bounds. But given the dramatic scenery, good wine, and beautiful Capeverdeans for company, it is obvious why he hung around.
Slavery and West Africa
Cape Verde was a holding island for slaves being shipped to Portugal’s Brazilian plantations. This year commemorates 200 years since Britain abolished slavery, a trade dominated by Portugal between the early 15th-17th centuries. They were later joined by other powers operating around west Africa: Britain, Spain, Holland, and France. Most African slaves were transported to plantations Brazil, the US and the Caribbean. Many died in dreadful conditions en route.
After William Wilberforce’s 1807 anti-slavery legislation, British ships began attacking ports and ships engaged in the practise until transatlantic slavery petered out by late 19th-century. Estimates suggest 11 million Africans were enslaved in a period termed by historians as ‘the African Genocide’.
Sadly, people-trafficking in West Africa remains a problem. UNICEF estimates 15 million children are forced into ‘exploitative labour’ in Nigeria alone. Western Africa retains numerous memorials to slavery. Sao Tome Island has a striking 16th century fort, now a museum, recalling how the island’s cocoa and coffee plantations thrived on slavery. It’s staggering to think that as recently as 1953 Portuguese colonialists gunned down 1000 rioting Sao Tomeans protesting at their bonded labour.
Off the coast of Dakar in Senegal, the tiny Isle de Gorée is now an UNESCO World-Heritage-listed site. Gorée’s architecture is hauntingly beautiful. Nearby in Gambia, tourists travel to Juffureh to visit the so-called home of Kunta Kinte (from Alex Haley’s epic slave novel, Roots). It’s cheesy and unsubstantiated; better to travel upriver to Georgetown’s atmospheric old fort: built by Britain to thwart French slavers ferrying captives down the River Gambia.
Destination: Sipadan Island
Sipadan’s marine-packed waters off Malaysian Borneo had Jacques Cousteau singing in the briny. Classic diving ensures swirling shoals of barracuda, white tip sharks, and green turtles. Clearest water is from April-December.
Every day is an encounter with oddball endemics in this stunning slice of Eden. From adorable lemurs (literally falling out of the trees) and panther chameleons flushing every colour of the rainbow when pissed-off. Add memorably crowded taxi-brousse rides, primitive tribal villages, and super fresh seafood.
Dream: Robinson Crusoe
Where the hell is Mayotte? Well you heard it here first, folks: this tiny archipelago in the Mozambique Channel is the next big thing. Catch these French-owned island’s pure beaches and turquoise sea before the five-star resorts completely arrive. That said they’re awkward to reach with flights only from the Comoros Isles.
Dream: The ultmate party
OK, so there’s a menacingly active volcano bubbling away and this verdant Caribbean jewel is a ticking time bomb. But quirkily, the island erupts (no … not volcanically) for the biggest outdoor party every St Patrick’s Day. Masquerade dancers, numerous choruses of Danny Boy and so much Guinness the locals have a job remembering the day, let alone why on earth they celebrate Paddy’s big day in the first place!
Only a few years ago everything was ‘Made in Taiwan’. But now China has assumed global dominance, Taiwan’s myriad night markets and shopping malls have become a bargain hunter’s dream. Taipei City’s Guangtou Market is a silicon treasure-trove of laptops, Xboxes, iPods, and flash-drives, at super-competitive prices. For designer gurus, Xinji’s futuristic aerial malls have everything from Lagerfeld to Westwood – and you can shop into the small hours.
The world’s best beaches
1. Ohope Beach, New Zealand
With 11km of pristine sand, Bay of Plenty beauty ensures even the most die-hard Robinson Crusoes can avoid the bucket-and-spade brigade. There are stunning views out to Whale Island and the volcanically-active White Island.
2. Sunset Beach, Hawaii
Big wave surfing on Oahu Island’s north shore is as terrifying as it gets at the legendary Sunset Beach. October-May’s sea conditions generate waves up to 6m, so unless you’re experienced it’s a place to kick back and watch in awe.
3. Paradise Beach, Mykonos
Naked hippies in the ’60s first discovered Paradise. Now this Greek island classic dishes up bars and nightclubs to suit the most hardened party animals
4. La Digue, Seychelles
Not exactly a budget destination but this small Seychellois island’s white sand beaches are truly paradisiacal, with weird rock formations, warm azure sea and great seafood. If you can afford it.
5. Whitehaven Beach, Australia
Squeeze into your stinger-suit to nullify deadly jellies and enjoy perfection on Whitsunday Island. There are scarcely any facilities so Whitehaven’s clear water and fine sands can be enjoyed without distraction.
6. Blackpool, England
Kiss-me-quick hats, ice-creams, and donkey rides make this one of the world’s most kitsch holiday experiences. There is some sand too but it’s usually full of Brits peeling at the first sign of that unfamiliar yellow globe overhead.
7. Koh Phi Phi, Thailand
Ironically, the location for the movie about feral backpackers, The Beach, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, has nudged Phi Phi a little more upmarket from its traveller roots. It’s still dramatic, however, with two soaring forested peaks trapping perfect white sand beaches in between.
8. One Foot Island (Atutaki) Cook Isles
The have-I-died-and-gone-to-heaven? surroundings of this palm-fringed coral atoll are for those seeking the ultimate castaway experience. However, look out for vacuous airheads as the dull reality series, Survivor, was once filmed nearby.