I suppose it must have all started in the hairdressers with the inevitable “Did you go anywhere nice on your holidays this summer?” After the initial explanation that my work dictates that I’m unable to holiday until November each year, the real conversational answer is a near future visit to Boa Vista which attracts replies of either “Oh, I’ve been there.” Or a puzzled “Where?” Explanations of “Canaries and keep going south” or “Just off the coast of Senegal” don’t seem to help.
It was a first time experience. Every holiday has to be a first time experience now, ever since, that is, the return visit to A Greek island to find that the garden where I watched, from my balcony, the old Greek woman toiling over her water melons, was now a hotel. There were still comparisons to be made with Boa Vista however. We had enjoyed Sal, the island just to the North of Boa Vista, only the year before. We had learnt a lot there.
Having fallen in love with the concept in place at the Riu Hotel Chain on visiting the Riu Palace on Madeira (pronounced Mad-eye-ra by everyone bar the Brits apparently) with its waiter service and fixed for the fortnight seating plan, we tried and preferred the Riu Club style of buffet eating, – eat what you want when you feel like it wherever you want – and its easy going attitude. It was like that on Sal at the Riu Garopa and was bound to be repeated at the southernmost tip of the island further south at the Boa Vista Riu Tuareg to which we were destined. It was with this combination of both knowledge and lack of knowledge that we left Gatwick Airport.
Initial view and comparison was that this was a poorer island, the infrastructure only partly existing. The first half of the journey from airport to hotel over cobbles shook the old and severely rusted transfer coach and its occupants. Through villages it twisted where houses were built of concrete blocks, three quarters completed, only half painted. Then, suddenly, tarmac on a road later found out to have been paid for by the Tui travel group, the tarmac continuing to the Tuareg Hotel, so most of the length of the island covered without seeing another hotel. Reception on arrival was quick, efficient, the check in staff humorous as they know you are tired after your journey. As in Sal you are given two sticky badges with your room numbers on them and told to go out front, find your cases, stick on your numbers and your cases will find their way to your room. The room was beautifully African, or is it West Indian. In fact we spent the next two weeks trying to work out the Africa or West Indies question as we walked the hotel paths, all bordered by cocoanut palms and bushes of red hibiscus. We were fifteen degrees north of the equator and so is Mexico to the west and Goa in India to the east (after crossing Senegal and the rest of the African continent).
The beach appears to be of infinite length and afternoon walks of three miles plus a return three miles did not find the end but did find a small herd of cattle, lying on the sand, paddling in the water. Crabs too paddle and have the wave patterns worked out, unlike white skinned newbies. The crabs move fast and scurry towards the waters edge looking for food. They appear to act on sound, possibly felt through their legs. If you try to approach them with curiosity they will race you to their underground sand cave, and win. While looking for food they can determine the thump on the beach of a larger than normal wave and this too makes them retreat underground to await the smaller waves as they know the larger ones come in twos.
Newbies do not know about this two large waves theorem. Newbies are those that arrive at the start of your second week when you feel like a native, feel like you live at the hotel, feel like you’ve always lived there and the newbies are just visiting. They venture into the water unsuspecting. You cannot warn them, they have to find out for themselves and anyway, it provides excellent entertainment. They venture out during the small waves, a large wave looms growing higher and higher, they are transfixed at the sight through the base of the wave of the sand and shells visible through the crystal clear water. The wave breaks just on top of them, pushes them under, drags them roughly along the sand bed that they were just watching, and spews them out into shallower water. They laugh to be alive, shout to their partner standing on the sand who doesn’t tell them about the second wave that then repeats the performance. A scientific (not very) study of this phenomenon over a two week period produced the fact that when this happens to a man he stands, blows water from his nose and wipes his eyes. When it happens to a woman, she stands and checks her bikini top is where it should be.
In November there is plenty of space for everyone. There are three pools each with bars (one pool reserved for those that cannot or do not enjoy the happy sound of children laughing and playing) and guests spread themselves over these pools or the beach. Walking around the complex before or after a meal, to burn some calories is not as easy as on Sal as the complex at Sal was more spread out with more circular routes. Beware walking the many roundabouts where walking collisions can be caused by Brits going left! Where the Boa Vista Riu Tuareg does score highly though is in its village square. Reception, the main restaurant, two of the speciality restaurants, the entertainment stage, a row of hotel style shops and the (luckily) indoor karaoke disco bar, all border a huge square with lots of seating with a lively bar in the middle. It is very difficult to walk this area, especially in the evening, without thinking that you are in the heart of a village and far away from an international hotel. Full marks to the architects, whoever they were.
We were told before we left that November was the month of winds on Boa Vista and I suppose it all depends on your definition of wind. On one day out of the fourteen the breeze on the beach was enough to sand blast you or as my wife (glass half full) said – it was exfoliatingly pleasant. The other thirteen days had a slight breeze (oh, that’s nice) the type that tricks you into thinking you’re not burning. A third of our time there was bright blue skies and it felt very hot. A third of the days had high cloud cover (oh, that’s nice) all day and the other third had blue sky with the occasional (oh, that’s nice) fluffy white cloud to give a welcome break. Temperatures didn’t change from 28 Celsius in the day and down to 25 at night but each room is air conditioned.
Would we return? Yes but only if we’re quick. The rep told us that apart from a beach on the eastern coast where turtles breed, the whole of the coastline of the island has been sold to the big hotel chains. Each hotel chain intends to build once the infrastructure improves. The catch 22 rule dictates that until the chains come and make the island richer then the government cannot afford to improve the roads.
Grab this island while it is still beautiful, deserted and restful would be our advice. Although the local currency is Escudos, bring and only deal in Euros – if you can find anywhere to spend money away from the hotel shops. Tip like you’ve never tipped before – you are not only acknowledging extremely hard workers, you are plowing money into an economy that desperately needs it.
Stephenson Holt is an author who has a number of books readable on Amazon Kindle or on the Kindle App. He can be found at http://www.stephensonholt.com