It’s a six-hour flight from London’s horrible Gatwick Airport to Boa Vista in the Cape Verde Islands. Comments on Tripadvisor suggested that conditions on the Thompson Airways flight would be little short of those endured on the Brazil slave ships that stopped off at Cape Verde on their way from west Africa in the 18th and 19th centuries. Fortunately it wasn’t anything like as bad, but we did suffer some truely awful food and were given no in-flight video entertainment. Thankfully I dropped into a fatigue induced coma for part of the journey, having got up at 2am that morning for the airport taxi, as ever my trusted means of coping with in-flight boredom.
On arrival we had to queue for our landing cards to be collected (although quite why this is necessary today with machine readable passports is puzzling), but at least we got a nice green stamp in our passports. Having collected our bags, it was on to the coach for the five-minute transfer to the Club Hotel Riu Karamboa, which turned out to be no further away than across the road and behind a whacking great sand dune.
The African inspired Karamboa, with over 700 rooms, is one of a small number of absolutely massive all-inclusive hotel complexes on the island of Boa Vista. Smack on a beautiful long white sandy beach lapped by the azure waters of the Atlantic (is that enough hyperbole folks?),
the hotel aims to compete with the all-inclusive resorts on the opposite side of the Atlantic in the Caribbean, but as yet does not quite pull it off. Our air-conditioned rooms were comfortable and rigorously cleaned, every day we returned to them with a sense of awe to discover how creatively our stuff had been arranged and displayed, by our maid come art director! On the down side they did not have a mini-bar or tea making facilities and we had to collect bottles of drinking water from reception.
Just like the places we had stayed at in Cuba and Mexico, there was a buffet restaurant and a number of themed restaurants, but the Karanboa’s themed restaurants are buffets rather than silver service, so if you aren’t quick you could miss the good stuff, not to mention risk the dubious food handling techniques of fellow guests.
Las Dunas is supposed to be an African restaurant, but the food seemed to be more Spanish than African, with a massive Paella taking pride of place. The battered squid is exquisite though. Buda is the Asian restaurant and the sushi starters are truely excellent. Unfortunately the hot dishes are not quite so successful, chicken yakitori takes a bit more effort than threading chicken on a skewer and the sauces are bland. Local cuisine is featured in Barloveto, mostly freshly cooked fish and other seafood served up with yam and plantain.
And so to the all-inclusive drinks menu. The local Strella Lager holds its own against most pub brews, but the wine ranges from bland (red) to bad (rose) to downright doom-laden undrinkable (white). I have drunk worse, but only once in an Indian restaurant in Dundee!
Spirits are served in massive slugs, so a couple of gin and tonics or rum’n’cokes could creep up with lethal potential. The local fire water is called Grog, you could probably fly a helicopter on it. Ponche is Grog with honey and citrus, for the discerning drinker who likes a bit of flavour as his internal organs are steadily liquified.
As to the cocktails, the Karamboa has a long way to go to catch up with rival resorts on the Caribbean. There is a very limited menu of blended drinks like Pinacolada and Daiquiri which are little more than a rummed up Slush Puppy. A Martini, Manhattan or a Cosmo are beyond Riu’s mixology staff training, but a decent Bloody Mary can be had so long as soy sauce isn’t substituted for a dash of Lea & Perrin’s finest.
Despite what I have written so far don’t for one moment imagine that we didn’t have a great time, because we did. Tourism is new to the Cape Verde Islands and there is a lot of learning to be done by the local hotel management.
More will follow on what we saw and got up to.