The island of S. Nicolau is situated to the north of the Archipelago. With a surface area of 346 km2, its widest point in the North/South direction of 25 km is on the western side and its shape is very similar to that of the African Continent, narrowing to the east for a distance of 52 km.
The very active volcanic past of the island is majestically visible in Monte Gordo, the highest peak of the island with an altitude of 1304 m. Two separate clusters of peaks part from there, one in a North/South direction, the other from East to West.
Upon reaching the sea this succession of hills and plains terminates in almost sheer cliffs. The valleys on the whole are generally narrow and deep, except for the VALE DE FAJÁ, which is wide and fertile enough for agriculture to flourish.
Although S. Nicolau was discovered on the 6th of December 1461, it was only during the middle of the XVII century, when the first village was built in Porto da Lapa that people began to settle there. However, because of the constant attacks by pirates, the inhabitants moved inland and settled in Ribeira Brava.
Access to the sea was obtained through the Port of Preguiça in the Bay of S. Jorge and in 1818 a fortress was built to defend the local inhabitants from pirates.
Visiting the island of S. Nicolau
This mountainous island, from which one can observe the rest of the archipelago in clear days, possesses an astonishing beauty. When visiting the island, one can get to know Ribeira Brava, which owes its name to the impetuousness of the stream crossing it during the rainy season.
The Cachaco area, despite the frequent fogs, offers a spectacular view above the village. Throughout the narrow streets, alleys and numerous squares the colonial influence in the architecture of the buildings is obvious.
From among these, the Igreja Matriz (mother church, the old Se) and the Seminario-Liceu (Seminary), the first secondary school not only of the archipelago but also of the whole western coast of Africa, are well worth visiting.
Many important personalities of the Cabo-verdean culture studied there. Other points of interest in the island are Faja, the writings on the Rotcha Scribida (writing on the rock) and the village of Tarrafal. At Faja, besides tracts of cultivated land, one can find as well the house where Baltazar Lopes da Silva, one of the all-time key figures in Cabo-verdean intellectual life was born.
The writings of the Rotcha Scribida were once the main tourist attraction in the island. Located at Ribeira da Prata – it takes some time to get to this far off place, Rotcha Scribida consists of a few sentences, carved on the rock in an iconographic language as yet unknown and increasingly imperceptible due to erosion.
At Tarrafal, a fishing village, you can enjoy the famous beaches with sands of medicinal value (rich in titanium and iodine) and sought by many people hoping to cure their illnesses.
The fishing and transformation of tuna fish are important activities around these parts. Surrounded by extremely rich seawaters, Sao Nicolau also attracts lovers of fishing from all around the world, anxiously hoping to catch the blue marlin and the swordfish, plentiful in these waters, especially from May till October.
But S. Nicolau's true ex-libris is a secular tree, the "dragoeiro" (dragon tree), a true relic of other times.
Unique vacation experience
The islands of Cabo Verde present many contrasts, in landscape and vegetation, and in the customs of the people, which result from the cross-fertilization of outside influences. The tourism industry, which the country has developed in recent years are no exception to the rule. The defining characteristic of tourism in Cabo Verde is authenticity.
Sao Nicolau offers vacationers an experience that is both original and unique. Tarrafal is a small town located on the southeastern coast of the island, one hour from Ribeira Brava, the island capital. The main industry is tuna and canning, but the town is best known for black sand beaches, visited year after year by travelers from all over the world, who come for its health-giving properties.
Some people come just for the heat; in August and September the temperature can rise to near 40 degree Celsius. But the heat isn't everything. Although no thorough scientific research has been conducted, it is generally believed that the black sand at Tarrafal contains titanium, which makes it useful in treating various diseases, especially arthritis and other similar complaints.
According to Antonio Alves, who goes there every week "just to unwind", there is no doubt that physically challenged individual who stay for a period of time go home remarkably recovered.
For instance, some years ago a church verger from Sao Vicente, called Silvestre, arrived in a stretcher "moving only his eyes", after years of intense suffering. One month of treatment at Tarrafal was enough for him to carry the flag in the procession for Our Lady of Light. "I saw it with my own eyes", says Antonio Alves.
Another case is that of the Dutch lady who arrived in the country in a wheelchair with her son, and left the wheelchair behind when she went home. There are several forms of treatment used at Tarrafal, with its iodine-rich sea and black sand.
The heat and the iodine alone offer relief from the stress of modern life. There are those who bury parts of their body in the sand, whilst others take the sand home to rub it over their skin.
Many people believe in the healing properties of the pools of water around the beach. But the most popular treatment is the "sauna" in which the physically challenged is sat in a hut with seaweed and boiling water. The individual is wrapped in hot rugs and receives the vapor produced by the seaweed taken from the beach. The treatment is repeated over several days, depending on the patient's strength, preferably in the months of April, May or June, when the weather is cooler.
There are women on hand to assist, with skills passed down from generation to generation. The treatment, however, is not recommended to those suffering from heart conditions. Otherwise, it's a unique cure that is available only on Sao Nicolau, Cabo Verde.
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