Translated by Katherine Cowley. Read the original Portuguese version here.
School ended on the tenth day of June. This brought us much happiness, for our vacation had officially begun. Our destination was Santo Antão.
We left our house very early, and we went to the docks of São Vicente. We caught master Custódio’s taxi, a Mercedes-Benz, white, with a little plastic dog on the dashboard that shook his head with the movement of the car. The car was brand new. Every newlywed couple requested it as their ride. As you can imagine, I was very happy to ride in the best-looking car on the island. During the trip to the docks, I could not sit still, watching as Mr. Custódio spun the wheel and took the turns. It was something incredible.
When we arrived at Porto Grande, a crowd waited in line to enter the ferry boat to Porto Novo. The sea was a little rough. Even so, there we went. The “ferry boat” was famous for making even the suitcases sick. There were people who became nauseous simply from hearing the name of the ship, and this was the case for Ti Jona. The boat rose and fell on the waves, and we weren’t certain it would return to the surface again. People were shouting, “There are no trees in the sea! There is nothing to hold onto, nothing for us to climb when the ship sinks!”
But we children were excited to arrive on Santo Antão. After an hour of turbulent travel, we arrived. The docks at Porto Novo had a hellish heat and there was nowhere to hide from the scorching sun. There were so many people that it created quite a bustle. Some were leaving and others were preparing to enter the boat in the direction of São Vicente. The docks were small for so many people and so many cars. Holding tight to our luggage, we walked in the direction of the truck that would take us to Chã de Igreja. A 1958 Bedford, of a green color, belonging to master Cuca, was already waiting for us. There we began the car trip that would last some three hours. On the docks, we saw people selling “sucrinha”—little milk candies—in the shape of a cone, as well as quince, apple, cheese, and many other traditional items from the island. The fumes from the truck threatened to make us sick once again. The adults sat in the seats and us kids sat in the truck bed with our suitcases. We left the docks, taking the turn to the main road.
We began the ascent to the Corda region.
As soon as we reached the Delgadinho mountain ridge, silence immediately overtook everyone in the truck. In that place we feared the cliffs on both sides of the road. We closed our eyes and we only breathed after we had traversed the most dangerous section. As we went through a brook, Old Bedford drove slowly, for he had to pass over rocks; it would be a long time before we reached Chã de Igreja.
Chã de Igreja is a small and beautiful village, which appears like a city in miniature. It is a land of polite people, with clean and orderly streets, a lot of sugar cane growing all around, high coconut trees, and the smell of mango everywhere. In the center of the village is a beautiful church, which gives its name to the village of Chã de Igreja.
We arrived at the house of my grandmother Ludovina, who we sometimes called “Vinha” or “Vine.” All of our family members came out to greet us and to help with the suitcases. Fátima was combing the hair of “Ti Tuda.” It was a happiness that encompasses everything. We hugged everyone. It seemed that our entire family was in Chã de Igreja. Our breakfast had fried cassava, mint tea, cachupa stew, and omelets. The smell was irresistible.
My grandmother’s house had many animals. On the next day, early in the morning, I picked up a brass mug and called over my oldest cousin, Aldevino, and asked him for a special favor. “Aldevino, could you please bring me a little bit of the donkey’s milk?”
As one of the “boys of Soncente” and in my holy ignorance, I thought that all the animals gave milk, even the donkey. But off went Aldevino and he returned with a mug full of milk. I drank the milk until all I was left with was a foam mustache. Our vacation was beginning in the best way.
Months passed, and October drew to a close. Vacations were over. It was time to return to São Vicente. On the eve of our departure, we stayed up late, talking about what a wonderful vacation we had had. The next day, our friends from Chã de Igreja came to send us off. When the car was about to round the corner, we turned to face what we had left, and with lumps in our throats and our eyes close to tears, and our hands raised high, we said goodbye to our grandma Ludovina, our beloved “Vine.” With a sad face, she waved to us until the car disappeared down the street.
Inside the truck the smoke fumes were intense. After a few minutes on the road, we fell asleep. When we arrived at the docks of Porto Novo, the heat made it seem as if the ground had caught fire. There was a mess all over the dock with negotiations over a shipment of vegetables. We realized that we were to go on the same boat as before, and we began to feel sick. Some of us even threw up, yet even still we were thrilled to return to São Vicente after such a great vacation.
What I did not know was that my mother had taken us on this “marvelous vacation” with the intention of abandoning us with our grandmother and then moving to Italy, because life on São Vicente was not easy. Many years later, she told us the whole story, explaining that she gave up her trip because during the day we laughed with joy, and at night, she shed tears of sadness at having to leave her children behind, to be raised by other people. She had already purchased the ticket for the journey, but she felt compassion for us and did not travel. She set aside her dream of a better life for both the harsh realities and the joys of living with her children. I believe that she did not regret the decision she made that day. Even now, we still thank our mother for this wise decision.
That was the best vacation of our childhood.