New Year’s usually entail being stuck in traffic on the way to parties that end badly, listening to friends talk about resolutions you know they will never fulfill. To avoid situations like these, we pack our bags and head off to somewhere remote. This year, we entered the new year on Cape Verde, in the beautiful town of Nova Sintra, up near the rim of the Brava island.

view fogo volcano from brava
View of Fogo, from Brava, a month after the eruption

The funniest thing about New Year is that all it celebrates is the transitioning of one day into the next. Yet, no other occasion is celebrated so globally, and with such enthusiasm.

Pension O Castelo nova sintra
Pension O Castelo in Nova Sintra, Brava. Well run, comfortable beds, decent, local, breakfast

In Nova Sintra, we stayed at the Pension O Castelo, a guesthouse owned by a Cape Verdian-American, repatriated back to her home island of Brava. According to the locals in town, Eugenia threw the best parties, and her New Year’s bash was definitely the event to go to. All the guest staying with her were invited to an evening with great music, colossal amounts of food and an endless stream of that delightful Cape Verdian white wine from Fogo.

new year cape verde brava
Live Morna music and dancing at the Pension O Castelo on Brava, owned and run by Eugenia Matins

It was a magical night. Eugenia had a beautiful colonial mansion behind the guesthouse, fronted by an ancient baobab tree. It made me think of my grandmother’s place in Kuching, Malaysia. Unsurprising, I suppose, as most post-colonial islands share an architectural heritage. Her garden and her home, filled with live morna and the aromas of the feast being prepared, took me back a century. It was a nice mix of guests – shabbily dressed nature enthusiasts like ourselves, local Bravarians dressed to the nines in tailored suits and embroidered dresses, and repatriates like Eugenia and her best friend, bridging the gap.

New Year party at the island of Brava, Cape Verde
An international crowd at the party – repatriated Cape Verdians, locals, and a bunch of underdressed backpackers

It was the most memorable night, filled with such colourful characters straight out of a movie. I felt then (and still feel now) that this sort of experience is exactly the sort that we look for on our trips abroad. As a traveller, you can never be truly a part of the the places you visit, but sometimes, you can come pretty damn close.

new year cape verde brava
It was a real treat to have such superb Morna musicians play live, for us, in Pension O Castelo

We went to bed early, by Cape Verdian standards. The party went on past dawn. Only, it had moved from the house to the streets, and the square in the centre of town. It was funny, being in this little town as the New Year rolled in, strolling amidst the party goers salsa-ing up and down the streets. The whole affair was straight out of a book.

new year cape verde brava
Me and Eugenia Matins, the owner of O Castelo, in Nova Sintra, Brava Island, Cape Verde

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