Sao Vincente, Cape Verde, Africa.
Fatigue and hunger started to affect our collective mental health. With four weeks to make a documentary and only 150 euros left between four people after all the travel and gear costs; fish—yes, fish—soon became our only form of currency.
We wanted to share with the world the true and pure lifestyle of spearfishing, and we were living it at its extreme. The four of us set out to visit a small fishing village, Sao Vincente, in Cape Verde, Africa, where our nearest grocer would be miles away, so before we left we filled our suitcase with rice, pasta and canned tuna. What we did not know, however, was that the island had no burning wood, and gas was a rare commodity; one we were unable to find. Unable to light a fire, we had to eat what fish we caught raw for an entire week. It definitely took a toll on us. We rationed our food. Lunch was a can of tuna shared four ways and dinner, the catch of the day, raw.
I kept telling myself that this was a choice. I’d left my “normal” life in London behind, a year before, in order to discover who I truly was. I was learning that nothing could reveal more about me than finding myself without any material possessions and no way to change that. Starvation exposed our true selves.
And yet, in Cape Verde, if you give a man a few fish, no matter how hungry he may be, he’ll share everything he has with his friends and family. Pretty quickly, my own personal journey was met with an intense reappraisal of my sense of community, and a desire to glean some of these values when a local man lent us a small space to live for free. The people in this village are richer than the sum of their exports.
We gambled our last spare bits of change on a boat. The locals would charge us only for gas to take us out and we shared our profits of the fish caught and sold at the market with them. A couple days before a full moon is the prime time for deep sea spearfishing so this was our chance to get big fish to trade in exchange for vegetables and supplies from the villagers.
We jumped in the water with our stomachs grumbling, anxious for some action. No fish to be seen. Damnit. My partner, the deeper diver between us, announced he was going to take a deep drop to 120 feet to see if he could bring up some fish. He came back up to the surface, spectacularly, holding a 40-pound amberjack—this would pay for the boat and leave us with a bit of spare change to buy bread from a local baker. That was a good day for us.
Our trip changed our perspective on so many things. When we took money out of the equation, we were left counting on natural resources to take care of ourselves. The respect and gratitude we felt for prey, each and every fish, was unexpected. Without access to refrigeration, you learn how to take only what you need and leave the rest. When overconsumption is not an option, it’s not a need.
You learn to appreciate all your catches, big or small, especially after working so hard for them. It’s not about the ego, it’s about the experience, the challenge, the respect, and ideally, being able to bring home some dinner.