“Have you heard of the TV-show ‘Helemaal het Einde’? When you are in Cape Verde, you must visit Casa Tambor!” Ivar’s cousin Susan tells us at a family reunion during a visit to our home country. Having been away too long to know the Dutch program, we have no idea what she is talking about. So she explains: “The program follows four Dutch families who live in Cape Verde for a year. The Beerens and Molenaar families combined forces and built a kind of resort with locally available, recycled materials.”
Now that we are in Cape Verde, we heed to Susan’s advice. Casa Tambor is on the island of Sao Vicente, just outside the capital Mindelo. It is exactly on our route towards Brazil from our current position, the island of Sal. We can depart as soon as we are ready. For once we don’t have to wait for the right wind, because the northeast trade wind blows so constantly here. After a smooth 24-hour trip downwind, we drop our anchor in the bay of Mindelo.
When we contact the Molenaar family, they are just as enthusiastic about our trip and mission as we are about their project. The parents, Fleur and Ocke, admit that they would like to have a look on-board, so the next day, Fleur and Ocke paddle from the dinghy jetty to the boat in our kayak. A complete camera crew follows them. “Maybe you’ll be in the TV-show”, Fleur and Ocke say, laughing. For them it has already become routine, but for us having a TV-crew around takes some getting used to. It is only when we exchange ideas to make Casa Tambor even more sustainable, that we feel at ease again. We show Fleur and Ocke where we have been and which sustainable solutions we have described. “Perhaps plastic clean-ups could work here, for example in combination with walking or cycling tours?”, Ivar suggest. “Yes, that would be great to do with the school children who come to visit us soon!” Fleur reacts enthusiastically, while the camera crew records everything.
Recycling as a Building Solution
Later that week the roles are reversed when we visit Casa Tambor. The Beerens and Molenaar families have been given a piece of dry land a few kilometres outside of Mindelo, with the assignment to make something of it. In just six months they have created a unique place to stay. Ocke tours us around the site. “We want to save natural resources and have a limited budget, so we have become masters in recycling!” he announces. As we follow him around the premises, Ocke points out the many places where they have used recycled materials. Both their house and the bar are made of former sea containers, the guest rooms and chairs were previously oil drums, and for beds and fences wooden pallets are used. Even in the choice of its name, the recycling concept rings through. “Tambor is another word for oil drum,” Ocke explains.
Every corner is decorated with paintings. A portrait of the famous Cape Verdean singer Cesária Évora adorns the bar. “Local artists have painted the buildings,” explains Fleur. “We wanted to create a unique place, where both foreigners and Cape Verdeans like to stay.” We are impressed by the many applications that the families have found to reuse materials, and how beautiful Casa Tambor has become. They truly manage to demonstrate the beautiful things that can be made of materials from the island.
Tiling with Plastic Waste
“Do you know how to tile?” Ocke asks. “We have never done it, so we think we can do it”, Ivar replies tongue-in-cheek, citing Pippi Longstocking. Ocke nods in appreciation. The quote appeals to his hands-on, entrepreneurial mentality, which comes in handy here. “We still have a tile job on our to-do-list, so let’s join forces”, Ocke suggests. With the cameras breathing in our necks, we get to work. Despite our amateur status, not much later a previously white wall is covered with colourful tiles. “Well done boys!” Fleur praises us. “Do you know that these tiles are very special?” she asks. “They are made of plastic waste that littered the Cape Verdean islands. A factory on the neighbouring island makes them, and we are their first customers”, Fleur explains with some pride. “We have to check that out”, Floris exclaims enthusiastically.
A Tough Hike
To visit the plastic tile factory we go on a day trip to the neighbouring island of Santo Antão. As there is no suitable port or anchorage for our boat there, we take the ferry. “It’s the ‘Oost-Vlieland’, which used to cross the Wadden Sea!” Ivar points out as we board. The old name is still visible. The ferry, which has found a second life here, takes us to Santo Antão in an hour. There we find a minivan that takes us to the top of a mountain range, from where we get a breath-taking view of the island and coast.
We then start our descent on foot. With no-one else in sight, we hike across and down steep mountains, as one spectacular view after the other brings smiles to our faces. After a few hours we approach a valley where the hiking trail plunges down steeply. Our muscles and knees give painful signals that they are no longer used to these kinds of outdoor exertions. But the beautiful valley, with its many mango and banana trees, makes us ignore the pain. And finally, at the end of the path, we see Azulejos MT, the plastic tiles factory.
We get a tour around the small factory and see how plastic bottles are first sorted by colour and then shredded. The plastic pieces then go into a mould and are heated. By combining pieces from different bottles, tiles in colourful ranges can be fabricated. The Dutch-Cape Verdean woman behind the factory is Maria Teresa Segredo. She in the Netherlands at them moment, so we speak to her on the phone. “Why did she set up the factory?” we ask her. “I wanted to do something about the plastic pollution on the islands and in the sea. As I thought of something useful to do with this waste, I got the idea to use PET bottles as a raw material for tiles”, Maria Teresa explains. And that’s a good thing, because more than ten plastic bottles are needed for each tile. Maria Teresa proudly summarizes her concept: “The island is cleaned up, there is less plastic infiltrating the food chain, and we do not have to import tiles anymore.” Such smart tiles!
Back on board we stick the plastic tile that we got as a present to the wall of our bathroom. It serves as a reminder of this smart idea from Cape Verde, and can hopefully inspire visitors we get on board. The tiles are just one of the many ways we can reuse locally available materials. The Beerens and Molenaar families demonstrate at Casa Tambor that entire building can be made from them. If we recycle more, we not only clean-up waste, but also use less raw materials and transport for making our buildings. What’s not to like?!