Destination Cape Verde
Welcome to part one of an ongoing series of articles and podcasts based around the history, culture and country that is Cape Verde.
Sal, The Arrival
A tropical island with a diverse culture, white sandy beaches, turquoise waters and beautiful blue skies. Mix that with the islands motto of no stress and it makes Sal, Cape Verde the perfect destination.
Cape Verde is made up of 10 islands. Sal being one of the smallest but around every corner is a hidden gem and secret. Sitting in the Atlantic ocean off the West coast of Africa. Sal is only 500 km from Senegal and close to Gambia. The island was created from the Pedra Lume volcano and it’s history is slavery and salt. Sal meaning salt in Portuguese.
The island is now a destination for tourists, adrenaline junkies and sun worshipers. These people all head for the South of the island and the colourful village of Santa Maria. This was the first island in Cape Verde to have a runway and in its recent past all travellers arrived here to catch boats to the other island.
Sal itself is a secret, as tourists have not long been coming to this beautiful small island. 216 Km2 of Mars like surface hides the real colour of this island. Which is made up of the ancestors of slaves from all over Europe and Africa.
Sals airport is famous in these parts but the unsuspecting traveller would never know it. At first glance it is small and unorganised. The runway is the longest in Africa but the apron can only accommodate two Boeing 757’s at a time. The main aircraft for bringing tourists from Europe.
Entering the country via an immigration system which seems to be short staffed. An entry visa is €25, payable on arrival which no doubt goes towards the steady growing infrastructure of the island. Once through this small barrier you arrive in one of the smallest baggage reclaim areas I have ever seen. However the baggage handlers are efficient as my luggage is already on the belt. I grab a luggage trolley which are still free in this part of the world.
You would never know you have gone through customs other than a small blue and white sign on the wall above your head. Directly in front of me is a young girl handing out information packs to arriving sun worshippers. I head behind her to a small orange courtyard where I find some very clean toilets, not what I was expecting from an African island.
Outside the airport you could easily mistake Sal for Mars. The red landscape of dust sprawls out in front of you. Taxi drivers sit outside the airport arrival doors waiting on a fare. A taxi to Santa Maria is €15 a short 20km drive South. Taxis have no meter but I doubt the vehicles even have an mot and I wonder if the driver has taken a test or holds a driving license. As we leave the airport I notice the capital Espargos to my left, just north of the airport. I will visit it soon enough but first down to the south coast and Santa Maria.
As we drive along the airport perimeter you can see that this airfield has see better days. Abandoned hangers and although the fuel storage is still in operation it looks like it was built in the 30’s. I later discover that it was. Old rusty fire engines line up as if they are about to chase a plane along the tarmac. The fence has seen better days and looks like one my grand father had around his allotment.
In the distance along the coast I can see Montana Leona. The twin peak which looks like a resting lion. The locals call it a mountain anyone else would simply call it a hill. The bay it creates looks gorgeous with its bright glistening turquoise waters. A rock in the bay is being smothered by the crashing waves.
A few minutes later we come across Muderia the first tourist town on the island. Although not used for mass tourism as the buildings are too old and too small. It’s mainly private apartments here now and this is where are lot of the expat community reside.
The road from the airport to Santa Maria feels arrow straight from Espargos although you rise and fall with the contours of the island. Sal only has one main road along its centre dividing the island between the east and west. Along the east coast you can see the small wind farm that supplies around 15% of the island electricity.
We pass the smallest church on the island. Sal is majority Catholic but has every religion imaginable due to the slave trade. On my right just next to a roundabout is the islands solar power field. Ten possibly fifteen rows of sand covered solar panels which I believe do not work. The government invested in this solar farm and unfortunately wasn’t able to keep up the maintenance required to keep it going. A real shame as Sal has at least 360 days of sunshine a year.
In the near distance is the islands botanical gardens. An oasis of green amongst the red dust across the rest of my journey south.
As Santa Maria comes into focus you can see the new resort which was built on the west coast in 2011. Huge white blocks with a thousand rooms each. The first complex is the Sol and Melia Dunas. The old town of Santa Maria spreads out on my left in the distance leading to the famous kite beach. I get dropped off at my apartment, close to Santa Maria town which is to be my home for the next 7 months.
The 2nd floor apartment is a good size with 2 bedrooms a bathroom and a lounge with a kitchen. The balcony looks over the pool area which is in the centre of the apartment block. The best news is that it comes with the job I’m doing for the summer. This means I have no outgoings and can save my salary for my adventures.
I’ll unpack and get settle in before exploring this island so my next article will be about the village I’m living nearby. Santa Maria which until the airport was built was the capital of the island.
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