The book said “Flat, dry, barren, brown, bare - fortunately for
Sal, the fantastic beach at the end of the road in Santa Maria makes up for
visitor's first impression as they travel south along the road from the
Airport“. Not for us. We thought we had landed on the moon. The road from
the airport was a straight duel-carriageway, either side was barren and the left
side, for most of the journey, was a rubbish tip.
Like the rest of the Cape Verde Islands, Sal was
uninhabited when the Portuguese discovered it in 1460. The only event of note
over the following centuries was when goats (no trees to
climb) were dropped off on the island during the 16th Century - what
contribution they made to Sal's current barren state is open to question. The
island was originally known as Ilha Lhana (Flat Island), however this changed to
the current name after the discovery of salt deposits at Pedro de Lume (Sal
means Salt). The Boavistan, Manuel Antonio Martins, began exporting salt on a
large scale (peaking at 30,000 tons per year) from the island at the beginning
of the 19th Century and the population of Sal grew as a result. This
Industry went through several booms and busts before finally closing in the mid
20th Century. Saltpans and the rusty and decaying transport machinery associated
with this Industry are in evidence around Pedro de Lume and Santa Maria.
Our first views from the road just past the
Miles of unfinished projects.
"Pedro de Lume is the
must-see tourist attraction on Sal (besides the beaches). The starkness of the
place confronts the visitor upon approaching the first buildings - the lonely
Church, bare earth and the disintegrating 19th and early 20th century wooden
buildings and machinery could be straight from a Sergio Leone film set. A
dirt-track (parallel to the abandoned cable car) leads up to a tunnel, which was
cut through the crater wall to allow access to the crater itself. Sea-water has
filtered into the ancient volcanic crater, creating a natural salt pan.
Originally, bags of salt were strapped onto pack-animals which would be led up
and over the crater walls until the tunnel was built in 1804. The Cable system,
built in 1919, increased production considerably and the salt works remained an
important part of the local economy until the mid-twentieth century. Nowadays,
visitors can float Dead Sea-style in the highly saline water and enjoy a mineral
rich mud bath" (again taken from a book). So enticed was I that I didn't insist
on the trip at 50 Euros each !!!!!!!! Having done the "float thing" in the Dead
Sea, we sat and read a good book instead by the hotel pool.
Water collection point for the
locals. Bear outside yet another part-build.
A hotel with residents on the first floor, the second
floor 'under construction'.
Sal receives very little
rainfall. The 'rainy' season between August and October. Based on 30 year
records, Sal receives an average of 33.6 mm of rain in September (historically
the wettest month) and 0.0 mm in May (yes, 0.0 mm). In an entire year, rain
occurs, on average, on just 10 days (compared to 33 in the Canaries and 145 in
London). Water temperatures vary between about 20°C in the Winter and up to 27°C
in the late summer.
Santa Maria beach, the only time I
went to it was to take this photo, broken glass, rocks, stones, building work
and dogs barking kept us round the hotel pool. The roundabout showing the semi built Murdeira, supposedly will have two golf courses,
a marina, 79 apartments and a few hotels, when it is finished, they say in about
4 years...........................watch this
Santa Maria. Our hotel The Sab Sab (used to be called the Albatross before being
re-decorated?????). Santa Maria is, by
far, the biggest and most popular tourist resort in the Cape Verde Islands. The
resort attracts a predominantly Italian clientèle, although this is starting to
change as more direct flights become available from elsewhere in Europe. The
resort is located 18 km south of the Airport on the island's southern coast. The
beautiful???? (I didn’t think so) 8 km long white sand beach (another colour
blind individual) is the main attraction here with it's warm clear waters. A
variety of marine excursions and organised water sports are available here. At
the back of our hotel was a dive shop, wind surfing school and beach
Santa Maria came into
existence to house the workers from the nearby salt pans, which were constructed
at the beginning of the 19th Century, however the settlement went into decline
at the end of the 1800’s with the collapse of the salt industry. The
tourist resort has grown parallel with the beach at either side of Santa Maria
Village itself - most of the "luxury" (we never found any) hotels are at the
western end, while holiday-home apartments and villas occupy a line to the east
of the village. Moving inland from the beach, the streets get progressively worse until they become shanty-like at the rear of the town.
High Street, Santa Maria and a
view at the crossroads.
Health and safety. There is none. There is
no provision for the disabled tourist that we
Eating Out. Seafood is Santa Maria's speciality and a
special mention should go to Restaurante Americo's on the main street (don't let
the tacky plastic sign put you off). Most people go there for the lobster, the
percebes (gooseneck barnacles) and the grilled fish of the day should not be
Nightlife. Apart from the in-house entertainment organised by
the hotels, Santa Maria also has a couple of Bars and a Disco (the building with
Pirate ship sticking out of it's roof). Two bars to visit are Tam-Tam (run by a
young Irish couple) and Chill-Out (which also offers internet access). While you
are there, you should try a local Caipirinha, like the Brazilian original,
except with local grogue substitutes the cachaça.
Hassle. There can be
some hassle from Senegalese immigrants trying to entice tourists into various
markets and shops, although authorities have been starting to clamp down on this
practice of late. They seem just that bit more aggressive than the Cape Verdean
people, but easier to recognise as they are so dark skinned by comparison.
Building work, haphazard and in a
variety of stages of 'finish'.
Espargos There is not much reason to visit Sal's capital, except, perhaps,
because it is not a tourist resort. There are a few restaurants, African craft
shops and places to stay, but this modest town is not really geared towards the
tourist or tourism. Espargos came into existence when the Italians began work on
Sal's Airport in 1939, initially as basic accommodation for the construction
workers. Nowadays it has a population of somewhere between 6000 - 8000
inhabitants. The name comes from the wild asparagus bushes that are said to have
Espargos from the
road, feeding a
sparrow in domestic departures and a queue waiting for the direct flight to Birmingham. (Also
Gatwick). In 1939 the Italians, under Mussolini, began
the construction of the airport on Sal, having purchased the rights to build the
facility from the Portuguese. Sal's location made it an ideal refueling station
for flights between Southern Europe and South America. The Portuguese bought the
rights back from the Italians after the second world war. Until recently South
African Airways used the airport for stopovers and refueling, especially during
the Apartheid years, when they were banned from flying over many African
countries. The accommodation needs of SAA's flight crews contributed in no small
part to the development of tourism on Sal.
Our leaving view of Sal
from the air, the town of Palmeira in the distance. Says it
All in all, Sal had been built up to be
"better" than Boa Vista, we feel a BIG FAT NO. Boa Vista was beautiful, quaint
with friendlier people and with more of a "vision" regarding tourism.
I'm pleased we went to Sal and had New Year at the Sab
Sab, will I return? Out of interest we would like to see it in ten years or so,
to see what has changed???? If the airport opened so long ago methinks not too
much. I think it is a haphazard building site with no
soul and a