Sal: The Tourist Island of Cape Verde
|A beach in Santa Maria
||Swirling across the dance floor in Santa Maria
It was the beginning of the year and I had made a little extra money from one of the business deals I had been working on. I immediately ran to a nearby club to celebrate and ponder over my future with a bottle of beer. I paused for a while, come to think of it, I’ve not been out of Nigeria in 15 years. Well one trip in 15 years would definitely be a poor record considering the fact that our Ex-President made over 113 trips in less than four years. I am not a mathematical genius but I think that makes it roughly 3 trips per month. (Wow!)
I spun my globe round like Eddy Murphy did in “Coming to America” and voila! I’ll visit Cape Verde. So off I was on my first trip to the Island of Sal. There are only 2 major ways of getting to Sal from Mainland Africa. The first is by air from Senegal while the second is by sea through Dakar Senegal. Going by sea is not very easy as ships and ferries are not regular. It’s possible to fly over to the United States and then board a second flight to Cape Verde but this might mean a permanent closure of one’s savings account. By air from Senegal was my best bet.
In Senegal, I was told by a friend. “Nigerians are not welcome in Cape Verde.” You’ll be turned back on sight. I made enquiries from the Cape Verdean Embassy in Senegal. It’s not true. Everyone is welcome in Cape Verde as long as you have the required BTA. I hadn’t, but still I was welcome. Immediately, I phoned a friend on the Island. ‘Pedro, I’m coming over’ Getting aboard the Cape Verdean Airlines (TACV) was the easiest thing to do. In the plane, I made sure that I sat close to the emergency exit (with my Karate black belt on my laps) just in case the person sitting next to me had terrorist intentions. I am sure you understand.
I arrived on the Island of Sal early in the morning (a 3 hours flight), got myself checked by the immigrations and waited in the airport for Pedro. It took some time for Pedro to arrive and to my surprise, I slept in a West African airport, woke up and my luggage was still intact. Cape Verde is a small country with a population of about 426,998. Rain is rare on the islands, so agriculture is limited, leaving the country to derive its income from foreign aid as well as tourism. Sal is Cape Verde’s largest tourist Island.
I stayed in Santa Maria, which has lots of tourists’ attractions. The locals are extremely generous, disarmingly friendly as well as miraculously good looking. One thing that struck me was the fact that all their currency notes were clean and well kept. I guess the Cape Verdeans follow the global practice of destroying old worn out notes unlike a few African countries I know, where the notes are allowed to destroy themselves.
Beaches in Sal are contrasting in nature. Some are calm enough to swim in while others are wild but interesting. Here, you get to see the beauty of nature. The almighty’s power at its peak! Sal is such a place of stunning diversity that it is almost the whole world in miniature. Majority of the locals are mulattos while African and Europeans make up 28% and 1% of the population respectively. There is a Cape Verdean language known as Lingua Crioula, which is basically a West African version of Portuguese. The dominant religion is Roman Catholicism although other denominations exist. A shortage of priests has meant the survival of largely pagan customs.
The Cape Verdean Police is the most efficient and best police force I have met so far. They are very honest and willing to help. Believe it or not, THEY DON’T ACCEPT BRIBES. One striking feature you will notice about Cape Verdeans, is that unlike other most African countries, their houses do not have burglary proofs. Cape Verde is that safe.
Making new friends was actually the easiest thing to do and in the next 5 days, I was off to Espergos, (another part of the island) with a few new friends. There, I got introduced to most of the other foreigners on the island. Majority of the foreign women I met were from poor families and hence came into the island for prostitution. I was shy at what the females were into, some were even married back home in their respective countries. My greatest laugh was when one of them told me she sends money back home to her husband to send goods to her from home in order for her to sell in Cape Verde. The trip is this; the fellow back home thinks she earns her bucks from trading. Seeing women in this type of ‘trade’ was shocking. Back in mainland Africa, it is unthinkable to indulge in such a trade. Moral values are held high in esteem. I guess they where the failures of the bunch. You would not believe this. Most of the foreign women into prostitution were not at all good looking.Could Cape Verdeans love ugly things? I pondered. Well, in the land of the beautiful, ugliness could be a virtue.
Sal is full of night clubs and restaurants. Cape Verdean meals are very good. Eating at the Pizzaria Restaurant was like listening to Michael Jackson’s Beat it and the greatest discovery in my life was drinking Sagres beer. Men, I was as high as Everest. On the Island, Artists perform on weekly basis and that was the edge some night clubs (such as Esplanada Mateus) had over the others. Accommodation is very expensive on the island due to the large influx of tourists. Their services are worth the money though. Hotels range from the less expensive (such as the Alternativa) to the extremely expensive (such as the Nha Terra). Unlike Anglophone West Africans, Cape Verdeans do a lot of night clubbing. Most night clubs operate between 9pm and 3am. Another fascinating thing is that others open at 3am and operate till very early in the morning. The greatest of all the night clubs on the island is the Pirata, which is modelled after an old pirate ship.
The drug consumption among the youth in Sal is quite high. I remember some guys knocking on my door, “We hear you are just from Nigeria, do you have anything for sale?” They were disappointed to hear me say I don’t do drugs. Maybe this guy comes from the wrong part of Nigeria. No, Nigerians are honest people, WE DON’T DO DRUGS!
Cape Verdeans are excellent fishermen. Fishing in Cape Verde is fun and the risk of getting thrown overboard during an argument is unfounded as fights and arguments rarely occur on the island. Even the animals know that. Sal makes a lot of money from the sale of arts and crafts brought in by foreign nationals usually from Senegal and Nigeria. Sal is the right place for you to complete your collection with some African art. That is how, some tourists (mainly of French, Brazilian, Portuguese and German origin), unconsciously, get to spend their money, dazzled by the unique local art and crafts Cape Verde has on display.
I spent only a week on the island of Sal and leaving made me feel like a farmer who had been forced to surrender his land in Zimbabwe. It was clear; I could never have gotten enough of Sal as every time I walked around, I saw something new. I headed for the airport 3 hours before schedule. Most travellers had massive trunk boxes. I feared one might have Umaru Diko smuggled in it. I also made sure that in the airport, I listened attentively to the public address system and shuttled between the notice boards and the check in points regularly, as in Africa, all could have conflicting information. I am used to loosing my flight in Africa. Wow! I walked the streets of Cape Verde at 3 am. Here I am, back in main land Africa and guess what? I’m scared!