Chasing the sun in Sal (or the wind?)

Things you don’t know about Cape Verde

“No Stress”, according to the Free Dictionary is an expression meaning «that is not a problem, don’t worry about it», but more important No stress is the motto of this wonderful archipelago called Cape Verde.

I bet this motto is already the first thing you didn’t know about Cabo Verde (as it is called in Portuguese) and the amazing thing to point out is that they really live that way! But I will tell you more later.

You probably do not know either that Cape Verde is an African archipelago of 10 islands, one more beautiful than the other: these islands are divided in two groups Barlavento (windward) and Sotavento (leeward) or in 3 groups if we consider the islands of the sun (Sal, Boavista, Maio), the islands of the senses (Brava, Fogo, Santa Luzia, Sao Nicolau, Santo Antao) and the islands of the essence (Praia and Sao Vicente).
It goes without saying that I visited one of the islands of the sun, Ilha do Sal, most commonly called only Sal.

Sal is probably the most touristic of the 10 islands as it is full of big resorts – which I obviously did not book – but it is also the perfect spot for kitesurf: all the foreigners I met there had one main question “why have you come here if you don’t kitesurf?!
Truth is this solo trip to Sal was my birthday present to myself: I wanted nothing but spending my birthday at the beach, sunbathing all day long… and I can proudly say that I did.

Well I have to admit that the first impact with the island was a bit “dark”: I landed on a Friday night, past midnight, and the driver arranged by Sakaroulé B&B was already there waiting for me; Nuno, such a nice and chatty guy. He drove me through these dark and deserted roads that connect the Airport to the city of Santa Maria where I would have stayed… Being a woman alone, you always imagine the worst if you’re in a taxi crossing a black desert in the middle of the night, but you act normal.
Once arrived to the B&B, the surroundings did not look very welcoming either but I told myself to get some sleep and wait for the morning after.

Morning after: first things first breakfast, then walking around Santa Maria to get later to the beach (with the daylight the surroundings were definitely better in fact, gotten out of my room, I found out the little buildings painted of cheerful colors).
Santa Maria is a small seaside city; on the the main street mostly souvenir shops selling magnets, bags, dresses, trousers… all in perfect African style.

Here they live of tourism so many of them will approach you “hello nice lady!“, they will come closer trying to convince you to get in their or their friends’ shop; they will give you a small gift (usually a bracelet) thinking that you will buy something to “thank” them.
I love talking to locals and maybe in cases like this it would be better not to: at the first bracelet I found my way to sneak out but at the second one I bought a magnet, at the third a little wooden turtle – local symbol of the place not only for the no-stress lifestyle but also because turtles are very present on the islands: my newly-made friends could saw them during kiting sessions and in certain time of the year you can also assist to their birth.

Cape Verde has been a Portuguese colony until 1974 (!) and only one year later in Praia (capital city), the independence was declared; most of the locals speak Crioulo but, as consequence of the long colonization, the official language is still Portuguese.
And still I spoke a lot of French and Italian! French, because there are many Senegalese living and working there; Italian, because there are many compatriots of mine who moved there for life to open resorts and hotels and hostels or just got used to spend winter on the island after retirement – call them stupid…

From “hello nice lady!” to “oh, Italia… ciao!” it’s the blink of an eye and the perfect excuse to tackle you further to sell you stuff but at least, if you are kind, you talk your way out and you make new friends: after a week there, I felt like knowing everybody since months! 😛

If you’re wondering how to pay for the souvenirs they make you buy: their official currency is the escudo (1 euro = 110 escudos) but they will accept euros too with an exchange of 1 to 100.

Talking about money, bare in mind that in the weekend the ATM could not give you cash: it might be a coincidence (we did not investigate too much) but we have tried all the 3 ATMs of the main pedestrian street and they wouldn’t spit out a cent!
No stress, apparently there was a working one hidden in a hotel not too far.

I could tell you about the Shell Cemetery Beach in Santa Maria, about Kite Beach, Shark Bay, about the Salinas also (which for the record are managed by an Italian); I could tell you about the Buracona Blue Eye or talk about the color of the sea under the Pier of Santa Maria Beach, that looks like a swimming pool; I would love to tell you about the life on the Pier that during the day turns into a proper fish market…
But I will not, I rather show you in pictures later.
What I wanna talk about are the people, the dogs… the smiles 🙂

The people from Cape Verde are like Arlindo! The driver of the aluguer I took the first time I went to Espargos.
Note: the aluguer is a public minibus that departs only when it’s full, therefore no fixed schedule; if it is not full the driver will drive around the block asking “patròn, Espargos? – senhora, Espargos?” to all the people in the streets in order to fill the empty seats. So my friend, don’t make any fixed plan; no-stress, right?
(You pay with coins at the end of the ride, 1€ Santa Maria-Espargos, 0,50€ Espargos-Palmeiras)

So, Arlindo. We agreed that once in Espargos we would leave the passengers and from there he would take me to Shark Bay then to the Salinas, to leave me finally back in Espargos where I would have lunch with cachupa. He did all this at the cost of 20€ (it’s not super cheap considering that a full day island tour would costs 25€ but, what the hell let’s support locals!). That was such a nice morning! We talked about Cape Verde and its culture, about the fact that they don’t consider themselves 100% Africans due to the Portuguese influence; he told me about his life, his family, about the time he was living in Portugal; he helped me to find a local restaurant to have my cachupa, we became Facebook friends and he remembered to send me a message for my birthday! ❤

You might think he was 1 in a million? No.
I was going to the Blue Eye from Palmeiras but it was impossible to find a cab or a lift – I stopped different cars and pick-ups but nobody wanted to give me a lift until I met Dani:

he was giving a private tour to a French family and he said that if I could wait for him for about 20 minutes, I could sit on the back of his pick-up and make the trip with them till going back to Espargos. “How much for this?Nothing“.
Really, he did not ask me for money; I gave him some at the end of the ride, to thank him.

I was dirty, full of dust! My white shorts and my white bag turned brownish for the dust of the desert… and still I was super happy and grateful for the kindness of this guy who just made me really feel welcome in his country (I also have his contact if you need a guide in Sal).

He took the French family to a “tourists” restaurant so I left them there and walked to the center to go to a local restaurant I saw the first time I was in the city; had my lunch after a short chat with an old man who was sure to have met me the year before, then next aluguer back to Santa Maria beach to do what I was there for.

Let’s quickly talk about the dogs, many and many of them! Stray dogs or just dogs free to stroll around.
If you are having dinner outdoor, you will never feel lonely; but also on the beach they would come and keep you company.

I could go on for too long time writing about the Brazilian kiosk where we were meeting every night for caipirinha and where the waiters remembered my order at lunch without asking; or about the live music in Buddy or about my birthday in Funana (which is also the name of the typical local dance), but this is not a book or a travel guide. This is a post about the feelings I experienced during a week among smiling people on this beautiful island, where I felt free and light and where I realized once again how sometimes the less you have, the happier you can be.

Feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of the page…
I’ll read ya!

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