In the previous article you read about why and how I landed on one of the small islands in the Atlantic. You could also meet the characters of my story. Quite a story! And there was salt too, which we will not be short of now either. So get it started!
A day on the island
The next morning I walk to the other side of the town, from where the colectivos – or taxi vans – depart. In addition to taxis, these minibuses, run by private companies, are the most common public transport solution. (Although passenger numbers would justify it, state-subsidized scheduled services, operated by normal-sized buses, are not common). These minibuses of for-profit entrepreneurs start only when they get full. The vehicle I got on, however, just doesn’t want to fill up, probably because we don’t have a kind of young fella whose job it is to lure passengers into the van by shouting the destination. The second Toyota Hiace behind us roars off as I am still waiting patiently…
Until now. I decide to start walking instead as I have nothing to lose: if there is any free space left in any of the colectivos passing by, I can just hail them off from the pavement anyway.
Later, finally, a young man with a pickup offers me a ride so I jump onto the back of the vehicle where two benches are installed, facing each other. Even though this way of getting around is also common here, my Hungarian travel insurer would probably terminate my contract straight away if they found out about this. I am not afraid though, because the roads are good and safe and the driver looks intelligent (these are my basic requirements when accepting somebody’s offer for a ride). As an extra bonus, I can also take photos 360 degrees this way.
This long day is dedicated to Espargos and its surroundings.
This small city is the administrative centre of the island. A little busier and much less casual than Santa Maria. I don’t see European figures at all either, but I see more officials and people and children going to offices, work and school.
The town with a Mediterranean atmosphere is extended by a shanty town to the north-west. Locals warn me off visiting the district, but during the day the place doesn’t seem to be dangerous.
This lunar landscape – and in fact the entire archipelago – was once created by hot spot volcanism. These types of volcanoes are not connected to the boundaries of the continuously migrating tectonic plates of our Earth’s crust, but, to put it simply, magma (a molten rock mixture) from the burning hot and malleable substance of the asthenosphere “burns a hole” in the uppermost solid part of the Earth (lithosphere) (see below). And because these tectonic plates not only float on the asthenosphere but are also in constant motion, the magma will eventually melt another exit point in the lithosphere. And yet another hot spot island has just been created as part of the chain.
But not only islands are made in this way. Underwater volcanic cones can also be found around hot spot volcanic island chains (north-east of Sal for example, see satellite image below). If these had been a little bit more driven at the time, there could now be even more tropical resort islands on Earth!
I’m learning to swim – Pedra de Lume
Cape Verde consists of 9 inhabited islands, which, due to their geographical location and geology, can be very different. The country got its name from Cape Verde in Africa, so by no means from this dusty and arid piece of land. In addition to this, there are also islands with more diverse flora and fauna and with more authentic culture, which are less known internationally and which are, interestingly, much greener.
Sal’s international appeal is undoubtedly the long sandy beaches, the waves and the clear skies. None of these are particularly tempting to me now and I don’t seem to even splash into the water until I have tried something else. Something more unique.
Long distances are non-existent here in the island, so the place I’m going to visit now is not that far away either. But there are no colectivos from this city, the only option is the taxi… so it might not sound like a surprise if I say I set off on foot again. Yes, time is plenty and sometimes
we need to take our time to put together and settle the recent experiences, to contemplate, but people and random things also often come across at these times.
When I start getting tired of walking again, a car stops. And of course, I end up at the back of a pickup again, grabbing the bars and enjoying the wind.
Behind the few buildings a road leads up to the hill where I buy the ticket from the many escudo coins I had collected, and then I walk inside the crater. The panorama that unfolds is something really extraordinary.
Although the island was discovered as early as the second half of the 15th century, it remained almost uninhabited for a very long time. What still attracted settlers here, however, was a precious substance that even gave the island its name: guess what, this was salt. However, surprisingly, this salt appears inside a volcanic crater as a result of a natural process.
Salt production was of strategic importance, as it helped to preserve the fish caught at sea around these islands for the crews of the many vessels heading toward the “new world”. At first, slaves were brought from Africa for the tough job, and from the eighties onwards, technological development began: drilling a tunnel through the crater wall shortened the way of salt from the inside of the crater to the port, then human and animal power was taken over by a suspended cableway with a capacity of 25 tons per hour.
Prosperity ended with the duty aiming at protecting the Brazilian internal market and later, in the 1960s, the closure of the African markets. If I remember correctly, today the main market is mainly the beauty industry and hotels offering salt therapy.
The machines are not working yet; I can only hear the rustling sound of the rough salty soil under my footsteps. I’m walking at the lowest point of the island – the depression of the crater is so deep that it lies below sea level. Therefore people in general attribute the presence of water to infiltration from the ocean, while a group of geologists believe that this water rise up from deeper under the ground.
I pick up a small block of salt and lick it as if it is not clear what it is and then I taste the water as well. It feels as though it is eroding my whole mouth inside – the salinity of this water is quite a few times higher than that of the oceans (which is an average of 3.5%).
I’m prepared, so I have a swimsuit. I drop my stuff onto the small bench at the short barren coast, designated for swimmers and where the water is deepest, I walk in. I immediately realize that I have to learn to swim here again. Because of the high salt concentration, not only does my body bobs up to the surface, but my arms and legs also stick out of the water barely touching it! I’m trying to row like in a boat, what a weird experience. (The salinity of the Dead Sea in the Middle East is somewhere around 25-30%, and this one’s is maybe even higher.) Luckily my sandals are soft enough so that they have not given me any blisters, as it’d be unbearable.
For a few minutes more I’m enjoying the sound of the breeze and that this entire crater is mine now. Quickly before I dry I pour the bottle of freshwater brought from the shower room above.
But maybe I don’t even have to! Meanwhile, down in the village, classes have just finished in the local school and the kids get out as soon as they can. Then out of nowhere a school bus appears, so I’ll head in that direction too – let’s see… And to my surprise, I don’t even have to ask, the teachers had already prepared me my seat in the front!
When I get back to the city, I hang out a bit on a small square under the shades of the trees. I grab a Strela beer, which is Cabo Verde’s own red-star brand (I don’t know why red stars are so popular around the world…).
By the time I get back to Santa Maria, it is getting dark (there are no too long or too short days in the tropics). Today, for the first time, I walk along the “tourist street,” which is a long and straight strip of concrete bricks with uncountable streetlamps. The cold LED lights look as if it were a runway, not too pleasant. Hundreds or perhaps thousands of locals and holiday makers walk around in thongs, searching for souvenirs, ice cream, dinner, etc. I’m glad I made it to this part of the town only now at the end.
In the evening, I met Bouba and we return to the hotel. After the quick bucket-style shower by candlelight, we visit Bouba’s sister and her son, Junior. They live in one of the nearby rooms, which is kept in nice order. In the middle there is the gas cooker standing with a pan on it – she must have cooked fish as I can smell it. Later she offers it to me too, even though it doesn’t seem to be enough for four of us, anyways we’ve eaten dinner already.
Late at night, I sit back to the balcony and I’m just looking at the ocean, listening to some guys playing in the front garden – and kicking the ball into the pool some times. They don’t have to swim to catch it, as water hasn’t been here for years. Next to me, the dry branches of the overgrown palm tree are rustling in the wind. There has not been luxury here, but it’s definitely a terribly interesting to see this place. This is an enclave, an autonomous entity – a world within the world. The owner who is likely to have become rich while he took advantage of others is now helping some other people with his property, involuntarily, in a very indirect and a rather absurd way.
The wind gains power at night and young people scream outside, I don’t sleep very well.
Like wind on the island, have rushed by my past four days
I’m spending my last day at Mo’s place in downtown, in tropical style: total absence of rush, no need for discovery, everything’s perfect as is. I think I got the most out of these few days, and in fact, I saw a lot more of the island’s life than I had expected.
“There’s nothing there other than tourists and sand,” one could have talked me out of visiting Sal. What would I have lost if I hadn’t got off the plane, but I had just changed them or had just taken a direct flight? What would have happened if I could only see this small world from above as they swim past like dots under my window? Obviously nothing, this would’ve remained dots as were the Canary Islands… Still, just four days were enough to get an insight of our world from another, a pretty unusual perspective.
I’m at the airport again, enjoying its family-like atmosphere, its buffet’s fair prices, and the open-air waiting hall right next to the boarding gates with little rivers and a pond and a fast internet – why don’t they design airports like this one!
Then the two planes arrive from Europe, including the one from Lisbon. Before the gates open, I watch the passengers transferring between the two flights to continue to Brazil. I’m pleased to note, that I’m not among them.
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