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krisek Santa Maria - A travel report by Krys
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Santa Maria,  Cape Verde - flag Cape Verde
24127 readers

krisek's travel reports

Sal, a bit dull and expensive island of Cape Verde

  15 votes
Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
I wanted to visit three islands of Cape Verde; Sal, São Vicente and Santo Antão. However my plan could not be realised owing to faults by the domestics airline, TACV. I got stuck on Sal. They really ruined my holiday.

Santa Maria travelogue picture
From the first sight, the island of Sal didn’t appear overly fascinating. It’s almost completely flat and comprises of barren, desert-like land. More optimistically, people would call it a giant beach, with gaps filled with salt plains and black lava fields.

The island bizarrely continues to attract ever increasing numbers of tourists, and concrete, ugly hotels keep springing up around the island. Not a pretty picture for a traveller like me looking for local culture and indigenous life. But I understand, it is heaven for older people looking for perfect climate, upscale hotels directly on the beach and a destination exotic enough that makes others pause thinking, where is Sal on the globe?

The airport of Sal had become a frequently travelled to place of mine. Unfortunately, I must add. I had to take trips there to take chances of getting on a plane to São Vicente island. Although I was on a waiting list, I had to go to the check-in counter to be placed on the real waiting list. The waiting list in the computer was only good for the computer. The lady at the check-in desk actually decided who could fly and who could not, based on the first-come fist-served basis. In theory, anyway! The airline put me in the allegedly best hotel on Sal - Crioula. Apparently it was the first five star hotel on the island. I wouldn’t give the establishment four stars but hey this is me. I’m a guy with high expectations. And I had been to a few five star hotels in my life. The airline kept promising that I should be able to leave to São Vicente the next day, but could not specify the time, since they were unsure when they were going to be able to repair the aircraft. They instructed me to remain at the hotel, enjoy free food and beer and wait for a phone call. However, one of the locals I met, Xavier, told me not to count on a phonecall but to go to airport everyday and argue. It was all true. The airline never called. Not for three days! Although there were flights on my route. Nasty!

Favourite spots:
Santa Maria Beach
Santa Maria Beach
I tried to make most of my stay on Sal, despite spending the majority of the holiday at the airport. Santa Maria was Sal's key resort. It was a small and quiet town with rather nice beaches. There were two beaches in Santa Maria and none of them were strangers to pensioners, who came to the islands for sun and flats lined along some of the beaches. The beach by the centre of the town saw more locals, and the one by the hotels and restaurants, attracted more tourists, obviously. The latter was patrolled more heavily by the police, whose objective was to extract any ‘souvenir’ sellers. They didn’t bother me, but I guess some people might have confused the sellers and artists with hustlers.

It was difficult to find a favourite spot on Sal. I think I liked the beach in Santa Maria frequented by the locals and a small park in the northern part of the town. There was also a small rocky beach in Palmeira in middle of the western coast, few kilometres from the main town of Espargos.

What's really great:
Pedra Lume harbour
Pedra Lume harbour
Sal was really boring, otherwise. The island was almost completely flat and arid. There were no trees. Music scene, although not as vibrant as on São Vicente, was what made the island great. Many restaurants and bars welcomed local artists to perform live and I would swear that I heard Cesaria Evora in all of them. The quality was phenomenal and voices were incredible. Of course none of them were Evoras, but the singers were so passionate and sang with so much emotion and nostalgia that it is hard to describe.

The island was safe and scarcely populated (like a desert), there was hardly any traffic on the roads and people, perhaps little used to visitors and ambivalent, were welcoming and polite, relaxed and reasonably friendly.

Salinas station at Pedra Lume
Salinas station at Pedra Lume
One day, after spending entire morning at the airport, I gave up and decided to rent a car for half a day and see a little more beyond the southern Santa Maria. At least crazy desert driving should be fun. Anyway, there were actually few things to see around the island. Hmm... three, actually.

Salinas were amongst them. The sole remarkable feature of the Salinas was the disused cable car system, which must have been utilised to transport salt from the pool to a very small port in Pedra Lume. After the cable car stopped operating, the port has not been not used for anything else but fishing and the salt transport has been done with big trucks taking the cargo to the larger port in Palmeira. The rest of the Salinas or Pedra Lume was simply unremarkable. I could not find anything exciting about it, apart perhaps an old XIX century little church, which was actually still in use.

The other two were Banacora, natural pool on west coast and Farol de Flura, lighthouse at the northernmost point.

Salinas church
Salinas church
My first night I stayed at Pousada da Luz (€20), in the northern part of Santa Maria. It was clean, relatively friendly and could organise car rental and trips around the islands, depending on the availability of flights. It had a small pool in the front courtyard, but it was a bit dirty. The hotel was being used by some of the European tour agencies, but it was not busy when I visited. It was far from the beaches but it was one of the cheapest accommodation options in town.

Near the beaches, there were quite a few hotels, mostly expensive ones. And not all were any good value for money. The hotel the airline put me in, Crioula was big and concrete, although the garden was quite nice and the swimming pool was OK. The rooms were fine, if a bit small and characterless. It was one of the last hotels along the beach, so it was quite a hike to town, particularly at night for the clubs. Well, I did not pay for it, I did not even paid for food (so, so but good for fruit) or beer.

Santa Maria
Santa Maria
I checked out the most popular night club in town of Santa Maria, the Pirata. The club, which I reached at about 11.30 p.m. was very quiet. The interior was made to mock a historical wooden vessel and the attention to detail was phenomenal. There were many items that had been used on old ships and certain seating was made of rum barrels. Prices at the bar were exorbitant (true pirate robbery!) yet the place got packed by 00.05 a.m. With a diabolical touch of a wand it seemed the club's door opened at midnight and a stream of locals and tourist poured inside. The locals obviously included working girls, two of whom offered me marriage as soon as I finished answering the question what my name was and where I was from.

There was no cover charge but upon entry everyone was given a drink punch card, which stated that consumption was mandatory. Before leaving, cards had to be paid for (depending on how many drinks were punched) and stamped, otherwise doormen wouldn’t let one leave.

Santa Maria, one of local bars
Santa Maria, one of local bars
Nights on Sal were pleasantly warm and still. Remarkably few dogs were kept on the islands and barking could hardly be heard. Food, like everything on the island, was expensive and therefore keeping a dog meant feeding it creating additional expense. Keeping a pet was not customary and since the island was virtually free from trouble, there was no need to keep a dog for protection.

It was also perfectly safe to walk around at night. I was wandering around with my camera on sight and I only attracted attention of curiosity. I figured that people liked to be photographed actually. The crowd was colourful, the guys sported interesting haircuts and elaborate tattoos but were friendly and polite. The women were a bit needy and pushy, but only on the beaches. Whist hanging out in the streets, killing time, no-one bothered me. Only one day bar at the beach to hang out didn’t belong to a hotel and it didn’t have a name. It was just a booth with a few plastic chairs, near the surfing school.

Santa Maria little boy watching drying fish
Santa Maria little boy watching drying fish
Cape Verde is a paradise for seafood. To be more specific, there is a restaurant on Sal, called Americo’s which is a living proof of the fact. It is located on the main street in Santa Maria and it serves the best grilled lobster on this planet and grilled squid is even better. I have had many lobsters and many grilled calamari in my life, but never ever were the lobsters so juicy and tasty and the cuttlefish was never so tender and gently crispy! I wish I had also ordered grilled octopus there, to see if the best octopus that I ever had on Santorini, Greece, could be beaten.

The islands also made wine! Only two kinds: Cha do Fogo Branco and Cha do Fogo Tinto; white and red, respectively, both of them on the Fogo island, which contains little more than a giant volcano. I couldn’t imagine where there would be room for a vineyard. The white wine was fine, but it contained too much alcohol. The red one has also got its own character but again stronger than average.

Other recommendations:
When I arrived at the cigarette-ends polluted Banacora, through the desert, the swimming pool was occupied by Italian and Czech tourists. The place was so popular with visitors that even a bar was erected by the entrance to the spot. Banacora was on offer of each and every travel agent on the island and I just could not see the what there should be about it. I guess since the island can offer only beach life and a desert, a natural swimming pool, however unappealing, is a some sort of a phenomenon. It was just an hole in black lava crust at the shore. Eh. The Salinas didn’t impress me either, and although the fact that I was stuck on Sal against my will surely influenced my judgement, I was sure that this was no island for me.

With the exception of Boa Vista, even smaller and drier than Sal, any other Cape Verdean island would make a better holiday, with more places to see, more native life, varied scenery, indigenous architecture, rather than just beaches and retirement resorts. ;)

Published on Sunday March 16th, 2008

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Sat, Jan 24 2009 - 01:22 PM rating by porto

Ace report Krys,interesting reading.

Wed, Mar 19 2008 - 03:58 PM rating by jorgesanchez

Another master report

Mon, Mar 17 2008 - 04:51 AM rating by akhila

A very extensive and interesting report, even on a destination that you mentioned was comparitively "dull". Its great to read your travel experiences.

Sun, Mar 16 2008 - 07:34 PM rating by rangutan

Stranded on a desert island : - ( but still very well reported [4.4]

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