Teenage mothers with babies on hips or slung over backs, mangy flea ridden dogs roaming the streets, smiley faced kids waiting to tie up our tender (for a fee!), reggae music thumping from scruffy open air bars, women selling fruit and vegetables on the roadside. Welcome to Palmeira, our first port of call on the island of Sal, a low lying (apart from a few volcanic cones) windswept and barren island in the Cape Verde archipelago.
The Cape Verdes lie 325 mils off the African coast and consist of 14 islands – all volcanic including one, Ilha do Fogo, still active. Palmeira, on Sal, is one of three places in the Verdes where yachts can clear in, so it was our first port of call after our six day sail down from the Canary Islands. We dropped anchor at sunset and, after a good night’s sleep, headed off with the necessary documents (passports, boat papers including insurance and ownership).
Clearing in is often long and involved and even more difficult when you don’t speak the language – in this case Crioulo which is a spoken only dialect of Portugese. We stumbled by in basic French, filling in numerous pieces of paper, got our passports stamped and then hit a snag – the fee was 10 euro and we only had five. No problem – catch a local taxi to the nearest town, three miles away, where there is a money machine. The taxis are hilarious – mini vans in a state of disrepair with a driver in an equally abysmal state. He spent 10 mins driving around the town, hanging out of his window whistling and yelling trying to drum up more business….giving us a free tour of the backstreets. Then the music was turned up to the max and off we shot, driving through semi desert at high speed in a van that would never pass WOF in New Zealand to the town of Vila de Espargos.
trying to get internet local children
Sunday is Sunday anywhere in the world and there was little happening in this ramshackle town. The streets were deserted and the only sound was the delightful music coming from the church. We got our money and headed back to the van…..and sat there for 10 mins as it filled with immaculately dressed churchgoers clutching bibles and babies. The people are very dark skinned and the women have long hair either plaited Bo Derek style or wrapped in turbans. The children are absolutely gorgeous and not too shy to ask for money from visitors.
We found and paid the port policeman and wandered the scruffy streets past some amazing buildings, many adorned with colourful murals. Fishermen were busy salting their catch at the water’s edge while the local bar was beginning to fill with an assortment of weird and wonderful, but definitely colourful, looking locals.
banana for our boat boy woman and baby
Next day, being Monday, we headed back up to Espargos to get a few supplies and internet. Buying bananas and papaya from a woman sitting on the kerb became exasperating – she wouldn’t budge on a ridiculously high price and insisted we buy two kilos! We were probably her best customers of the day! The town was full of people either sitting or milling around…..not the friendliest people we’ve come across, but with poverty and employment rife who can blame them.
Sal has a population of about 10,000 mostly of mixed African and European descent. It relies heavily on foreign aid as, like all the islands, is poor despite being basically agricultural and producing crops of maize, fruit, sugar cane, beans and potatoes. Tourism is becoming increasingly popular and the south of the island is very tourist orientated with hotels and resorts – many people are attracted to the white sandy beaches and good windsurfing.
Literacy here is 77% but even so, unemployment and poverty are major problems. Few yachtsman visit Sal – most preferring to go straight to Sao Vicente where there is a marina and far better provisioning. Many of those in Sal are en route to Senegal or the Gambia. We were the only New Zealand boat in the anchorage amongst mostly French, German and Dutch boats. After three days in Palmeira we moved to Baia de Mordeira – a long stretch of white sandy beach and crystal clear water. Unfortunately it was blowing and we were sick of the haze and fine dust that coast everything and reduces visibility. So after a windy night we upped anchor at 3am and headed to the next island Sao Nicolau, catching a huge dorado en route!