Yesterday I put one fellow in particular to the test in a slightly foolhardy experiment.
It had been four days since we arrived at the windswept desert island of Sal which is one of the smallest in a fascinating cluster of islands cast off into the mid Atlantic 500km from the west coast of Senegal. On arrival our perky blonde TUI rep who has live here over a year, gave us an introduction to the island and it’s unusual assortment of geological features and historical markers. Sal boasts an impressively high tech airport, originally built by Mussolini to open up access to South America from Italy. Since then The Cape Verde air authority has collaborated with NASA, to develop the longest runway in Africa, so we should not be surprised to see a space shuttle land here if necessary.
She also told us that just 30 years ago the inhabitants of Sal, most of whom were employed working on the salt mines that give the island its name, were naked and unshod. Tourism is very slowly edging its way through Cape Verde bringing wealth and occupations much less gruelling than hefting salt.
The islands are a haven for sea turtles and attract marine biologists in an ongoing quest to uncover the mysteries of these illusive creatures.
Apparently there is an enchanting geological feature up the coast known as The Blue Eye where you can peer down into an azure sea cave from the arid ground above.
Cape ‘Verde’ is a misnomer here on Sal as all the ‘verde’ is long gone. One theory is that when the island was still uninhabited back in the 16th century, the Portuguese deposited a large herd of goats here. I don’t want to apportion blame but…
I feel there is so much to see here, and, for a price, one can take advantage of the excursions organised by the tour company, but they are a bit ‘touristique’ and since that first morning, we have chosen to remain safely cocooned in our beautifully manicured resort while we acclimatise, without so much as a cockroach in the way of local colour. Well, actually there was one in our apartment kitchen, but it didn’t stay to chat. The perimeters are patrolled by security guards, (young men doing their national service) and I’m told we are kept well away from the poor bits they’d rather we didn’t see.
The evening entertainment team at Melia Tortuga provide an extensive and dizzying selection of sometimes frenetic sideshows, which I guess are designed to give us a broad taste of local culture. One night we watched a Capoeira band of drummers who were as breathtakingly skilled and enthusiastic as the dancers they accompanied. They beat a persistent rhythm for what seemed like hours and eventually, ears ringing, we hopped, stamped and swung ourselves home to bed like hypnotised voodoo converts. By contrast, mellow acoustic sets down at the beach bar soothe with a gentle Brazilian samba vibe, but everything is so polished and professional that I’m starting to crave something a little more rough around the edges, and I don’t mean the ‘beach boys’ who noisily maintain the jet-skis with an endless animated stream of high octane creole banter.
So yesterday I took an executive decision that we should head out into Santa Maria in search of some real local colour.
Stepping out of the taxi I was immediately high-fived by a swaggering spiv dressed stylishly in combat shorts, colourful African ‘Dutch Wax’ print shirt and an immaculate Nike snap-back perched jauntily on top of his springy Afro crop. Despite my polite British protestations he beseeched us most adorably to follow him to the shop of his ‘mama’ to look at ‘genuine quality’ local goods, and we found ourselves saying ‘Hakuna-matata, yes, no worries!’ There was something reassuring about his smile (said Eve of the Serpent) and as we strolled along the dusty dog-strewn streets with Paolo, it was difficult not to emulate his laid back swagger while we chatted with him about life on Sal. He spoke remarkably good English, which he taught himself, as well as French, Italian and Spanish. At school he learnt Portuguese, but at home he speaks the local lingo, Creole.
We eventually arrived at number 3 No Problem Street where his ‘shop’ was tucked away in a kind of ramshackle covered market, and he proceeded to give Rose generous ‘presents’. His sister appeared out of the woodwork chewing a stick of liquorice, (as many of the locals seem to do) and lavished more ‘gifts’ on Rose. To cut a long story short, Paolo made a decent sale, shifted some stock of ‘rough round the edges’ wood carvings, and made two new English friends. He then guided us to the pier where the fishermen were starting to bring in their catch of Yellowfin tuna, we shook hands and he disappeared to pounce on the next gullible tourist.
In the time that followed, as we absorbed the colourful sights and smells on the pier, (Rose thought she spotted a jellyfish in the sea -it was fish guts) I weighed up our purchases and worked out that Paolo had actually charged a very fair price, and thrown in lots of freebies. He had acted as our guide, and given us that much needed contact with a genuine native.
Despite my fleeting thoughts of abduction into white slavery, not to mention the slightly queasy feeling I got when I saw him raise his cap meaningfully to a suspect looking pair of layabouts ahead of us down the street, we escaped unscathed and much better off for having stepped out of the comfort zone. I even told Paulo that I would write a blog about trusting the locals, and he thanked me sincerely.
Google translate doesn’t do Creole,otherwise I would check how you say “What a mug!”
#adventure #travel #trust #natives #santamaria #sal #capeverde #meliatortuga #tourist #souvenirs