2013July

Developing The Island Of Sal: Cape Verde


Nearly three hours past the scheduled landing time, my flight from Lisbon to the island of Sal, Cape Verde (Ilha Do Sal), is now taxiing to the gate. The local time is almost 3 in the morning and I’ve just spent the last 18 hours in Lisbon, where it’s 5 in the morning. My internal clock says it’s midnight, the beginning of a Thursday, and by that clock, I haven’t slept since Monday night, which can also be communicated as: it’s been 42 hours since I’ve slept. The friend I’m traveling with has brought three significantly heavy bags with her and needs me to carry one of them. I have my own bag, of course, on top of a backpack and a bad case of tendonitis. The bag I’m carrying for my friend is one that doesn’t have wheels. It just drags along the concrete resilient as a military tank. I feel as though I’m dragging along the concrete untouched too, but my outer shell is fictional, comprised entirely of my nonplussed delirium.

%Gallery-194271%I locate a man standing at the arrivals gate holding a sign for the hotel where we’re staying, Hotel Morabeza. My online research informed me that the hotel holds a decent ranking among travelers and locals alike. It’s rated as one of the island’s best hotels and the fact that a driver is here at this late hour despite my inability to inform the hotel of the flight’s delay is reassuring to me. The man leads us in the direction of the hotel shuttle and one of my arms is dragging this clunking vinyl bag down a rugged outdoor ramp while the other is guiding my rolling suitcase when a boy appears out of what seems like nowhere to assist with the luggage-loading. I’m wondering whether or not he works with the hotel or if maybe he’s the driver’s son. I then realize he’s just a local kid seizing an opportunity to earn some money, but when I open my mouth to speak, to tell him that I don’t even have Cape Verdean escudos yet to give him, I notice that he only has one arm and yet he’s already hoisted this cumbersome bag up and into the van. He looks about 11 or 12 years old. The man who led us to the vehicle says nothing, his lips seem pursed but his face is sympathetic. When the boy asks the question I knew he’d ask, my heart sinks.

“Coins? Can you spare some coins?” he’s wide awake and, if I might conjecture, exuding a bit of pride over the impressive physical feat he just performed, in a matter of seconds to boot.

“I don’t have any,” I say, confident that it’s true, but rummaging through my purse all the same, because, well, maybe I’m wrong.

It’s probably just because I’m tired, but I want to cry. Poverty and distress can be found everywhere, but most of my travel has been to developing countries wherein the pleas for help are especially plentiful. I know to expect it, I know to prepare for it and I know to not let every request that’s met with my sincerely empty pockets eat me up inside. But I feel my insides being eaten. I have tendonitis. He has one arm.

My friend finally uncovers some coins in her wallet, although it’s too dark for her to tell if they are euros, Belize dollars, or US dollars. She hands them to the boy and he exits the scene as instantly as he had entered.

***

The country of Cape Verde has been held up against other African nations as a beacon of hope; an example of how a young country can best execute democracy. But the islands of this archipelago nation each face their own specific struggles and successes, and Sal’s trajectory seems to have always looked the way it does now: equal parts bleak and promising. Discovered (officially) by the Portuguese in 1460 and originally called “Llana,” the island’s name was changed to “Sal,” which is the word for salt in Portuguese, once the ancient salt of Pedra de Lume was uncovered. The first commercial use of the island was that of a transatlantic slave trade center. The Portuguese brought slaves over to the island from West Africa to the Cape Verdean islands. With exclusive rights to trade slaves from the West African coast, the islands’ slave markets were popular until the exclusivity of West African coast slaves ended in 1560.

Droughts and famines followed on the island of Sal, which is the oldest island of the Cape Verde islands. Hardly any vegetation grows thanks to the low annual rainfall, which nearly categorizes the island as a desert island. The landscape is harsh and unforgiving. The salt from Pedra de Lume was lucratively mined and sold during the 18th century, but the mines are effectively defunct these days. The population of 35,000 is sustained largely on tourism alone now, but the tourism industry can be a double-edged sword on an island like Sal. On one hand, travelers find the white and sandy beaches to be a sunny paradise and perfect for water sports, like surfing, and they bring money to the island when they choose it as their vacation spot. This is arguably very good for the island. On the other hand, these travelers are wealthier than the locals by a large margin and can not only drive up the price of local goods but even worse: stay inside an all-inclusive hotel without circulating any of their money into the local economy.

From the vantage point of Sal’s beaches, the local economy doesn’t necessarily enter conversation. But when traveling inland, the dusty shantytowns are expansive and what might have been the suburbs in some areas are instead a tribe of half-finished skeletons of buildings whose construction was halted mid-way due to a recession. With the influx in tourism to the island, the government is now spending millions developing a sustainable infrastructure for Sal and its economy. Plans for renovations to the airport, fishing port (Palmeira) and local roads have been underway for over a year. With an emphasis on tourism and a collective effort that will support tourism, it seems as though the little island of Sal might continue to persevere against all odds. While Sal has experienced the highest rate of growth among the Cape Verde islands, the unemployment-related poverty is still staggering. The island’s future is in the hands of tourism and the dichotomy of positive and negative effects it brings to the island. Should the tourism decline, should the little boy with one arm have no one to ask for money, should local merchants have no customers, should fewer passengers disembark the planes that land at the island’s international airport – should these circumstances transpire, it’s difficult to envision the inhabitants of the island maintaining their resilience.

[Photo Credit: Elizabeth Seward]

Cabeolica, Cape Verde, Wind-Powered Energy Security

Denver’s Inflatable Hovering Hotel Room Costs $50K

AP

Have you ever wondered what a $50,000 a night hotel room would be like? Well, one hotel in Denver is giving travelers the chance to find out — though they might a little surprised by what they discover.

Expecting a heavenly mattress? Too bad, because all this pricy pad offers is an inflatable bed for your weary body. Dreaming of unwinding in a jacuzzi in your marble-clad bathroom? Sorry to burst your bubble but you’ll be doing your business in a chemical toilet instead.

Completely confused yet? Well, despite the lack of amenities, it turns out that people are willing to cough up wads of cash for the sake of novelty. In this case, The Curtis Hotel in Denver is offering a room that’s hoisted 22 feet up in the air, perched on top of a van. The room — which is entirely inflatable — is a temporary space that was designed as part an arts festival.This isn’t the first strange hotel room to be dreamed up by artists and designers. We found several other bizarre places to lay your head down for the night.

  • Weymouth Beach in England opened the world’s first hotel made entirely out of sand a few years ago. Guests were able to book a stay at the hotel for as little as $15 until the hotel was washed away by the ocean. Even the beds were made of sand, with hotel operators warning visitors that the sand “gets everywhere.”
  • At the Tubo Hotel in Mexico, travelers can make themselves at home in an old drain pipe. The recycled concrete pipes, which were previously used in sewers, are decked out with queen beds so you don’t actually have to feel like you’re sleeping in the gutter.
  • In Belgium last year, travelers could stay in a hotel room designed around the top of a 100-year-old clock tower. The room, which hovered 75 feet above the busy streets of Ghent, was designed to give guests an intimate perspective on the city’s history. With a massive clock right up against your bed, we’re guessing you don’t need to request a wake up call when you’re staying in this room.

Tell us, what’s the strangest hotel room you’ve slept in?

Abandoned Airports Brought Back To Life

Abandoned airport
Travis Estell, Flickr

We’re used to thinking of airports as places that flurry with activity no matter the hour. Much like a big city, they tend to be bustling hubs that never sleep. But all around the world, there are a number of airports that have been abandoned — vast structures that became ghost towns after economic problems caused them to fail and shut down.

The good news is that some of these zombie airports are now being given a new lease on life as they’re transformed into attractions like amusement parks or repurposed into places like schools.

In Sweden, the former Bulltofta Airport was turned into a park and entertainment zone. In Denver Colorado, Stapleton International Airport has been redesigned into a mixed-use housing community. And in Madrid, Spain, the Ciudad Real Central Airport is currently being used as the set of a film. So it got us wondering — what kinds of cool things would we like to see airports turned into?

  • A restaurant district. Just imagine all the quirky little places you could set up a restaurant. Sushi conveyor belt at the security checkpoint? Meals with a view in the air traffic control tower? It would sure beat the current airport dining experience.
  • Go kart racing tracks. How much fun would it be to whizz around on miles of airport tarmac? I mean, really, do we even need to sell you on this idea?
  • A hotel. Old airplanes and airport facilities would make a great site for a concept hotel. In fact, the Jumbo Stay hotel/hostel in Stockholm has already seized on this idea, turning an old Boeing 747 into a funky place to crash for the night.
  • A fitness center. Dragging ourselves through vast airport terminals is an absolute chore when we’re jetlagged and running late for our flight, but all that space is ideal when the goal is working out. And those moving walkways? Yup, they’re perfect built-in treadmills.

What else would you like to see old airports transformed into? Let us know in the comments!

Liguria: Salt, Sea, Sun And Stunning Views On The Italian Riviera

Corbis

Speedboat centurions and Apollonian wind surfers carved the waves far below us. Several hundred thousand bronzed bodies carpeted the beaches, lolled on rocks or guzzled and partied under sun umbrellas: The Italian Riviera was in full, raucous summer swing.

From where we stood, atop the silent, windy world, on the Via Panoramica behind the eastern suburbs of Genoa, it was strange to look down on the glam and think of salt, sweat and poverty. The Riviera isn’t exactly inexpensive or unsung. Yet the ancient salt route we’d been walking on since dawn, linking the briny Ligurian coast to northern Italy’s mountainous interior, is what today’s Via Panoramica and the well-marked network of serpentine, stony trails above the Riviera are all about: countless misery-etched miles far from the madding masses.
Sea salt used to be the main preservative in Europe. Traders loaded mules with precious “white gold” and trekked inland, sometimes traveling for weeks or months, until their salt ran out.

The bad old days are over: the salt trails are for happy hikers and madmen like me who like playing at mountain goat.

You’re right to ask: why leave the luxuries, delicacies, fun, sun and Mediterranean to scramble into Liguria’s harsh interior? Especially when the heat is not just blistering, but breathtaking?

salt route pigEasy: cool mountain breezes, quiet emptiness and views galore. Oh, and the mysterious enchantments of living history. If men, women and beasts of burden have been trudging on these trails since the Bronze Age, it stands to reason there might be something magical about the carefully placed, foot-scuffed stones. There is, and more: romantic ruins, gorgeous geological formations, wild flowers and herbs, teetering pines, feral oinkers, wild horses, hawks and a zillion migratory birds.

A longtime Riviera regular – every year my wife and I spend several months here – I’ve hoofed thousands of miles. This is one of my favorite suburban scrambles: no crowds, no Cinque Terre hype, just real-deal Italy minutes from downtown Genoa.

After a 25-minute train ride along the seductive shoreline, our local from Genoa to La Spezia stopped in Recco-capital of cheese-filled focaccia con formaggio. A bus from there whirly-gigged us up a river valley, past tumbledown perched hamlets, to the homely village of Uscio. There is no there in Uscio. The name sounds like uscita, meaning “exit” in Italian. Full of caffeine and loaded with water and picnic edibles we exited pronto uphill and west. The paved road kinks to reveal the double-diamond trail markers we needed.

It’s tempting to head north on the salt route from Uscio across the Apennines into Lombardy, a multiple-day excursion. But in summer it’s even more tempting to coil up the paved road to the seaside ridge about 2,100 feet directly above the waves, then head toward Monte Fasce and Genoa.
We reached the panoramic section of Via Panoramica via the woodsy salt route past a secluded, centuries-old chapel poised by a spring. The drinking water was pure and cool.

At Case Cornua above the coast village of Sori stands a rustic trattoria with house-made everything. Too early for lunch, we had cold water and hot espresso instead. Nearby are the skeletal remains of an unlikely luxury suburb. The builders had no permits, the development was nixed, but the little-used Via Panoramica, built for commuters who never came, and the amazing views, remain. Par-blind as I am, I could still see southeast to the Portofino Peninsula and Tuscany, and southwest practically to France.

salt route mountainsideThose views – plus the roughshod Apennines lying north – followed us on the rocky, roller-coaster route. It peaks and dips: The salt route, and other mule trails, branch and wind to infinity. Having galloped to safety from a herd of over-eager wild horses, and discouraged an outsized feral pig that wanted my pack, we found a pine grove and fell upon our picnic like the wolves that are making a comeback in the area. Now all we had to do was get back down to the coast. We slid and stumbled and clambered, polishing those ancient stones with our modern soles.

Sure, we’d cheated and ridden up part way. Did I feel guilty? Nope. Descending is even harder on the joints. No regrets. We sniffed the perfumed air and gawked at the creeper-tangled ruins of abandoned houses, the dark chestnut forests in clefts and folds, the hidden farmsteads and, as we neared the sea, the olive groves. What better reward at the end of a three-hour downhill obstacle course than a shady table, bubbly water and an ice cream cone in the swank seaside resort of Nervi? If only I’d brought my swimsuit.

Author, journalist and private tour guide David Downie‘s latest critically acclaimed books are “Paris to the Pyrenees: A Skeptic Pilgrim Walks the Way of Saint James” and “Paris, Paris: Journey into the City of Light,” soon to be an audiobook. His Paris Time Line app was published in April.