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]

The Desolate Salt Mines Of Sal Island, Cape Verde

I didn’t know about Sal until a couple weeks before I departed for a trip to the island, at the invitation of a friend who wanted to go there for the purpose of diving and also wanted to have a travel partner in tow. I knew little about the country of Cape Verde. Between agreeing to go on the trip and now, I’ve learned about the 83.4 square mile stretch of land that sits in the Atlantic Ocean off of the coast of Mauritania and in doing so, I’ve learned about Sal’s salt, which has been both the backbone and bane of the island’s economy over the years. The salt mines of Sal are one of the island’s biggest tourist attractions and yet eerily desolate and nearly inactive.

The island itself is one of 10 islands that makes up the country of Cape Verde. Sal is an island belonging to a northern group of islands within the country, called Barlavento. It’s sandy and mostly flat, with the exception of inactive volcanic formations that protrude above the near-desert surface. It’s almost always sunny in Sal and even during the “rainy” season, it hardly rains. Geologically, Sal is the oldest island of Cape Verde. Its earth was formed nearly 50 million years ago from the eruption of a currently inactive volcano. Originally called Llana when the island was discovered by the Portuguese in 1460, the name was changed to Sal after the discovery of the island’s salt mines in what is now called Pedra de Lume. The landscape of Pedra de Lume and the rest of the island doesn’t look much different than the latest images of Mars the Curiosity Rover has sent back.

%Gallery-193936%Located on the northeastern part of the island, Pedra de Lume’s salt was predominantly mined during the 18th century. According to the guide I hired to show me around the island, nearly 300 locals worked the mines during that time. He estimated the current number of mine employees to be around five or so. The village is small these days and seems to mostly persist for the sake of travelers, like myself, who want to see the ancient salt mines for themselves. Very little salt is still produced from these mines – what is made these days is made primarily for locals and tourists. The changing currency of Sal’s salt has been an economic blow in the company of many others for the local community.

The salt evaporation ponds that were built over the natural volcanic salt lake all sit within the Pedra de Lume crater, which is beneath sea level. As I walked through the tunnel that leads to the mines, the light shot shiny beams through the darkness, signaling the clearing ahead. Once through the tunnel, I made my way down the path that leads to the salt ponds and promptly disrobed, eager to experience that famous unsinkable feeling that waters this salty, 26 times saltier than seawater, provide. No matter how much I’d read about this rare buoyancy before or seen in photos, nothing had ever conveyed the feeling of invincibility that washed over me. I struggled to swim to the center of the salt pond and tried my hand at performing yoga postures and dance positions in the water. I’d occasionally roll, collecting the repulsive tonic in my mouth, but I never sank. Instead of showering upon exiting the pond, I let the salt coat my skin, which gave my legs the texture of sandpaper. The spooky scenery of Sal’s salt mines isn’t only memorable; the desolate expanse of otherworldly land lends merit to the main attraction.

[Photo Credit: Elizabeth Seward]

Exclusive Gadling Playlist: Tropical Beats And Rhythms Even If You’re Not On Spring Break

Once a month we put together an exclusive Gadling playlist – a little something to bring you sounds from around the world.

Every month we choose a theme paired with one of our #ontheroad Instagram locations and choose some of our favorite tracks, giving you a music-inspired playlist meant to inspire a little wanderlust.

Last week we hit up the island of Reunion and this week we’re in Cabo, and in celebration of getting a little sun and waves in around the time of spring break, we figured a tropical inspired playlist was just what we needed. We’re calling it “Tropical Beats and Rhythms Even If You’re Not on Spring Break,” because everyone could use a little warm weather inspired music, whether it’s vacation time or not. Enjoy!

Listen to the playlist on Spotify.

  1. Lenda – Céu
  2. Tchon Di Massa Pé – Zeca Di Nha Reinalda, João Cirilio & Blick Tchutchy
  3. Boa Sorte – Vanessa da Mata
  4. Gumboots – Paul Simon
  5. La Camisa Negra – Juanes
  6. Karambol – Ziskakan
  7. Zouk La Se Sel Medikaman Nou Ni – Kassava
  8. Parol – Baster
  9. Bring Me Your Cup – UB40
  10. 54-46 That’s My Number – Toots & Maytal
  11. Smoke on the Water – Senor Coconut
  12. Rhythym is Love – Keziah Jones
  13. Caxambu – Almir Guineto
  14. Pickney Gal – Desmond Dekker
  15. Warm Heart of Africa – The Very Best
  16. Can’t Stop Now – Major Lazer
  17. Sunset Tonight – Jordan T
  18. Cumbia Invasiva – Monareta
  19. Vampires (Afrolicious & Rob Garza Remix)- Thievery Corporation

Image: Alex Robertson Textor

List of World Heritage Sites grows by 13

The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Committee just wrapped up its 33rd annual conference in Seville, Spain, where they added 13 new sites to their list of amazing locations around the globe, and made the unusual move of dropping one. The new list of World Heritage Sites now stands at 890.

Of the 13 new sites, 11 are cultural sites and 2 are natural. The two new natural sites are the Wadden Sea on the border between Germany and the Netherlands and the Dolomite Mountains in Italy. The cultural sites include such places as the Tower of Hercules in Spain, The Sacred City of Caral-Supe in Peru, and Sulamain-Too Sacred Mountain in Kyrgyzstan. For a complete list of the new sites, check out the official press release here.

The former World Heritage Site that was dropped from the list was the Elbe Valley in Dresden, Germany. The committee expressed concern over the fact that a new four-lane bridge was being built through the Valley, and even attempted to give warning of this action, placing the site on the Danger List back in 2006. When construction proceeding anyway, they felt they had no other choice, but to drop the Valley from their list.

Three other sites have also been put on notice that they could also be dropped in the future. The Belize Reef Reserve System in Belize was put on notice mainly due to the harvesting of mangrove trees and excessive development in the area. The Los Katios National Park in Columbia was added at the request of the Columbian government to help mobilize international efforts to protect the region and The Historical Monuments of Mtskheta in Georgia were listed as “in danger” over concerns with the preservation of the edifices located there.

Despite reports earlier this week, the Everglades National Park has not yet been placed back on the danger list. The committee intends to study the situation and make a more informed ruling in the future.

The new additions to the list are excelent, and it gives us an amazing life list just pursuing these World Heritiage Site. Forget the “1000 Places To See Before You Die” and just focus on these 890.

UNESCO adds sites to World Heritage list, and drops one too

The UNESCO World Heritage List has just gotten a lot longer. Officials meeting for the 33rd session of the World Heritage Committee have added more than two dozen sites of great cultural, historical, or natural value to the list, and they’re considering more.

Among the new entries are an aqueduct in Britain, a stately home in Belgium, and a sacred Buddhist mountain dotted with monasteries in China.

Two lesser-visited countries got sites onto the list. The ruins of Loropéni in Burkina Faso, a massive thousand-year-old fort that guarded the Saharan gold trade, was added, as well as Cape Verde’s Cidade Velha, a 15th century Portuguese colony that was the first major station for the transatlantic slave trade. Cidade Velha includes a fort, ruins of houses, and a grand cathedral, the slave traders being devout Christians.

There have been some losers too. Several sites have been moved to the endangered list, and the Germany’s Dresden Elbe river valley was dropped from the list entirely after “developers” put a four-lane highway through it. Ironically, the old city of Dresden was Germany’s most historic city, but was leveled by Allied bombing during World War Two. The nearby historic landscape dotted with castles and palaces escaped damage, but now the Germans have destroyed that themselves. Nice going, guys.

UNESCO’s website is posting up-to-date information on new additions and changes.

Trivia questions: What does UNESCO stand for? And what World Heritage site is pictured above? Click “Read More” to find out.


1. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

2. That Chomsi Stupa, Mount Phu Shi, Luang Prabang, Laos. This center for Buddhist learning contains a giant gold statue of the Buddha and was a religious center for the first capital of Laos when it was built in 1804. It was designated a World Heritage Site in 1995.