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

A taste of California history: Santa Maria Style barbecue

Hey, Southerners. I love you, but the barbecue trail doesn’t really end at the Texas border. California has its own tradition, and it can be found in the heart of the Central Coast wine region. As a native Californian, I throw down the gauntlet in the temple of meat. Our beef barbecue doesn’t hide beneath sauce; it stands proudly on its own, adorned only by its residual juices. That takes balls. And speaking of balls, I should add that our barbecue historically comes with a side dish that, well…just keep reading.

Since the 1850’s, Santa Maria Style Barbecue has been a rancho celebration or post-cattle branding staple. After the Mexican-American War, when Mexico ceded California to the United States, Spanish and Mexican colonists and soldiers (“Californios”), established ranchos along California’s rich, central coastal grasslands.

Their heritage merged to form a true California cuisine, one that incorporated the corn, tomatoes, beans, and peppers of the New World with the beef, lamb, and olive oil of the Old World. The parilla, or grill, became the province of the vaqueros (cowboys) and rancheros (landowners). The mild, Mediterranean climate fostered a tradition of outdoor cooking still beloved by Californians today. Barbecues became a way to get down and party with one’s family and neighbors, to mark special occasions, and to partake of the culinary offerings that reminded these early settlers of their homelands.

[Photo credit: Flickr user yaelbeeri]

Only top sirloin or tri-tip steak can be used for Santa Maria Style Barbecue (depending upon where you do your research, it’s variously called Santa Maria bbq, Santa Maria Barbecue, etc.: I defer to the Santa Maria Chamber of Commerce version). Tri-tip is named for the small, triangular muscle off the bottom sirloin, from which it’s cut. It’s a fairly juicy piece of meat, with a bit of chew to it; it can be difficult to find outside of California.

The meat is seasoned only with salt, pepper, and garlic salt, and hung on steel rods, before being grilled over native red oak (originally, the meat was cooked in a pit). The accompaniments include tiny, pink, native pinquito beans, salsa cruda, and tossed green salad. The meat is served thinly sliced, with plenty of toasted, buttered, sweet French bread to sop up the juices.

I grew up eating Santa Maria barbecue because I come from a horse ranching family. We frequently attended rodeos and spring cattle gatherings, the successful completion of which are celebrated with a big barbecue. I recall watching the California equivalent of pit masters firing up massive grills fashioned out of halved oil drums, then rigging the hunks of meat on their skewers.

Years later, when my brother was attending college in San Luis Obispo, he would bring slabs of tri-tip home whenever he visited us. My favorite part were the salty, juicy, crusty bits of fat shaved from the grilled meat. My dad, himself a former wrangler, would present them to us on the tip of a knife, in between sneaking pieces for himself (I’m pretty sure this behavior had absolutely nothing to do with his colon cancer diagnosis 18 years ago). For days afterward, my mom would add tri-tip sandwiches to my lunch bag- a welcome respite from warm, soggy PB & J’s.

My first experience with an authentic California rancho barbecue occurred when I was ten. A former vet school classmate of my dad’s invited us up to his cattle ranch outside of Santa Maria, to participate in the spring cattle gathering. We spent a cold, dirty, exhausting weekend riding over rolling green hills, rounding up the cattle to be vaccinated, castrated, and branded.

Work done, it was time to party. The old oil drums were heaped with red oak, and as is the tradition with brandings, the calf “fries,” or testicles, were grilled up as an hors d’oeuvre. The charred, crispy little morsels, still tender and juicy on the inside, were then laid on a flour tortilla, slathered with salsa, and rolled up, taquito-style. At that stage of my life, pizza was a culinary adventure, so eating greasy “prarie oysters” wasn’t an option.

But when my dad smilingly presented me with a testicle taco, how could I refuse? To say no would be to disappoint the man who had given me life, to fail the cowboy brotherhood. I wouldn’t be one of the guys. I had to prove I had cojones of my own! I grabbed the dripping tortilla and bit down…chewed…swallowed. It was good: smoky, salty, a little chewy, the tortilla a perfect foil for the savory juices dribbling down my chin.

Yep. Tastes just like chicken.

Santa Maria Style Barbecue can be found in and around the towns of Santa Maria and San Luis Obispo, usually on weekends, at local charity events. If you’re jonesing for a taste of true California on a weekday, you can stop by or The Hitching Post in Casmalia, which is still considered tops in ‘cue. You can also call the Santa Maria Chamber of Commerce at (800) 331-3779, to see what’s smoking around town during your visit.

Black Knight Barbecue Sauce

My dad discovered this recipe in a magazine insert in the early ’70’s called “Chuckwagon Cooking from Marlboro Country.” He always served it with grilled tri-tip if we had guests from out of town so he could show off his adopted state’s cowboy and culinary heritage.

Makes approximately 2 ½ cups

1 cup strong black coffee
1 1/2 cups Worcestershire sauce
1 cups ketchup
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 T. sugar
1 T. salt
2 t. cayenne pepper

Combine ingredients in a medium saucepan and simmer for 30 minutes over low heat, stirring occasionally. Adjust seasonings to taste before serving.

[Photo credits: Los Osos, Flickr user goingslo; Branding, Flickr user marty 11; “Prairie Oysters,” Flickr user ffunyman]

Climb aboard one of Christopher Columbus’s ships

Whether or not one thinks that Christopher Columbus’s voyage across the Atlantic to the Americas is a day to celebrate, the 1492 journey of the Niña, the Pinta and the Santa Maria was an amazing feat.

Although Columbus and his men made it to the Bahamas on October 12– more then 500 years ago, it’s still possible to see what it would have been like to travel on one of these ships during the 15th century.

These days, life-size replicas of the Santa Maria, the Niña and the Pinta serve as floating museums. Although the Santa Maria is permanently located on the Scioto River in downtown Columbus, Ohio, the Niña–and most recently the Pinta, travel to various ports.

The Niña, built to commemorate 500 years of Columbus’s voyage, has been to 425 ports since its beginning. The Pinta, larger than the original version, was built in 2006 and also serves as a dockside charter that can be rented out for parties whenever it is docked.

Both of those ships are owned by the Columbus Foundation in the British Virgin Islands.

Tomorrow is the last day that the Pinta and the Niña will be in Huntington, West Virginia. On the 16th to the 20th, they’ll be in Marietta, Ohio and will finish off October in Steubenville, another Ohio river town.

For the schedule that includes the rest of the year, click here. The two ships will finish off the 2009 season in Pensacola, Florida.

As a note: The Santa Maria will be open until October 25th when it will close until April 2010.