The idea of a cold white Christmas at home didn´t really attract me. So on rather short notice I decided to leave the country for one week and try to reach some warmer climates. The older one gets, I feel, the more one suffers from the cold. Cape Verde had been on my destination plan for 2013. However with not too good marks concerning diving, warning of friends, and having found out that most dive travel agencies had taken these islands off their list, I had put it way back into a maybe one time. The moderate climate and the diversity of the islands had somehow made me curious to learn more and visit this destination
Cape Verde once a Portuguese colony, consists of 10 islands, a northern group with Boavista, Sao Vicente, Sal, a southern group with Fogo, Brava, Santiago. These are around 460 km off shore from the African continent and between the 15 and 16 degree north of the equator. From Europe there are some direct flights into the country. I had to grab some of the last TAP (Portuguese Airline) via Lisbon with a 5 hours lay over and two legs of about 3.15 h to reach Cape Verde.
I had chosen Sal for my first visit. Sunny skies, temperatures around 26 – 28 C were waiting for me on arrival. You won´t feel the 26 C as there always seems to be a rather strong wind blowing across the island. For wet divers a damn nuisance, for kite surfer this seems to be paradise. Found a nice resort, Dunas de Sal (4 star), which is only minutes away from St. Maria with the beach right across the street, where you can walk miles along in both directions. There is a good choice of dive centers near the beach. I booked my dives with Orca Divers. They charge 72 € for a two tank. There is the saying „different countries different ways of doing things“. With Orca you leave all your gear in a mesh bag which they bring to the boat. You only have to suit up, walk down the beach and swim walk through sometimes heavy surf to climb into the Zodiac, which sounds easy but sometimes isn´t. One day they forgot my stuff at the center, so I had to carry my full bag to the boat, uff. Climbing into the boat you then are already soaked and start shivering even on the short 10 minute trip to the dive site. Google had informed me to expect 23 C water temperature. I brought a 5 mil semi dry suit with hood plus a 2 mil west with me. Went only with the 5 mil which was fine for the first dive, however not enough when I went a second time. The problem was the wind, which took all energy you could have saved with the sun away. Often I started the second dive already chilled, which wasn´t good.
The so called reef we dove the first day turned out to be a small ledge of maximum 0.5 m wide with sandy top and bottom, which we followed in only 12 meter, to find some fish hiding underneath. There were soldier and surgeon fish around, once in a while a moray eel looked out of it´s hole. Coral was scare, some hard stuff and yellow polyps, 3 smaller caverns invited to shine your torch in. We didn´t pass 20 m on the first two dives, vis was 10 – 15 meter. Next morning we went to a Russian wreck called „Boris“ in 27 m, where you could swim through the bridge and into a smaller hold, the dive guide however did not encourage you to do this. We saw some bigger jacks under the bow and a school of ? snappers. She is sitting upright on the sandy bottom and was sunken on purpose for the dive centers. The dive guide had warned us of a maximum bottom time of only 10 minutes on the wreck, cause this would be a rather deep dive. We spent nearly 30 minutes on and around the boat without touching deco, which for me was the only dive really worth it. Next on the agenda was a reef wall in around 18 m, which we followed in a bit of current. Some eels around, some garbage floating on the reef, two small turtles, one sting ray and a nurse shark hiding in some crevice. This definitely was a dive for beginners but not for the hardcore diver. Each time we had beginners on board, they went to shallow sites between 12 – 18 m deep, where we once had to wait for 10 minutes at the buoy line until they did their check and started their descent down to us. The ladder into the Zodiac reached only with one step into the water, it was fixed in two moving parts, where you easily could badly squeeze your fingers in. I´m not sure they carried oxygen or a radio on board, there was no emergency procedure briefing, and nobody was interested to see smb´s with us. I had seen some pictures of caves, blue holes and other interesting wrecks on the other side of the island. These we could not visit, as wind and current was too strong there, vies through that poor, they explained. Having done 5 dives only, I told myself to forget diving here and better have a look around the country side. The following day I rented a bicycle and rode half way across the island to the „Salinas“ a place they produce sea water salt in flat basins. Did some long beach hiking which was lovely and impressive to watch the kite surfers cruising through the water. For one day I visited the sister island „Fogo“ . Where Sal is just a sandy patch, here you found green, wine, a volcano, some lovely villages with interesting markets scattered around the island. There are only few places to overnight, tourism is low, a hike up to the volcano tempting. Souvenir shops you stumble across everywhere on Sal. The offer wooden carvings, colorful cotton bags, bracelets, necklaces etc. Everywhere you hear: „Mr. where are you from, good bargain, everything today half price, all things must go ..... the typical African market scenery which after some time you just don´t want to hear again and again.
Cape Verde seems to be interesting for European retirees in terms of real estate. The good and moderate climate all year round attracts people, who no longer want to suffer in winterly Europe. You will find a lot of construction work, many places once finished however stay empty. Some elder couples told me, it´s still rather cheap to buy or rent an apartment here. However 6 hours away from Europe for some of them are too much, they prefer the Canary Islands. Like many other African countries, Cabo Verde has it´s problem with the steep difference of rich and poor folk. That nearly automatically creates pick pockets, thugs etc. You just can´t leave your stuff unattended at any time on the beach. Like in many of these countries, garbage is scattered everywhere in the fields, a real problem and shame. These folks however with other problems on their mind can´t care about that.
The US $ is definitely no one’s favorite here, so you better bring € and change into the local Escudo (1 € = 106 CVE). There are some banks around, money machines will give you a maximum of 20 000 E a day. Often these are empty on weekends. Meals at the beach restaurants are good and cheap, you get a nice meal with drinks between 6 and 10 €. You can do a bit of sightseeing around Sal or try your luck on big game fishing. Every morning I saw fishermen come back from their nightly ride out into the open ocean. On the jetty they offered their catch, big yellowfin tuna, huge wahoos, once even a nurse shark, where they had already cut off head and fins to avoid trouble from eco minded tourists it seems.