island of salt, Cape Verde

The Salt of the Island of Sal

Christ's salt
Atlantic vs Pedra de Lume
Homes like Asparagus
Delicious Fluctuations
salty margin
fellowship fallen from the sky
colorful port
Salt ruins II
salt in piles
I love salt
Salinas: this way II
Salinas: this way
Salt scraps II
salty ruins
salt of salt
The rare green of the Good Land
Saline Patches
At the approach of the XNUMXth century, Sal remained lacking in drinking water and practically uninhabited. Until the extraction and export of the abundant salt there encouraged a progressive population. Today, salt and salt pans add another flavor to the most visited island in Cape Verde.

We leave the natural pool of Buracona and the coast battered by the wind and waves of the northwest of the island of Sal.

We are faced with a flat, arid and dusty vastness. A sample of shallow, dry vegetation disguises the path we were supposed to follow.

The dry haze diffuses the horizon and even the rare shapes that stand out from that inhospitable meadow, swept by waves of refracted heat. Two or three lying trees dot it, submissive to the windy winds that the Sahara has been sending there for a long time.

Bush and Hill, Terra Boa, Sal Island, Cape Verde

One of the very rare quasi-trees on the plain of Terra Boa, Ilha do Sal.

Further away, we can still glimpse the silhouettes of capricious elevations of the island of Sal: Monte Grande – the supreme with 406 meters – and Monte Curral.

Conforming to such climatic and plant shortages, the people called this part of the island Terra Boa. So dictates a sign coming out of nowhere, as worn as the surrounding landscape, but which, even so, gives us a direction.

Tree fallen by the trade winds, Terra Boa, Sal island.

Tree overturned by the trade winds in Terra Boa on the island of Sal.

Discovering the Land (and People) Boa da Ilha do Sal

We advance along the outline of the trail, inland, Terra Boa. Soon, in sandy areas, we come across a real road, although asphalt, we don't even see it. A just-passed truck leaves a trail of dust that thickens the atmosphere.

Less than 1km later, a group of four natives installed next to a red van ask us to stop. “Friends, we ran out of gas. It's not even worth pushing. Do you just give us a ride to the foot of Asparagus? ” We were going in that direction.

Having received our approval, the four of them climb into the backseat. With their help, we cross the slum that stretches to the waist of the island's capital, Espargos.

Still on the threshold of Terra Boa, the tin homes coexist with small lush vegetable gardens. We do not hide our surprise from passengers. "So you hardly see a green bush and here all this is born?" "And want to know more?" answer us. “All of this is born and these gardens support a good part of the families that settled here.

It's much cheaper to hotels and resorts there from Santa Maria buy their products from them who pay others from afar. For us it has been a blessing. How was your ride. Look, we left here."

They say goodbye to us, grateful to the point of giving us one of their phone numbers and inviting us to a cachuca in Sal's fashion.

They promise it “much better than what they invent in hotels and restaurants in Portugal.” We said goodbye to them, moved. After which we continued the motorized ambulation we had been riding since lunchtime.

The Extraterrestrial Path to Pedra de Lume

We walked around the increasingly urban capital, which was named for the wild asparagus proliferating there during the short rainy season on the island of Sal. We passed between the southern edge of its houses and the northern end of the runway at the Amílcar Cabral International Airport.

There remains, in scale, a gigantic Antonov aircraft. From a distance (but far away) it looks like an An 225. Later, airport officials will try to forbid us to photograph it, “orders from the Russians”, still and always with a mania for secrets.

We take a long straight that takes us towards the east coast, Pedra de Lume and the main historical reason for the settlement and development of the island: the homonymous salt flats.

Cove, Pedra de Lume, Sal island

Cove at the entrance to Pedra de Lume, Sal island

We continue to the north of the lunar immensity of Feijoal, soon, with the Atlantic once again in sight.

We advance side by side with an open cove and, finally, the end of the road leaves us facing the small local port.

A community of fishing boats dots it with bright colors that contrast with the teal blue of the sea. Towards the raised interior, a large warehouse and the semi-disintegrated skeleton of another structure that was once filled with pulleys give the place a mysterious aura between the Western and the extraterrestrial.

fishing boats, Pedra de Lume, Sal island, Cape Verde

Artisanal fishing boats in the port of Pedra de Lume

From the Atlantic Beira to the Inland Sea of ​​Pedra de Lume

Blessing the place – and its residents and visitors – is a white and blue church, with tiles the same tone as the surrounding landscape.

Chapel of Nossa Senhora da Piedade, Pedra de Lume.

Chapel of Nª Senhora da Piedade, patron saint of Pedra de Lume.

It is the chapel of Nossa Senhora da Piedade, built in 1853 in honor of what is, even today, the Patron Saint of Pedra de Lume, celebrated with mass and procession every 15th of August.

We continue to ascend. Until a turnstile forces us to park once and for all. We went through a dark tunnel, always with the backlight in view, and crossed the hill's earthy slope.

indicative sign, fire pit salt pans, salt island, cape verde

Sign indicates the direction of the Pedra de Lume salt pans

As we leave the other side, we face a diffuse glow that, for a moment, blinds us. We take a few more steps. When we've recovered from the unexpected solar glow, the sight of a strange rounded scene dazzles us again.

We are inside an old boiler, one of the prehistoric remains of the volcanism which gave rise to the island of Sal and the Cape Verde archipelago.

Over time, seawater seeped into the base of the downed crater. At one time, much of this water evaporated under the permanent tropical heat. A vast bed of salt in syrup remained. It would be this gift of Nature to dictate the fate of Salt.

patches of salt pans in Pedra de Lume, Sal Island, Cape Verde

Partitions of the Pedra de Lume salt pans

The Salt History of the Island of Sal

The second island of the Cape Verdean Barlavento was discovered on December 3, 1460. According to a charter by Afonso V, its discoverer was the navigator of Genoese origin, António da Noli.

Da Noli was in the service of Infante D. Henrique when, on his return from an expedition to the Gulf of Guinea, he detected it, following the island of Santiago where it would be founded Ribeira Grande, the first city in Cape Verde.

Da Noli was impressed by the smooth profile of the island, even more so when compared to the mountainous Santiago. He called her Llana.

Until at least 1720, the local population remained negligible, inaugurated by slaves arriving from other islands of the archipelago, in little more than the fishing village of Palmeira.

A few years later, a Dutch geographer named Dapper described finding a hamlet with 72 sailors. Another passing stranger, an English adventurer named Dampier, testified that he came across half a dozen inhabitants there, living in miserable conditions.

Which, even so, survived using the abundant salt with which they salted goat meat and turtles that laid eggs there in large numbers.

These pioneer residents often exchanged goat skins and bags of salt for other goods that other sailors who docked there brought on board.

Monte de Sal, Salinas de Pedra de Lume, Sal Island

Heap of salt in the Pedra de Lume salt pans

The Times of Pioneer Extraction and Export

Strange as it may seem, this was the origin of the tourist center of Santa Maria, today, full of sophisticated hotels that house almost half of Cape Verde's tourist visitors.

In 1796, Manuel António Martins, millionaire merchant, Portuguese governor of the archipelago, meanwhile nicknamed Napoleon de Cape Verde, replied what had been done for some time on the island of Boavista.

He installed some families and slaves brought from the west coast in the vicinity of Pedra de Lume and began the local exploitation of salt.

Salt rocks, Pedra de Lume salt pans, Sal island, Cape Verde

Salt stones, in the sea water inside the Pedra de Lume boiler

He started to sell and exchange the raw material for other goods.

The massive and hyper-profitable export to the Brazil – about 30 thousand tons per year – lasted until 1887. In that year, the Brazil banned the use of foreign salt. Extraction has been suspended.

It was only resumed in 1919 when a businessman from Santa Maria and a company from Bordeaux acquired the salt pans from the descendants of Manuel António Martins and reinvested in an innovative transport system that transported twenty-five tons of salt per hour to the port.

ruined structure, Pedra de Lume salt pans, Sal island, Cape Verde

Ruined structure for transporting salt with pulleys

From that small port, they returned to exporting salt in huge quantities to countries in West and Central Africa. This was until 1985, when the activity once again ceased to be viable.

O Dead Sea Cape Verdean

Today, the extracted salt is not even enough for the needs of the many homes, hotels, restaurants and other businesses on the island of Sal.

The salt flats have, however, other unusual uses.

We approach the flooded bottom of the caldera. There, dozens of visitors socialize and relax.

They float in a small marine patch with a high concentration of salt, like Dead Sea Cape Verdean.

Pedra de Lume Salt Flats, Sal Island, Cape Verde

Visitors to the Pedra de Lume Salinas float in a patch of water with a great density of salt.

Several more arrive from the access tunnel, eager to join these privileged ones.

We inspect the strange processing and transport structures left there by recent investors and the solidified piles of salt, waiting for the work of the excavators parked there.

Monte de Sal, Salinas de Pedra de Lume, Sal Island

Heap of salt in the Pedra de Lume salt pans

When we are satisfied, we go back through the tunnel in the opposite direction. Then we ascend to the edge of the boiler.

From this top, we contemplated the surreal 360º panorama, while to the west, the sun began to hide behind the white veil formed by the alliance of its light with the dry mist.

Pedra de Lume Salt Flats, Sal Island, Cape Verde

Salt bank of the Pedra de Lume salt pans, Sal island

Expedited Trip to Asparagus

Aware that, at that latitude, night fell early and quickly, we returned to the car and accelerated towards Espargos. Espargos developed around the airport that Benito Mussolini had built there in 1939, with permission from the Portuguese authorities, and which the Portuguese bought from the Italians, soon after their capitulation, in World War II.

By mid-afternoon passage, we had already noticed how Monte Curral rose from the middle of the village. We looked for the path that would take us to the top of the hill and found it relatively easily.

As we went up the ramp, we passed a young resident engaged in a repeated up-and-down. We parked at the top, half-walled with the fence of the air control tower used by the international airport. A few soldiers of the same generation as the athlete keep it.

Upon reaching the summit, it catches its breath and stretches its struggling legs and back. To the delight of the military, fed up with the punishment of the semi-solitary detachment at the top of the hill, nostalgic for the feminine forms and – it is more than certain – the company of Cape Verdean maidens.

One of the soldiers does not resist.

Approach the girl. Initiates a violin-toned conversation that extends as far as it can.

Monte Curral, Espargos, Sal Island, Cape Verde

Young military man contemplates a young woman stretching on top of Monte Curral

End of day at the heights of Ilha do Sal

We, realized that the sun was about to disband. We got into a path that went around the great tower.

As happened on the Pedra de Lume caldera, we are once again dazzled by the equally or more implausible scenery around us, especially the one to the north.

Asparagus, Sal Island, Cape Verde

Semi-colored houses in Espargos, the capital of the island of Sal

A group of concrete houses, here and there painted in bright colors, appeared nestled in the arid and ocher vastness.

Beyond these humble houses rose other sharp hills subsumed in the dry mist.

The eccentric contrast between the geological and the human world bewitched us. We are left to enjoy it until the night presents itself for its shift.

When we return to the car, we no longer see the young woman from Espargos. Nor with the soldiers who had already taken refuge in the comfort of the barracks.

Evocative mural by Amílcar Cabral, Monte Curral, Ilha do Sal

Evocative mural of Amílcar Cabral and the independence of Cape Verden, in Monte Curral

Back at the bottom of the ramp, we do notice some eye-catching graffiti painted on a wall.

There was the face of Amílcar Cabral. He had a 75 in front of him, under a red, yellow and green threshold decorated with three minions puzzled.

The mural also included a “I love salt” graphic and exuberant. We had nothing to add.


TAP – flies every day, except Tuesday, from Lisbon to Amílcar Cabral International Airport, on the island of Sal.

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