We arrived in the middle of the week. No matter how crowded the hotels and resorts on the large cove that Santa Maria spreads out, life seems to be centered on the city's pier. With a richness and diversity for which we were not prepared.
Fishermen flock there from the translucent and emerald Atlantic offshore and unload the fish they've caught into wheelbarrows, buckets and large pots.
At the top, fishmongers and fishmongers for a long time receive, tomorrow and weigh the fishery for the sales that will follow.
Part of the wood of the pontoon turns scarlet from the slaughter that takes place there. Medium tuna are quartered and tails roll.
Less edible parts of different fish are converted to bait.
Generate a fish aroma to match. In a closed cycle of predation and predator in which almost everything is taken advantage of, an entourage of young fishermen to the line throws the bait into the sea, in search of more fish.
They do so facing the south of the archipelago and the wild north of Atlântida beach. Boavista island where, even too far away for us to see it, the freighter “Cabo Santa Maria” remains stranded and battered by the waves.
In the peace and safety of Santa Maria, the island, other passenger boats dock, gaudy and with unusual names. We see the “No It's Not Toy”. Then the “God Guides You”. They disembark people from other parts of the Sal onto an amphibious staircase that takes them to the bustle above.
From the terrestrial end of the pier, employees from the many restaurants and hotels in the surrounding area also arrive. They scrutinize and negotiate the exposed fishery with zeal and the concentration possible given the abundance of distractions they have to get around.
Dozens of tourists circle and stick their noses and small cameras and smartphones in everything that has life and color. "Whoa, don't you just sit still!" tells us a fishmonger to whom our hyperactivity and proximity were already confusing. "What do you want these photos for, explain to me that it's not easy to see." complete with a very Salense smile on her lips.
We admire the inexhaustible patience that fishermen and fishmongers dedicate to intruders, armed with practical answers and gentle smiles for whatever approach.
Apart from fishing and its related business, the pontoon also serves the recreational purposes of a restless community of kids and teenagers.
We see one of them, wearing a t-shirt, swimming towards us. Noticing the attention we were giving him, a small group of friends threw him the slippers they had left on the pier.
First one. Then the other one. Spaced apart, so as to hinder your swimming and embarrass you.
Further down, despite an almost total lack of spaces, two kids are entertaining themselves by giving their bodyboard boards a spin.
Pontão and Ponta de Vera Cruz: a border on the coast of Santa Maria
For those who, like us, come from far away, the Santa Maria pier has an additional function that we have learned to value. It divides the wide bay almost in half.
At the point where it gives us to the island's sandy soil, we are left with Viana's white and red house in front of us. We found it closed, a mere shadow of history that some vendors take advantage of to protect themselves from the dry and salty brazier at one in the afternoon.
Day after day, thousands of strangers pass through it, flying to the salt in search of the warm ocean, the ever-blue sky and the sun that caresses them.
Few are aware of the importance that that kind of mansion with a terrace and crowned by a pyramidal roof had for Santa Maria and for the island.
Casa Viana and the History of Salt in Santa Maria
At one time, Casa Viana housed the offices of the Companhia de Fomento that controlled the export of salt. The salt was accumulated in a shed installed behind it.
From there, the workers loaded him onto wagons and, on rails that traversed a tunnel in the heart of the building, proceeded to the boats anchored on the jetty.
It was the abundant salt from Sal that gave rise to the village that we continued to discover.
If we are facing the sea, it is to the east of the pier that the real Santa Maria extends. There are located its Nazarene church and the city's Municipal Market, for convenience, installed a few hundred meters from agricultural plantations forced into a wider swamp, competing with those in the fertile area of the island, Terra Boa.
To the left of those contemplating the ocean, there is the geometric grid of streets that, when close to home, the natives walk, to and fro, among neighbors.
And that outsiders wander, keeping an eye on the small craft shops, among the terraces and bars that give more meaning to the island's heat.
The weather. And Morabeza's.
The names of these routes evoke the past of the island and Cape Verde, in several of its facets. There is Rua da Independência and, of course, Rua das Salinas, the inevitable homage to the “white gold mines” of the island of Sal, in the already secular genesis of everything we lived.
The Contract Work by Manuel António Martins and the Export of Salt from Santa Maria
It all started with Manuel António Martins, a native of Braga, a settler in Cape Verde since 1792, governor of the archipelago and of Guinea from 1833 to 1835 and the agent responsible for extracting and selling the abundant salt on the island of Sal.
Manuel António Martins was also appointed Royal Councilor, honorary vice-consul of the United States. Awarded the trump card of this diplomatic relationship, he sent a batch of prefabricated houses from America.
These ready-to-live-in homes enabled him to put his plan into practice with great speed. It began by enticing residents of the neighboring island of Boavista to move to Sal.
At the turn of the XNUMXth century, acquired slaves on the African coast charged with the hardest work.
It built marinas, wind pumps and installed the so-called railway that passed under Casa Viana and ensured the connection to the embarkation point in the Ponta de Vera Cruz area, next to the small lighthouse now incorporated into the Farolim restaurant.
From 1835, year after year, up to 30.000 tons of salt were shipped from Santa Maria, almost all of it to the Brazil.
In 1887, Brazil's governors decided to protect their own production and imposed heavy taxes on incoming salt. The island of Sal was immediately affected.
Santa Maria, its large town, entered a state of morass that worsened until 1920, when a Portuguese investor resumed production and sale of the raw material.
This revival proved both lasting and fruitful. It allowed the village to move from a small town to a city, which happened in 1935.
The Pioneer Hotel and the Metamorphosis of Santa Maria
The production and export of salt continued until 1984. In the decades that passed, without anything being foreseen, the island saw alleviation of the isolation to which it was destined.
In 1963, Gaspard Vynckier and his wife Marguerite Massart, Belgian engineers and investors, were saturated with the wintry climate of Ghent, the city in which they lived.
Marguerite suffered from asthma. Determined to alleviate the ever uncomfortable symptoms, she needed to settle in a warmer, drier climate. Through friends the couple had in Portugal, discovered Sal.
Marveled at the island, they built their second home there. Shortly after, they decided to open a pioneer resort in Sal. In order to promote, among visitors, the spirit of kindness, affability and warmth of Cape Verde, they called it “Morabeza”.
Revolutionary, the resort had, on May 13, 1967, a politicized inauguration. It had the governor of Cape Verde and the island's administrator, flanked by an entourage of other prominent figures.
The owners arrived the next day, in time for a lunch provided by Governor Sacramento Monteiro to the Belgian couple, resort guests and several other guests.
From then on, Gaspard and Marguerite spent their winters on Sal. Engineers as they were, they became involved in solving the lack of drinking water on the island, as well as in its sanitation, among other initiatives.
Since 1962, the South African Airways flight between Johannesburg and Frankfurt had stopped at the airport of Asparagus. Over the years, several other companies, including TAP, TAAG, Cubana and Aeroflot – the last three involved in Angola's Civil War – have guaranteed stops on the island.
The “Morabeza” resort expanded in line with demand. In 1991, Cuban troops left Angola. Cubana, Aeroflot and others suspended their stopovers on Sal.
The 90's and the tourist wave that continues to grow
Always cautious, since 1986, Gaspard Vynckier sought to entice European tourists to vacation on the island of Sal. The first groups of Portuguese arrived via the Abreu agency. The travels of the first Germans were the responsibility of an agency called Neckerman.
With the purpose of solidifying the tourism of Sal, Vynckier also founded agencies in Paris and Belgium.
Visitors increased gradually. Arrived from Portugal and, soon, from an assortment of European countries. The demand justified the construction of new hotels and resorts.
This new reality takes us from Hotel Morabeza, a few meters away, back to the pier.
And then to the western section of the structure, the one that welcomed the competing establishments, one after the other, from Ponta de Vera Cruz, to the rounded threshold of Ponta do Sinó.
It's from one of those resorts that we leave by car, hoping to discover other coastlines than just the southern one. First, we take a look at Ponta Preta beach, which we are told has been one of Sal's Kite Spots for a long time.
Kite Surf Fashion Brought by the Trade Winds
Over time, fashions change. Apart from its sun, the island's strong and steady trade winds have also won over fans. As a result, Sal receives thousands of windsurfers and, increasingly, kitesurfing fans every year.
Due to some meteorological whim, only a few practitioners, obviously learning, frequented Ponta Preta. We sent a dive, which the Atlantic was too attractive for us to avoid.
Still to dry, we return to the car and cross to the opposite coast (to the east) as direct as we can, bearing in mind that from the main artery of the island to the east, the path becomes a chaos of undefined dirt and sand roads and where we feared getting bogged down.
We interrupt that kind of Paris-Dakar a few hundred meters above the 100 Feet kite surfing school. We walked among yellowish dunes. Finally, between two of them, we can see the green-blue of the Atlantic, there much more agitated and windy than in Ponta Preta.
As we survey the beach, we are dazzled by the Atlantic magnificence of the scenery.
From the Serra Negra and Ponta da Fragata promontory to the south, a multicolored profusion of kiteboard sails fluttered in the white sky and crossed back and forth over and over again. On the sand, some candidates for more serious practitioners of the sport, rehearsing their entry on the scene.
We relax for a moment against a dune and watch that strange ballet.
We are satisfied with the fact that there are numerous manifestations of the miracle of Santa Maria do Sal on display. And we gave up counting the kites.