Sal- a Mysterious Tour Without Magic

At our small, relatively isolated hotel on Sal, Santa Maria, Cape Verde, fellow holiday makers come and go. At times, the breakfast community is full to bursting, with barely an empty chair. At other times it’s sparse, with no queues for the coffee machine or lengthy waits for omelettes. At the end of the room, the door is kept open and hoards of cheeky sparrows have learned that there is a feast to be had once the bread rolls, cakes and fruit are served, helping themselves at the tables if they can get away with it. Sometimes when the diners leave there’s a sparrow party as they dive in for the leftovers.

Our Island tour day comes around. The car is a sturdy, silver 4×4 and we are to learn why it’s essential later in the day! Our driver/tour guide, Elton introduces himself; we clamber in and buckle up and are soon bumping along the unmade road towards the edge of town. It soon becomes apparent that Elton is more driver and less tour guide, since his monosyllabic replies to questions give away minimal information and, in any case, whilst driving, he’s on his phone more often than off.

We travel out past a couple of service stations and on to the duel carriageway that leads to the airport. There is very little traffic and Elton takes advantage by driving in the outer lane where there are fewer ruts and holes. His driving style is gung-ho and often ‘hands-free’ [from the steering wheel], his approach to roundabouts is to pretend they don’t exist. It’s one of those times, like flights, when you just have to surrender yourself to the hands of the person in control- i.e. Elton.

Now that we’re in the interior [though seldom far from the coast] we can see how barren and dry the landscape is, with nothing grown in the windswept, sandy soil, nothing resembling a tree or shrub, only patches of scrubby grass.

During a lull between Elton’s calls I ask him where Sal’s water comes from and he grunts ‘de-salination’, pointing to the walled factory we’re just passing, on the outskirts of Espargos, Sal’s capital. It’s the only de-salination plant on the island. I think of all the hotels, swimming pools, showers and homes on the island and wonder how this one, seawater processing plant copes.

We skirt the edge of Espargos and drive on to Palmeira, which is, apparently a ‘fishing village’. In the event it’s an area on the fringe of town with a few, colourful, picturesque cottages sporting murals, a church and a marina housing fishing boats. On the quayside there’s some fish preparation going on and up on the narrow road a stream of pickups and tour buses is lining up. Elton opens the doors for us but it takes next to no time to walk the two or three streets. He stays behind with the car and gestures feebly at the tiny harbour and I wonder if he’s disappointed we are not inclined to visit the gift shop or spend longer looking at the harbour. We climb back into the car.

The tour continues [in next week’s post!]…

Grace is the alter ego of novelist and short story writer, Jane Deans. To date I have two published novels to my name: The Conways at Earthsend [ and The Year of Familiar Strangers [ Visit my writer Facebook page [ or my website: