Cape Verde

  When we booked and told people that we were going to Cape Verde I was surprised at the number of people who asked; “where” ?   Or others who politely nodded, clearly not knowing where either.  Therefore it is quite refreshing to be headed somewhere new, not as a backpacker on a on a prayer but on an all-inclusive package tour from Thomson!

  It will not be long before Cape Verde is as well known in Britain and the rest of Europe as the Canary Islands are.  I can recall when I first visited Fuerteventura in 1996 it was the same.  “Next to Lazarote…. Oh Spain” Well, not quite but yes, sort of.  Look at Fuerteventura now, equally as well known as the other islands if not as commercialised but that is because the Spanish had already come to their senses having turned Tenerife and parts of Gran Canaria and so on into concrete jungles during the 1980’s.   Much like Fuerteventura, on the Cape Verde islands of Sal and Boa Vista where the tourism is and is to be, there will be no buildings built over three stories.  The reasoning is two-fold a) to keep them windy for the surfing and b) obviously to stop them turning into a mid-Atlantic Benidorm.    The islands have a far more rich history and culture than the Canaries too.  The Spanish and British have stuck their flags in them in the distance past, but it was the 16th century when the Portuguese claimed them as their own and that stayed that way until 1975, when the still small population there went for independence.   With them being an obvious stepping stone from the former mother country and Brazil, which was also a Portuguese colony of course and in the main 400km from the mainland of Africa the culture there is a fusion of all three.   The total population is only half a million, and by far the majority live on Santiago in the capital city of Praia.  The other nine islands are sparsely populated, but, with the arrival of tourism is set to surely rise.

  The arrival of said tourism has actually been hampered by the European recession and will probably continue to do so.  But it will not stop it, far from it.   Until the middle part of the last decade the islands were something of a well-kept secret between the surfing communities, be it sail, surf or kite.  It is amazing to think that somewhere with white sand and turquoise seas could be, but clearly it was.  That was until Thomson in conjunction with the RIU group of hotels set about being a resort hotel to the southwest of the island of Sal and it has gradually grown from there ever since.

  It was in said resort, The Funana (named after a native Cape Verdean dance) which we stayed and within two years of its opening doubled in size and is now an 800 room 24 hour all inclusive with five restaurants, four pools and so on.  With it being right on the beach too it would be perfectly possible to spend a week, 10 days or more there with everything on tap – even a beach bar – and simply not leave the complex.  There were already other smaller, boutique style hotels in the town of Santa Maria but there are set to be a lot of new hotels and complex’s built in the next two to four years.  Some are running late down to a mix of funding and the Cape Verdean “no stress” attitude to life, but they will be built.  The biggest news is the coming of a Hilton Hotel and resort.  The US chain purchased the land some time ago but did not wish to begin building until the government had met their end of the deal and put infrastructure around it.   This has now been done and the RIU resort is linked and the Hilton will be part of it.   To the north of the town an entire apartment village has been erected and still in the making which will feature shops, cinemas and all mod-con comforts.  It must be said that it looked very much like a ghost town as we passed through it (January 2013) but at 60,000 Euros for a two bedroom apartment these are surely a good investment for someone?

  The arrival of tourism on Sal, and Santa Maria has brought obvious benefits and what was for a long time a poor fishing village slowly at first but now more rapidly becoming a holiday resort town.  It will never be like some European resorts are, we hope.  But now, or for now, you can witness the fisherman bringing their daily catch back to the jetty, from the turquoise clear seas that could easily make one think they are in the Caribbean or even the Indian Ocean.  The wives of the fisherman then gut the fish there and then and they are taken to the hotels and restaurants fresh, that day.  The town had quadrupled in size in the past 15 years and the majority of those who have come to live in Santa Maria were not born in Cape Verde but elsewhere in West Africa, such as Senegal and (English speaking) Gambia and Sierra Leone.  Thus the town takes on a much more African look than other parts of the country, complete with street sellers (not really to be confused with beggars) a mix of music and singing and general attitudes.   However, with this brings other issues such has houses with poor sanitation, as the average wage here is only £200 a month and also children that have been left to fend for themselves whilst both parents are out at work.   This could naturally lead to social issues, especially with the Cape Verdean’s so keen to embrace tourism.  However, in the town a charity for such children has been set up (NAME) and it is hoped that with more tourism, more money will come and the circle will bring improvements for all concerned.  

   It is a very similar situation on the neighbouring island of Boa Vista, which is bigger than Sal but at the present time even less populated, with the main town being Sai Rei.   Thomson and the RIU group have built a resort to mirror that of their in the south of the island and there are others to the west of the island too including one from the Iberostar chain, from the 2012/13 season served by Thomas Cook.  The expansion is expected to be the same here too with more hotels to be built.

  Whether Cape Verde can take the pace remains to be seen.  The airport on Boa Vista has only recently had a roof fitted (yes!) and the airport on Sal, which was actually originally commissioned by Mussolini in WWII and then used as a stopover during Apartheid in South Africa is very small.  On our exit, two flights to Scandinavia and the one to Gatwick filled it to way beyond its apparent capacity for floor space.  An extension is underway but it is not difficult to think that more is needed.

  But, on the whole, watch this space.  With the Cape Verde Football team have punched a long way above their weight in the in the African Nations tournament this year these are a group of islands, and its people who are surely set to come of age during this decade.