While the Grand Karamboa was very pleasant, there wasn’t much point in travelling so far from the UK and just hanging around the hotel campus, so we booked a trip into the island’s capital Sal Rei.
Sal Rei is the largest settlement on Boa Vista. The name in Portuguese means salt king and sea salt used to be the major industry here, until cheaper mined salt started to grace European dining tables. Today the major industry is tourism and it wasn’t long before we found ourselves taken to the ‘African market’
The sad thing was that hardly any of the items on sale were locally produced, there is an awful lot of tat and most of really nice stuff like the masks and wood carvings are imported from Africa.
Some of the traders were a bit persistent, but eventually we managed to get back out on the street. Mind you some traders were a bit more mobile than others
As you would expect much of the architecture of Sal Rei is Portuguese colonial. The Portuguese arrived in the 1462 and up until the 19th century the Cape Verde Islands grew fat as a staging post for slavers midway between east Africa and Portugal’s south American colony of Brazil. The abolition of the transatlantic slave trade in the mid 19th century led the islands into serious economic decline and even today many of the people scratch a living close to the poverty line.
Some people do their bit to brighten things up and down by the port we discovered some local artwork.
Sal Rei was in the grip of an election so we had to dodge the various political ‘battlewagons’ pick up trucks with huge sound systems that drove around playing dance music at ear-splitting volume.
I’m not sure how the local democracy works, but at least some of the local people were getting free T-shirts and baseball caps out of it.
After sampling some grog at a delightful little hotel, our final stop was the municipal market.
The fruit and vegetable market was downstairs, while upstairs there were more local traders selling a variety of stuff from either Africa or Brazil.
The sole trader who is on the ground floor is known as Jimmy the Rasta, for obvious reasons. Jimmy is very charming and he was the only person who managed to give the moths in my wallet an airing when he sold me a set of three carved tortoises. He assured me that they were locally made and at least the Cape Verde Islands are well-known for the turtles that come ashore to lay their eggs.
Our visit to Sal Rei was quite humbling, many of the people we encountered were very poor.
However as our guide pointed out the last thing you should do is give people money, as it encourages a culture where begging becomes endemic and children are taken out of school to beg on the streets. Hopefully increased tourism to the islands will lift most of the people out of their present poverty trap, lets hope it is managed sensitively.