White Christmas Sal style

Christmas in Cape Verde is somewhat different from the Northern hemisphere, wintery, let’s-cuddle-up-with-a-warm-blanket-and-drink-a-Glühwein celebration I grew up with. Christmas decorations here will go up about 2 weeks before the event and shops and bars will start playing Christmas songs round about the 20th of December. It’s heaven, I know.

As everything that is sold here has to be imported and subjected to a hefty import tax, not much can be bought. It’s a bit like East Germany 25 years ago. Sometimes you get lucky and sometimes there just is no turkey or goose to be had anywhere on the island. But we had duck roast and red cabbage and dumplings, so all was good.

Christmas Day is of course a public holiday, not surprising in a country where most people are catholics. Traditionally, free days are spent on the beach. Something we did last year. This year we opted for a different kind of amusement. Our nanny, who takes care of the little monkey when we are working, has never seen any of the sights Sal island has to offer. So we treated her to a private island tour in our pickup.

Which of course included a visit to one of the most historic places on the island: The salt mine (salinas) at Pedra de Lume, east of the island capital Espargos. The place holds a special significance for the island. After all, salt is what the island was named for, and salt is what brought the first settlers here. Granted, today Sal island makes its living mostly on tourist dollars, but the living museum the Pedra de Lume installations are today still exhibits how lucrative the winning of salt must have been back in those days.

Remnants of the old haulway

The shipping terminal has seen better days

Of course, the Pedra de Lume salt mine is not only historically interesting, it is also breathtakingly situated in the crater of an extinct volcano.

First glimpse while approaching through the artificial access tunnel

The caldera gets super hot in the tropical sun – ideal for the production of salt from sea water

The crater is actually a natural salt pan as its bottom lies below the sea level, and the surrounding porous volcanic rock allows for sea water to enter. When the salt production was industrialised in the 18th and 19th century, a number of interconnected salt lakes was created, an access tunnel blasted into the crater rim, and a cableway for more efficient transport was built.

Nowadays, salt is not as valuable a commodity as it used to be, so the production stopped being profitable. Instead, tourism has taken over. The salinas, although declared a protected landscape by the Capeverdean government, were sold to a foreign investor who has established some kind of spa. At a steep 5 € one can enter the caldera and take a dip in one of the shallow lakes, where the high salinity makes you float like in the Dead Sea.

Salt is still produced on a very small scale and sold in souvenir shops in Santa Maria.

I’m not sure I would want to put this into my food

What I found most intriguing was wandering around and admiring the artwork that the salt has created with a little help from wind and sun.

Ice crystals – or not?

Sugar … uhm … salt coating

Salt floes

Sometimes the salt looks like icing, and sometimes the resemblance with ice crystals is astounding. And some areas appear to be snowed in – in 30°C.

Just looking at it makes me shiver

Personally, I much prefer mock snow over the real deal.

Anyway, whereever in the world you are, whether you have snow or summer or something inbetween, I wish you a great start into the new year. May it be full of adventure and happiness.

Developing and getting there

Dear Readers,

Today I saw a crew of municipality workers putting up a Christmas tree here in Sal’s capital town, Espargos. Which reminded me that one of my previous posts featured last year’s plastic bottle tree. Which in turn made me realise just HOW long I have not posted anything in this blog. I have no excuse. Except my kids. And my general laziness. Moving on.

In my last post (I added a link because, after all this time, I don’t expect anyone to remember this) I promised to tell you a bit more about the down sides of living in my little tropical paradise. I’ve changed my mind. I mean, there are annoying things happening on a quite regular basis and I am diligently making notes to compile a nice rant. But then I never really feel in the mood to actually complain. Mostly because I am just too knackered in the evening, I guess.

So I decided that instead, I am going to educate you a little more on my adopted home, Cape Verde. I came across this little infographic the other day, and it went straight into my marketing file. How come only very few people back home in Europe have ever heard of this country? It’s about time this changes. Have a look:

Africa From Top To Bottom
Image compliments of Master of Finance Degrees

If you go to their homepage (http://www.master-of-finance.org/africa-economy/) they give you a bit of background information on the individual indicators for each category. I like that Cape Verde’s national security scores 100% (Cross-Border Tensions – Government Involvement in Armed Conflict – Domestic Armed Conflict – Political Refugees – Internally Displaced People). In other words, the likelihood to become victim of a terrorist attack here equals zero. One of our major arguments in the effort to divert Egyptian tourism into our direction.

Cape Verde is one of only two countries that ranks among the Top 5 in all four categories. Impressive, isn’t it? Being married to a Saffer I should probably not say this, but: Eat your heart out, South Africa! :)

So next time my bread isn’t finished in time for dinner because a power cut interrupted my bread baking machine I will find comfort in the fact that I live in a place that has the highest score of all African countries in the Human Rights section.

And this here might help as well:

Kite surfing south of Serra Negra

Kite surfing south of Serra Negra

Or this:

Don't move here if you can't stand kitsch

Don’t move here if you can’t stand kitsch

Or this here:

Just another day at the office

Just another day at the office

Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

Be prepared to cry

Dear readers,

I know, some of you have been dying to learn what on earth made me move with my family to a remote place like Cape Verde. The answer is certainly a mix of different reasons but in short it boils down to one word: sun.

Now, I am experienced (read: old) enough to realise that sunshine alone won’t make me happy in the long run. Why do you think did I bring my family, dummies?!

But seriously, there are other aspects that made husband and me take the leap and leave two perfectly normal, bourgeois lives behind for the time being: We don’t particularly care for normal. We wanted to try something else. We wanted to live our dream.

Which of course can turn out to be a sizeable nightmare, to be sure. But that’s another day’s post. Today I would like you to be jealous, very jealous. Of the sunny sides of live on Sal island.

Santa Maria beach. Atrocious, I know. This is a 3-minute walk from where I live and about 3 seconds from where I work.

Santa Maria beach. Atrocious, I know.
This is a 3-minute walk from where I live and about 3 seconds from where I work.

Picturesque, isn't it?

Picturesque, isn’t it?

Fishing from the pier

Fishing from the pier

Dinner? Definitely!

Dinner? Definitely!

Sunday, beach day with the family

Sunday, beach day with the family

Just hanging out

Just hanging out

Water sports

Water sports

This beats winter in Europe by a loooooong margin!

This beats winter in Europe by a loooooong margin!

Next time on islandmonkeys: How to cope with power outages, water cuts, limited supplies, broken appliances and other niceties. Just so that you don’t get too green in the face.

Of Recycling, Rubbish and Rethinking

Before Christmas I have posted pictures of our town’s recycled Christmas tree. Strolling through Santa Maria, I noticed that there seems to be quite the recycling theme going on this year. So on my next visit to town (we live a few walking minutes outside) I took my camera and caught some of the awesome ideas:

Wine bags as a garland

Probably my favourite: Flowers made from the top bits of plastic bottles

Stars made from the bottom of plastic bottles

More recycled bottles

Christmas trees made from egg cartons

The other night, we went to the Christmas party that my little monster’s day nursery had organised. They also had a large display of artificial Christmas trees, hand-made by the kids and not few of them from recycled materials:

I love the one in the front, made from flotsam and jetsam – including bits of plastic fishing nets

Toilet roll leftover recycling

As Linda of one of my favourite blogs Rangewriter said in a comment, “For now that’s a lovely way to squeeze extra life out of all that silly plastic.” I agree, and I am just glad they are teaching the kids here the value of resources and creative recycling. Linda continues “But what happens at the end of the year?” Very true, and I only hope that one day they will do away with all the single-use plastic water bottles altogether and go over to a reusable scheme.

2012 has actually seen an island-wide campaign to get rid of plastic bags. More effort than England can claim as I complained about in another era. Unfortunately, the plastic bag ban here seems to be working only in theory. I generally have to fend off the plastic bags that I am given when shopping, even though I am usually there with the little monkey’s pram and its generous basket underneath, plus waving around my cloth shopping bag with the Berlin motive. Sigh.

The going argument is that people here, in a developing country, have more basic problems to worry about than a bit of plastic spoiling the landscape. Really? A nation that increasingly relies on tourism as an income source can afford to have foreign guests disgusted with litter-strewn beaches?

The other day I was watching a team of workers, without doubt paid by the municipality, cleaning the salt pans, one of the attractions of Santa Maria. The relentless wind here carries all kinds of garbage around, and the little salty lakes are first-class collecting basins:

Would you like to use this sea salt to season your food?

Would you like to use this sea salt to season your food?

Not very attractive. My hope is that the young generation is learning now that avoiding rubbish is cheaper in the long run than cleaning it up. The rethinking is probably not going to happen in 2013 but one day…

To all of you a very happy and successful new year with lots of adventures, friends, love and laughs.

From Island To Island

Dear readers,

My life has changed. Not only did we have another baby, we have also moved to Cape Verde, an island nation in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. What made us move here is a story for another day. For now I wanted to explore the options of this blog.

I have neglected writing for a while, if for a good reason. I mean, apart from this baby business, moving to a different country has shifted my focus somewhat. So life in the UK and the quirks of the Brits suddenly didn’t seem all that important to me anymore – no offence.

But then I love writing. Okay, I’m not a bored housewife anymore, so I won’t be able to produce anything too regular. However, after only a few days here on our new island I feel the urge to put my experiences into words.

I briefly considered starting a new blog, but then I am also an attention whore, so forfeiting a faithful, hard-earned WordPress followership of, believe it or not, 51 was absolutely out of the question. Plus, we do live on an island again, don’t we? So I have decided to highjack my own blog name and re-dedicate it to my new adventures on the island of Sal. I know I will have to adjust my About page and the mission statement but bear with me, there are only 24 hours in my day.

For today, I will leave you with an impression of what Christmas in a tropical developing country looks like. Cape Verde is an up-and-coming tourist destination but one of the many sustainability problems that needs to be resolved before long is rubbish. Here is a creative and very Capeverdean way of recycling:

Building a Christmas tree

Getting there

The finished artwork in all its splendour

Happy Christmas to all of you. May you get to spend some quality time with your families and friends and may the quantity of presents only play a minor role in measuring your happiness.

Tap dance

Ok, this one has been bugging me for a long time. Who on earth thinks of a design like that? I mean, look at it. Notice anything strange?

P1000596

Faulty design through and through

It’s in need of a clean? Yeah, I knew you were gonna say that. I’ll get to it as soon as this post is published, promised. After all, a girl needs to get her priorities straight. Anything else?

The taps (what my American readers might know as faucets) are too short? Definitely! They do not combine well with my little monster’s short arms. Or my big hands, for that matter.

The handle design doesn’t exactly lend itself to opening the taps with soapy/sticky hands? Oh yes, but that is not a typically British issue. Unfortunately.

No, what I am really peeved about is the fact that there are separate taps for hot and cold water. A standard here on the island. And I can’t help but wonder WHY?!

Sure, my basins at home are all equipped with a plug, so I could mix the water in the basin. Which is absolutely fine when I want to fill my bath tub to take a bath. But who takes the time to fill the basin for a quick hand wash? Especially one as shallow as this one that needs to be almost overflowing to give you enough depth to submerge your hands?

Apart from my little monster, of course, whose arms are too short to reach the taps anyway.

So why don’t island monkeys do mixer taps? They are so much more convenient!!! And faster. And in a public toilet pretty much the only way to wash your hands with warm water without adding more germs than there are on them to start with.

Honestly, when I see a construction like that, I wonder why they even bothered putting in a second tap for the hot water. What a waste of material! Especially when the basin in question does not possess the added amenity of a plug. What, am I expected to open both taps and then alternately let cold and hot water run into my cupped hands until the temperature is right? How does that work with the dinky little hands of a three-year old? And how do I then close the taps again while I clean my hands with soap?

Oh yeah, I forgot, I can’t close them because it’s impossible to re-open them with soapy hands.

So, cold water it is then. I swear, since I have moved to the UK roughly three years ago I have never washed my hands with warm water!

The sad thing is, it’s not like mixer taps aren’t available in this country. You can buy them at any DIY store. People here just don’t. It’s a mystery. If there is anyone out there who can explain this to me, please do. Much obliged.

When you hear “crisp”, do you think of lettuce?

Dear readers! I have to apologise. When I started this blog in November last year I did so with the unexpressed but underlying intention of updating it on a more or less regular basis with hilarious or outrageous stories from my life among Brits. These efforts have of late been severely thwarted by a lady thing. I am pregnant.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this is a joyous time in my life. I get to study every nook and cranny of the four toilet bowls in our house (and some outside our house, too) intensively, wear bras double the size of my usual cups, get loads of exercise running to the loo every 15 minutes and my little monster lifts up my shirt in public, proudly announcing to complete strangers “There is a baby!”. At the same time I have to battle with a few adversities though such as being forced to take an afternoon nap every day, comb through more and more hair every morning or eat healthily. Seriously, judging by what the little parasite in me has me crave, he/she seems to be wanting to become a vegetarian.

Which finally brings me back to the topic of this post – food choices.

Before anyone is tempted to pigeonhole me, I am NOT a health food fanatic, vegetarian or otherwise exceedingly conscious of what is ending up in my stomach. My BMI which has traditionally hovered somewhere around the upper limits of “normal” will vouch for that. Although I have to admit that raising a child and cooking for him and myself on a regular basis has certainly made me more aware of what’s out there – and how simple things can markedly improve his and my good food vs. bad food balance. Granted, wading the shallows of preservatives, additives, organic, bio, processed or – god forbid – genetically engineered food can be intimidating and time-consuming. However, it is not rocket science to know that an apple trumps a chocolate muffin.

Sure, I like them too. In moderate amounts.

A pack of Walkers Salt & Vinegar potato crisps. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For some reason, this subcategory of common sense doesn’t seem to be overly developed here on the island. It simply boggles my mind how often I see toddlers and children in the park around lunch time, snacking away on a bag of crisps*. I mean, how much harder is it to wash a few grapes or cut up two peaches and put them into a resealable plastic container before you leave for the playground with your little ones instead of pocketing a bag of crisps?!

Unfortunately, crisps seem to be a main staple of the British diet. They almost always come in these handy 80g packages (sold individually or, much cheaper, in wholesale amounts, i.e. huge bags that compete in size with my 3-year old – I kid you not!). And you will struggle to find a set meal outside a sit-down restaurant that doesn’t include a packet of crisps.

crisps

How about a carrot instead?

Note that even this artery-clogging meal contains crisps on top of everything else!

A traditional English meal of fish and chips, with beer, tartar sauce, and salt and vinegar crisps. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Note that even this artery-clogging meal contains crisps on top of everything else!

 

Make them organic, hand-made, from 100% British potatoes, whatever; it doesn’t change the fact that crisps are junk food, period. Including them in your (or worse, your kids’) meals on a daily basis will play havoc with your and their health. The fact that the UK is leading the obesity statistics in Europe in nearly every demographic should suffice as proof. Although British dietary mainstays like pies (I’m talking the pasty, greasy, meat-derivative filled variety), sausage rolls (Don’t ask! – If you have to know, google it) or the traditional fish and chips might have a good chunk of complicity in this sad record.

The funny thing is that, where I come from, you can’t even buy chips in snack-sized bags. Which obviously is a positive thing not just from a waste avoidance point of view. If I really want to treat my child to some potato chips (maybe because I am craving them and don’t want him to have to leave the room) I can always give him some from a big bag. Or cut up a watermelon instead. Of course this approach would require a modicum of self-control and a basic knowledge of what’s desirable in food choices.

But then, what do I expect from a country that has to mark fruit and vegetables with a specifically designed logo for people to know that these are the healthy options and how much of them to consume? Whenever I see the “5 a day” sign on a punnet of strawberries I always imagine some nitwit scrutinising a packet of crisps, wondering why on earth it doesn’t count as one of his “5 a day”, seeing that they are made from potatoes.

Thanks for telling me that tomatoes are ok to consume. I’d hate to die in ignorance.

 

 

* For my confused non-British readers: crisps are what the rest of the world calls chips, whereas chips over here are fries elsewhere. Easy, or not?