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.

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9 thoughts on “White Christmas Sal style

  1. What a delightful insight into a culture that many of us know so little about. It’s great to have new insights into your unique part of this wonderful and diverse world. Happy New Year!

  2. No Christmas music till the 20th? Ah, what bliss. This is the way I remember Christmas as a kid. I never got enough of the tree and decorations…which meant that each year I looked forward to it rather than groaning over seeing it all again.

    The visit to the salt mine is fascinating. It reminds of the Salt Lake area of Utah here in the western U.S. Love the photos of the crystallized salt. I’m curious about your nanny. Did you bring her with you to the island or is she a local woman?

    Great to hear from your part of the world. Happy New Year.

    • Our nanny is kind of local. She’s actually from Guinea-Bissau (a lot of ties with Cape Verde, but that’s a story for another day) and she’s lived here for several years. The kids love her, mainly because she lets them have cookies whenever they want, I suspect. And a great side effect is that the little monkey is growing up learning three languages. At the moment he speaks nine German, four English and three Portuguese words. Result!

  3. It sure looks like a great adventure for a young family, Sandra. Are the native Islanders welcoming to newcomers? (We moved to an island fifteen years ago, and we’re still waiting for someone to say hello.)

    • Hey Charles, the native islanders are actually not all that native. On Sal there was such a huge development in tourism – and subsequent creation of jobs – that only about one in ten was born here. The Capeverdeans here are also very used to “Brancos” – white people – and the expat community is quite large. Plus, working and living here we get to mix with the locals alright, who are indeed very open and welcoming. And our sons are growing up learning the local lingo (Creol) – something that I aspire to but doubt I will ever achieve. In other words, it is relatively easy for us to fit in. I hope you will be accepted into your community soon, too.

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