Situated just off the west coast of Africa, Cape Verde is made up of ten little islands, the administrative capital of which is Santiago. My partner and I went to Sal in mid-September for two weeks, staying at the luxury 5 * Riu Garopa hotel in Santa Maria. What a treat awaited us.
On arrival at the opulent reception, two young waitresses handed out glasses of refreshing orange juice to the new arrivals while we queued to sign in. The accommodation is away from the main hub of the hotel which contains shops, restaurants, bars and the theatre used for the evening’s entertainment.
Our room was on the ground floor of a two storey building, situated a short walk from the beach and the pool. It was palatial, beautifully decorated in tribal colours of reds, browns and oranges, huge comfortable bed, balcony, plenty of storage, and a large bathroom with enclosed shower and toilet. There was also a fridge which had two large bottles of water already cooling for our use and a safe which was free.
The Riu Garopa’s sister hotel, Riu Funama, is literally right next door and all facilities are shared with the theatre in between both hotels, linking them. There were four pool areas, each with bars and restaurants, and there are themed restaurants for those who want something slightly different: Asian and African themes, and a grill which we went to several times.
All meals are inclusive and the choices were overwhelming: you could literally spend all day eating if that was your choice. We restrained ourselves to just breakfast, lunch and dinner but we did enjoy non-alcoholic cocktails during the day, Copacabana being our favourite tipple and the various waiters and waitresses preparing it as soon as they saw either of us looming near the bar.
The beach nearby was just beautiful, with upturned boats adding a lazy, nonchalance to the atmosphere of time standing still. There was a turtle conservation area on the beach and the day we went down, we were treated to a wonderful surprise; that of seeing a little day old hatchling. It’s a sad fact that turtles are poached on these islands and there are laws in place to try and protect them. But out of 1,000 hatchlings only a handful survive and make it to the sea where yet more dangers await them.
My partner and I took a taxi (only 3 Euros) into Santa Maria which is the capital of Sal. Sal means salt in Portuguese, which is the main language spoken on the islands, that, and Creole. Unfortunately, our wrist bands showing that we were ‘all inclusive’ were a dead give away to lots of unwanted attention and we were spun a line (which we believed) by a man who saw us getting out of the taxi who told us he worked at our hotel. He asked us to come and see his ‘shop‘ in the market place and not wishing to be rude (and believing him) we followed him as he led us down various streets through a narrow doorway into a gloomy interior full of tiny stalls, each manned by men and women all wanting us to buy something from them.
First he put a necklace around my boyfriend’s neck, then he put one on me, followed by a bracelet, then he got a little wooden basket and began putting items into it telling us that it would make his family happy if we had these things. We took out the things we didn’t want and made him an offer. He looked shocked but we wouldn’t budge from our price and eventually he gave in. We realised we’d been ‘done’ but just wanted to get out of there as it was very claustrophobic. On our way out we had to pass other stall holders shouting at us to buy something from them.
The highlight of our holiday was spending a day going round the island with a lovely man called Elvis. Elvis Tours are renowned and much cheaper than the Thomson equivalent for exactly the same trip. Travelling in 4 x 4s in a convoy of three, six people were on the back of the trucks while we sat on the inside. Being in our early 60s we wanted to be comfortable rather than thrown about in the back. Elvis was our driver and very knowledgeable he is about the history and culture of the Cape Verde islands.
The islands are volcanic and the last eruption was back in 1995 on the island of Fogo. The landscape is pretty barren with pockets of people living in small towns and villages. The people of Cape Verde are very poor and on our trip with Elvis we passed a group of children on their way to school. They all came over to the trucks and we handed out fruit, pencils and pens. Apparently, if you give them money, they drop out of school in favour of begging but if they’re given fruit or stationery, they’ll remain in school.
We would go back to Cape Verde in a heartbeat. The people are so warm and friendly. Nothing is too much trouble. It was a 5 * hotel but with 10 * luxury. We felt really sad about coming home but so thankful for the opportunity of being able to go to such a wonderful place.