News: 23 Jun 2010, Sal








I am now the proud owner of a N?mero de identifação fiscal from the Minist?rio das Finanças, Direcção Geral Das Contribuições e Impostos. In other words the Cape Verdean taxman knows who I am. This is all to do with my blue barrels which were shipped from Radwell to Sal last week. Seeing as we don't need them until we go to Praia, Carolin was all for collecting them today, just before we leave, I pointed out the intervening matter of customs might not make it quite so simple, and it would be wise to start trying to get them as soon as possible, which is how we came to be waiting outside the Cargo terminal at the airport at 9 am yesterday, waiting for Natalie, our customs agent, to arrive. It was actually Sonya who came, and we went into the terminal building where my stuff was to be inspected. In due course, two ladies of ample proportions arrived who, I realized, were the inspectors, and they wanted to see everything. So did everybody else there, and it was a full time job explaining to the ladies what this or that was while keeping an eagle eye on everyone else who wanted to fiddle with things. They were interested in the most curious things, my compass was a very nice thing which everybody had a look at, the spare gasket set for the engine was similarily interesting, as was the sandpaper in my fibreglass repair kit. Other things like the spare propellor weren't interesting at all.

My list of "tools and spare parts" didn't wear with them at all and they wanted to list every item, which they did in a rather haphazard way, goodness only knows what it says. Having finished this, and because we are armed with a 'super customs paper' both Carolin and I were slightly expecting we could now go, taking our barrels with us - but, Sonya explained, not so simple - we have to have a number.

So we went in Sonya's pickup to the tax office in Espargos where I had to fill in forms in duplicate asking for things like my mother's name, the paper got an official looking stamp on it, and then we went to another office in another part of town where I got my magic N?mero de identifação fiscal. I have to say I was quite impressed. After all, if you needed to get such a thing in England this could take weeks; Carolin agreed it would be the same in Germany.

But we still haven't got my barrels. They will allegedly get themselves to Praia which is where we're going later today, and where the FIB is, in Ivo’s warehouse. Praia is the capital city and on Santiago, an entirely different island to Sal, where we are now.

This is an extraordinary place; of the 10 Cape Verde islands, Boa Vista and Sal are the 'holiday isles' and there are regular flights from Europe. These are real mccoy desert islands, practically no tree or even a blade of grass in sight, quite flat, but with a few prominent hills, volcanic in origin. And then you have the resorts. Some of these are simply vast, they're all entirely self contained and face inwards towards their swimming pools and other facilities, and are astonishingly ugly from a distance, many have an air of the worst kind of Soviet housing complex, but planted quite incongruously in a desert. The worst are the abandoned half-built ones, of which there are many; casualties of the Recession, I suppose. The view out of my hotel window is of a vast abandoned building site as far as you can see. I'm told the Italians are (or perhaps were) particularly big investors, I can only imagine this is the latest destination for all their 500 Euro notes; it's of course outside the EU but politically quite stable, and the Cape Verde Escudo is conveniently pegged to the Euro.

While Carolin and I were doing all this, the film crew were filming Stéphane being interviewed by Moses for Radio Cabo Verde and we went there when we could do no more at the customs house. Quite a lot of sitting around.

Back at the hotel after lunch I was presented with the key for my new room. The lock on the last one failed when I returned from breakfast and the repair man had to break into my room assisted by two gardeners. my new room had no electricity, my friend the repair man fixed it by stuffing some bog roll in the light switch. This place isn't quite as shiny as it looks, though they do do a good breakfast. It is nearly empty.

In the afternoon we went to Salinas to film Stéphane photographing it. I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but it is rather an extraordinary place. You drive up a hill past the decaying remains of an aerial tramway and from the parking place you walk down a short tunnel and realize you've just entered a volcanic crater in the bottom of which is covered with salt pans; it's a location straight out of Mad Max. Hot salt water rises out of the ground and is evaporated in the sun, I suppose the crater floor must be below sea level. Aanyway, it has been a source of salt since the early 19th century and is the reason why people originally came to live in this godforsaken place, in fact the first people were abandoned here and somehow survived and built up the salt business, it its heyday it must have been a substantial producer to have justified building the tramway. The entire installation was abandoned by its Portuguese owners when the islands became independent in the early 1960's and the crater and a lot of land between the crater and the sea was bought for practically nothing by a poor Italian immigrant named Stefanina. His Turinvest group is now the largest commercial interest in the entire country and owns an array of hotels, the means to build them, like cement works, and the means to supply them, like a shipping line and an airline. They are apparently building a convention centre in Praia at the moment which at 11 storeys will be the nation's tallest building. Stefanina is obviously a man who goes by the motto "watch the pennies and the pounds will watch themselves" because he charges an extortionate 5000 Escudos a head to enter Salinas, that's 5 euros.

Antonio, our fixer, wanted to know what football team I support. This is an important thing to Cape Verdeans, especially with the World Cup now going on, which is on every TV you see, even the ones normally displaying arrivals and departures at the airport. When I said I didn't really know, he decided I must support someone, and rather like the sorting hat, went through a list of premier league teams until with some satisfaction he announced that I must be an Everton supporter, and has been telling everyone this ever since. Apparently I should not be happy today as Slovenia will shortly be knocking England out of the first round.

A rather unpleasant dream woke me up in the middle of the night, we have an absolutely vast array of luggage and I was told that overweight luggage is 116 Euros a Kilo. I should think we must have 200 kg of excess baggage and it was while I was trying to do this sum when I woke up. In actual fact I have no idea of these figures but the domestic aircraft aren't so big, but tere may be some doubt as to whether all our stuff gets to Praia in one go, especially the blue barrels...

My next dispatch will be from Praia where I eventually join up with the FIB again.

Joint Aviation Services, suppliers of insurances to the expedition
Micro Avionics - Suppliers of pilot intercom and radio equipment to the expedition
SKYDRIVE, the UK Distributor of ROTAX engines
Polaris - manufacturer of the FIB
Articole Studios - GRP mouldings
Cam-ARA - Suppliers of video equipment to the expedition