I’m standing in the Atlantic Ocean with Mr Obama, as sharks swim just a few yards away from us. Such is life in Cape Verde. Mr Obama isn’t Barack, of course. He’s a Cape Verdian tour guide whose startling resemblance to the newly ex-POTUS gave rise to the nickname. But the sharks are real – they’re lemon sharks (so called because of their colouring), and thankfully they’re vegetarian. Seeing them up close is part of our tour of Sal, one of the ten islands that make up Cape Verde. Earlier this morning we were floating in the lake at a salt mine. Salt used to be the island’s main product – hence its name.
Mr Obama, who shares his namesake’s charm, tells us about the nation’s history, from its days as part of Portugal’s empire (it achieved independence in 1975) to its current role as provider of guaranteed winter sunshine to European tourists. On this latter point I need no convincing: why do you think I’m here in the first place? By the end of the first day my face was worth one point at snooker, though by the second this had changed to four.
Cape Verde tends to get overshadowed by the Canaries, probably because it takes longer to get here. But this only means you’re that bit nearer the equator, and therefore that bit warmer. You’re also safely removed from the baying hordes of Tenerife, able to enjoy a peaceful, not-many-people-know-about-this-place holiday.
That isn’t to say comforts aren’t on hand – Sal has several all-inclusive resorts whose lattés are up to scratch and whose wi-fi is free. But it’d be silly to limit your break like that. What you want to do is book yourself into a resort, then get in touch with Surf Hub’s Amy Foreman. Amy’s originally from Birmingham, but the surfing there is no good so she moved to Sal. That much Atlantic hitting this small an island makes for some serious waves. The last three kitesurfing world champions have come from here, though if your ambitions are more modest both Amy and her boyfriend Jardel are excellent teachers.
Jardel was born on Sal, and so has been surfing all his life. He has also acquired other skills. ‘One night he asked “What do you want for dinner?”,’ says Amy, ‘and I replied “How about lobster?” So he went out into the sea, killed a couple with his speargun, brought them back and cooked them.’ Needless to say Amy was impressed by this. So is my partner: from now on my offers to do the Waitrose run are going to look a bit feeble.
Surf Hub can also arrange tours with Mr Obama, plus activities like snorkelling, horse-riding, jet-skiing, quad-biking and so on. If you’re feeling vigorous there’s capoeira (a martial art), although you might just want to relax and read. Possibly Charles Darwin’s The Voyage of the Beagle, in which he describes his visit to Cape Verde. One of the diagrams shows the Beagle’s captain Robert FitzRoy using his sextant to help Darwin determine the height of a baobab tree.
But whatever you do in Cape Verde, I’d hurry up about it. Hilton are opening a hotel in Santa Maria (Sal’s main tourist town) later this year, while Radisson Blu have just announced their intention to do the same (it’s due in 2019). Perhaps the islands won’t be staying out of the spotlight for that much longer.