|Maio - July 2008
As there were no direct flights from Sal, I took a flight from Sal to Praia on the island of Santiago before flying on to the island of Maio, I had some business to see to in Praia, so I spent a few days there before flying on to Maio.
The island of Santiago is the largest of the islands. The city of Praia is the capital city and has an international airport. From Praia you can fly to the USA, Angola, Brazil and other countries.
The flight to Maio from Praia, Santiago was short and sweet, a full 10mins. It was a cloudy morning but on approach and looking through the right side window of the plane I could see some small cliffs.which supported a number of properties along the coastline, maybe a bit too close to the edge I thought at first, but the sea views from some of them would have been fantastic and the views would never be blocked by other properties.
PHOTOS - Further down this page you will find a link to a photo album taken during my trip to Maio.
The plane landed and immediately began to break and I understood why as we reached the end of the runway quite quickly. The small airport building is small and old, with posters up on the walls promoting a few hotels or restaurants. I noticed a lady with a sign with a picture of a house on it, I heard her speak some English. On approaching her to inquire what the sign was, she informed me it was a picture of her Pensao with rooms that would cost 25euros a night for one person, breakfast, dinner and transfers were extra. Her name was Elizabete and she said the Pensao was situated on the edge of the village and that she had a room available and offered to show me the room and then I could decide if I wanted to stay there or not, so I accepted.
The ride to the Pensao was bumpy in an old pickup truck, but the driver took it slowly to save the suspension and passengers from any further squeaks and jolts.
The house looked homely, the garden well looked after and the room with its own separate entrance was clean with its own bathroom. It was also only a 7min walk along the main road to the main area within the village of Vila do Maio, so it was well situated. I decided to stay there. The Pensao was situated in an area known locally as Fontana, and it was within a small development of villas built for investors some years back, at the entrance to Vila do Maio.
Elizabete had moved to the island a number of years earlier but originated from Europe. Elizabete spoke good English and had a good knowledge of the island.
As I had an early start on a 6.30a.m. flight, I was glad to be asked if I wanted to join her for breakfast, bread, humus, jams and a piece of fruit set me up for the morning.
My host was taking some other guests who had also arrived on the same flight to do a 'small' shop, because you can't do a 'big' shop on Maio. I tagged along for the ride and was able to have a quick look around the village. I was also taken out towards the other side of the village and the coastline. One development of villas had already established itself on a plot of land which over looked the ocean some 15-20metres below the top of the cliff. From here you could look back towards the coastline of Vila do Maio and its beach in the distance.
After dropping off the other guests, my host offered to show me around the village and suggested a dip in the ocean. A quick change and a short walk brought us back to the Coca Cola Van in the village which had seating from where you could view the beach and activities on the street. After a few drinks we wandered around the streets and up stairs and paths. I was introduced to a number of people and families who were happy to chat in Creole to my host, about what they were doing and about general daily things. Some on request were willing to have their photos taken, but I realise this isn't something that the older generation would generally welcome from tourists, most of these photos and movies I intended leaving with the lady of the Pensao, who would find a way to show her friends the photos I had taken of them. I hope they can obtain and keep a copy of individual photos of themselves.
One invite from a local lady was to enter her family home and meet a lovely older lady who welcomed us to sit down for a moment, I felt very humble. The pictures that stood proudly on a small table were carefully brought over to us by a younger member of the family, he was about 8yrs of age, he pointed out his grandmother in the black and white photo which was taken quite a few years ago. They had very little, but everything was in its place and well cared for.
I remembered that Maio had been called the forgotten island, something I reminded myself of on a few other occasions during my two day stay. The people of the island have very little, although there are some in a better financial position than most, but that's the way of the world.
I knew that there has been a problem with the island obtaining fresh produce. Recent times saw the sinking of an inter-island boat which resulted in fewer boats travelling between the islands. Those that could afford to, travelled by plane to Praia, which is a lot more expensive than travelling by boat. The island had a further blow when problems were discovered with the landing strip and the small airport was officially shut down as the cracks in the tarmac proved to be too dangerous for planes to land.
Since the airport re-opened, flights to and from Maio operated three times a week, Monday, Wednesday & Fridays. Check the timetable in case it changes.
An inter-island boat from Praia to Maio brings in fresh produce, other goods and people to Maio every 3 weeks. On occasions some business people and locals club together to hire an additional boat if there is a need for a fresh supply or goods, but the cost of the additional transportation has to be added onto the price of goods, which is an additional cost for the local people. Most locals have little money, so these goods can be expensive, some people go without and have to survive on the basics. Some small holdings manage to grow some fresh produce, but then transport is an issue to take the produce to the villages, as the cost of fuel is expensive to most and not many locals have vehicles. One lady from a small farm situated further up the coast travelled into Vila do Maio in an Aluger (local mini bus) to sell her produce. She stopped at the pensao and my host chose a number of items out of the bowl before phoning a friend, a local restaurant owner, who then cycled very quickly over to us try and catch the seller before all the produce was sold.
I had been told that there weren't that many people on Maio that spoke good English and, as my Portuguese was far from being reasonable, it was best to stick with someone who could provide me with information that I could pass on to readers of my website. My host was able to provide assistance with this, so I made arrangements with her to show me around the village that day and to organise a half day tour the next day.
The first day was spent walking around the village of small narrow streets, single level buildings and colonial houses. Most of the living accommodation for locals may include 2 rooms, some have more, many visitors will be surprised at how little people have, but the people are warm and very friendly.
Once again I was told that if tourists and investors came to the island and start giving change or items to adults and children, this would encourage them to start asking on the streets for sweets or money etc. I would like to think that this won't happen, but it has happened on other islands already.
A few newly built apartment blocks were dotted around, but in general it is 'the forgotten island' and the people live their lives as they have done, with little influence by Europeans who are looking to invest. However, there are a few developments currently underway or nearly finished, and more will follow. As far as I am aware there is little crime, as most have nothing worth stealing, however a few of the newly built properties owned by more affluent investors have been targeted, but again this is an island with little money, so it is only to be expected.
There isn't a great deal to do in Vila do Maio and opportunities for businesses will be a long time coming. However if you are prepared to wait, then some larger scale projects will eventually be built on Maio. There is no guarantee that inter-island transportation and food supplies will improve over the next 5years, but the island should definitely 'not be forgotten'.
The beach at Vila do Maio was long and clean and other from the activities arranged for children on the beach for the school holidays there were very few tourists to be found sunbathing. The gentle slope into the water from the beach meant a safer swimming area for young children.
The village sat on rocks, up another level from the beach at different heights. It then extended up the hill, where some local houses in the village could still get a sea view. Further away from the main part of the village towards Fontana, the land that stretched out to meet the sea included the Salinas, where salt was gathered. Some areas are obviously below sea level, something that potential investors need to take into account as areas nearby on similar flat ground are identified for some building projects.
During or walk we stopped for a snack at another Coca Cola bar which offered snacks, this one was situated behind the Church. The snack bar, which is a converted container, nestled under a large tree which provided some shade, so we stopped there for a snack and a few beers.
About an hour later we watched the activities of children playing in a football tournament on the beach and others that were playing in the waves. A quick dip and more photographs and we headed back to rest and freshen up.
A few Restaurants had been recommended for evening meals, on this occasion we chose Sebastian’s. The choice in menu wasn't great as there was not much of fresh vegetables or fish, but the meal was enjoyable.
We returned to the pensao and I decided it was time for an early night, ready for an early start the next day.
I was awake nice and early on the Tuesday morning to see that the weather threatened rain, which would have been great for the islanders and farmers. I was told that sometimes rain threatened, but was known to fall out at sea instead of over the land.
Our driver, host and I agree the route and off we set the small village of Morro. We stopped on the way to look at a hotel which had a number of vila type accommodation and a swimming pool, which looked in some need of attention. On entering the hotel we took a quick look into the large dining area, where we saw just two guests sitting in the middle of the room having breakfast, then outside the complex looked deserted. This hotel was some distance out of the village, with building projects being built nearby. I was glad I had chosen to stay in Vila do Maio.
We travelled on to Morro, on arrival my host took me in to see Centro Ceramico, a small operation involving local people who made ceramics. Most of the people from this village worked with animals but two of the ladies were making some pots, examples of finished earth ware on the shelves. These women had been shown how to make the pots from clay and use the moulds and ovens to produce practical earth ware that could be sold. More training is required for these ladies who work with few materials and lack the design skills, but their finished items are a merit for people who've had little training. A modern oven stands unused in one corner of the room because something isn't working properly and there is no-one to fix it. They revert to the old methods using the oven in the back yard. I am amazed at what they have been able to produce.
We travel out of the village with children and adults wishing us 'Bom Dia', something that we hear in all the other places we visited. All the villages were very poor, but they kept them clean. A number of main streets had a few fruit trees along the middle of the road, carefully watered and looked after as there weren't any visible outside the villages. Young and old people played local games or with toys under the shade of trees.
Many trees had been cut down along the sides of roads between villages, on our journey around the island, this I was told was to stop animals from jumping up and dashing across the road in front of vehicles, there are probably other reasons too.
Acacia trees were now farmed to supply wood to make furniture and for burning to provide carbon for BBQ's, this and salt being the main exports of the island.
The absence of plastic bags hanging from bushes or branches was noticeable, as this is present on Sal, mainly in bushy areas on flat ground when the wind blows them across the island. The more mountainous areas on Maio now have walls across ribieira's to help stop rainfall disappearing down the valleys so that it can be redirected to areas that need the water. Not that there is much rain, in some areas there hasn't been any rain for two years. Today it rained, I just hoped it reached the entire island.
Having travelled up through Calhetta and through Morrenho Zona and across to the Dunas it was very apparent that little had been able to be grown without regular rainfall. There were areas of multi coloured terrain of red, yellow, cream, brown, orange and black and a few pockets of oasis or small plantations of where crops were nurtured by locals in ribeira's. There were acres of acacia trees that were a white-silver colour, where rainfall had failed to reach the soil for a few years. There are goats, ducks, pigs, chickens, cows and a few other animals that roam around freely in and around villages, although there are supposed to be restrictions with animals roaming the villages freely I am told.
We decided to avoid the journey to Praia Santana up north as rainfall would have made the roads water logged.
Monte Penosa is over 400mtrs high, it attracts people who wish to walk on their own or on a tour. There are plans for a new tarmac road to be built between Cascabulhho and Pedra Vaz but for the time being it is a bumpy track. As we head towards Alcatraz and a brief stop at a small local bar we notice large stones painted white, usually a sign or plots of land either to be sold or already sold for development. From Alcatraz we take a new tarmac road to Figueira de Horta, the local villagers worked on this road and earned some money but now the road is finished there is not much work for them.
Further along the road we notice one or two solar panels, so locals have more equipment to help them farm the land. Tanks holding water have been installed and hose pipes extend to reach farmed ground. Some small areas of green identify the growth of sweet potatoes.
As there are very few vehicles on the island and no taxis, there is little traffic so we stop to pick up and drop off locals making their way on foot from one village to another.
We managed to cover most of the places I wanted to go and see. I know that the island has 54kilometres of beach and rocky coastline and there is much more to see. Maybe next time I will get an opportunity to stay a bit longer and see other parts of the island.
The day was finished off walking around the village on my own and speaking to a few English speaking Europeans and stopping for a meal at Admiral Benbows, I must say that I was surprised that they served battered filleted fish with chips which was really enjoyable. A slow walk back to the pensao avoiding the puddles to join my host for a couple of red wines ended a hectic but enjoyable few days on Maio.
Having spent the weekend in Praia, Santiago, Maio was a completely different and more pleasant experience. The forgotten island won't be forgotten. I hope to have another opportunity to visit again, soon.
Maio will be an attraction for some who want to avoid the likes of Sal and Santiago, but as direct flights begin to reach Praia from other European countries I am sure that the simple life and island will attract many people as tourists or investors. It is likely that Maio will change for better and worse, but for now its one place I would look forward to returning to for a short break and to get away from it all. Thanks to the people who made my visit pleasurable and more informed than I was before.
For pictures of my visit to Maio take a look at the Picasa Photo Album within the Photo Gallery, they include some short movies and some dodgy filming (by myself!) : LINK-MAIO
Sept 2012 - I have not been fortunate enough to return to Maio but I am aware that some major developments will be built on the island before 2020. I understand the Fast Ferry when it starts, will sail between Santiago and Maio a few times a week.......... if all goes well!
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