Diving around the Sal Island
Diving in the Atlantic ocean was both very exciting and, just ever-so-slightly, nerve-wrecking. Most of our previous dive experience was confined to protected bays located in calm seas, so diving around the Sal Island, in the Atlantic, presented new challenges. We did our dives with Cabo Verde Diving, which was a walk away from our hotel, Dunas de Sal. The dive centre itself was well appointed, and well stocked. Despite both Danijel and myself being odd sizes, they found us wet-suits that fitted perfectly. This time along, we had brought our own regulators, which we were excited to use for the second time (after Malta, which we will write about sometime soon).
All the dives done off Sal, are boat dives. They depart not from Kite Beach, where the dive center is located, but from the pier just off the main town on Sal, Santa Maria. This is where all the boats depart and arrive, for tourists and free-diving fishermen alike.
Our first dive took us to Farol , on the southern tip of the island. On the 45 minute ride to the dive spot, we finished suiting up and assembled our BCDs. At the spot, the two boats in our group lined up, one behind the other, and a line was drawn between them. We did the backwards flop entry (it was my first time entering the water this way, and I think it is the easiest). The difficult part came with having to make our way to the front of the first boat in the fairly choppy sea. This was achieved by heaving ourselves along the lines which hung off the sides of the boats. We descended quickly into the sea to avoid getting pushed around by the current too much. Once under, it was paradise.
Farol is a multi-level dive site, with three distinct levels, and goes up to a depth of 18 meters. It has plenty of gorges and cracks, which are home to shoals of a variety of colourful fish. There are also plenty of crustaceans, including the spiny lobster, a popular item in many a Cape Verdean restaurant. At Farol, we saw huge schools of red box fish and spotted the elusive toad fish. Of all the dive sites we had ever been to, the sites around Cape Verde were the ones most teaming with life.
Our second dive took us to the wreck of Santo Antão, an old commercial cargo ship, sunk in 1966. Depths go up to 10 meters, so it was an easy dive. The wreck has now broken up into three sections, however the bow and stern are still intact, and in good condition. This reef is home to over hundred species of fish and coral, including nurse sharks, barracuda and moray eels (also another popular menu item, mostly eaten deep fried, as a beer snack). The wreck itself isn’t very large, and more advanced divers can get bit of a thrill by going into the ship.
Possibly the prettiest dive site of all, in the bit of ocean around Sal, is the Three Caves or Trés Grottos. The site begins at a wall at the depth of 18 meters. Along it are three small caves, or grottos, which we swam into, and out of. The entire wall is teaming with life. Angelfish, turtles, scorpion fish and even a nurse shark. We saw them all. The most impressive thing however, and the thing which defines the Trés Grottos, is the view from inside the caves. From the outside, they simply look like small holes in a rock wall. However, from the inside, the sea outside is a glorious blue, the blue of sapphires. It definitely instilled a deep feeling of wonder and made me think how the world is so much more strange and wonderful than we can imagine it to be.
The pier at Santa Maria was alway bustling with interesting activity upon our returns from our dives. At this time, the free-divers have also returned, with their catch of squid, octopii, lobsters and other crustaceans. The entire pier is filled with other divers returning, kite surfers, and Cape Verdeans and tourists alike purchasing the fresh catch of the day. This pier, at this particular time of the day, truly encompassed what the island of Sal was all about. An explosion of colourful characters, great diving, and amazing, fresh, seafood.