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Photo above courtesy of Stella Harpley

Pedra de Lume a wild and weird landscape

Extinct salt flats and colonial buildings

Midway up the east coast of Ilha do Sal is Pedra de Lume. High above the coastal town is a salt lake situated inside the mouth of a long extinct volcano. According to geologists, the waters in the lake rise from deep in the earth rather than from lateral infiltration from the ocean. For many centuries salt has been extracted here. There were at one stage 40 hectares of salt pans on this site.

In the 18th century Manuel Antonio Martins began to develop the salt business which had existed for many years on Boa Vista. The most challenging technical issue at Pedra de Lume was to find a way of transporting the salt from the salinas high above the village to the embarkation point at the port. Initially pack animals were used to do the work. Later a tunnel was cut through the wall of the extinct volcano thereby easing access to the salinas.

In 1919 a Sant Maria businessman bought the salt company from the descendants of Mr. Martins, with the help of a Bordeaux company.. They installed a conveyor system 1100 metres long to transport 25 tons of salt per hour. The new company exported to West Africa.

By 1985 the salinas of Pedra de Lume ceased operations. But.in 1990 there were still 700 residents in Pedra de Lume. Unfortunately, the economy of the town only offers a handful of job opportunities so the rest had to migrate to other parts of Sal or abroad. The Italian Steffaninna has now bought the site to turn it into a resort.

There is now a small cafe inside the Caldera of the extinct volcano, where you can wash off the caked salt under a shower and have a cool drink. after a float . Service for food is dreadful when they have a coach-load of Italian trippers from one of the company owned holiday camps. Even if you speak Italian or Portuguese, you will simply be ignored. If not you have still less chance of getting served. Much better to drive down to the beach and eat in the larger restaurant, which also unfortunately caters for Italian coach-loads but has more staff to cope with them.

The swim in the salt pan with a maximum depth of 2 foot is an interesting experience and is completely free. Take submersible shoes for the salt crystals are like sharp gravel and can puncture the feet if you walk on them. There is a nice walk of around 3 miles around the perimeter or less than a mile across the centre.

You can watch the birds that live in the brackish water and watch the dump trucks driving around the rim of the crater in clouds of dust or just listen to the silence. Until the Italains arrive that is. It is best to avoid mid-day which is when it can be hot and most noisy. At other times it is sheer solitude as the clouds scud past over the crater rim.

This is well worth a detour as Monsieur Bibendum would say. You can get there by taxi or in a hire car.

A from South Africa likes the grandeur

"We went to Pedra de Lume - an impressive place, and the biggest landscape attraction in Sal. It is salt lakes inside a volcano crater, with access through a tunnel. The lakes are still used for salt production, but the machinery looks quite old. The salt pans are a fine place for waders. We went in a taxi to Santa Maria at the south tip of Sal, and spent an hour here, checking out of what was left of scattered, small wetlands and former salinas among all the new hotels being erected. "

J from Boston did not have any service from the Italian restaurant there.

"Ca’ Da Mostro Restaurant, Pedra da Lume: knowing we have a few hours to kill before our return flight to Praia, our taxi driver, Jose, suggests we take in the Salinas Salt Mines and then lunch at Ca’ Da Mostro and he’ll come back for us in a few hours. If you have ever been to Pedra da Lume, you know it is nothing more than a treeless town at the opposite end of the island from Santa Maria and save for the mines, restaurant and a shanty town of unpainted cinderblock homes for workers; there is nothing but sun, sand and heat. After the mine visit we go to Ca’ Da Mostro and see two endless lines of tables so far empty but obviously soon to be filled. I ask the maitre’d if he is open he says ‘No, we are expecting a bus tour and do not have a regular menu today.” I could not help but notice three people at a table on the terrace and a couple at a table inside eating food that was not from the well-stocked, prepared buffet table. I looked back and forth from table to terrace hoping he would notice but he says nothing so finally I ask if we could at least get something for our daughter. “I am sorry”, he replies “Not today.” My wife has had enough and says in a not too soft voice “What is happening to my country? Where is the morabeza we all share with each other?” The maitre’d, with outstretched palms aiming ground ward bouncing and beckoning her to keep calm, says “I am sorry Dona, we are full. We will have morabeza tomorrow.” Morabeza tomorrow? What the heck does that mean? Is morabeza something that can be turned on and off like a light switch? Or will it be back on the menu tomorrow? This establishment wins (or loses) hands down."

Matt Poacher from London found it remarkable. as he reported on his mountain7 website

Pedra de Lume village itself was unremarkable – a small settlement at the foot of the crater, a remnant of headier times. At the edges of the village stood the first of a long line of wooden mine workings: like ancient torture devices these creaking engineering marvels stretched up the slope of the volcano, inside of which lay the fabled salt lake. In the early to mid twentieth century this pulley-driven system was able to transport up to 25 tons of salt per hour, but due to falling demand this had all but ceased by 1985. Now despite a drive to get the process moving again, these strange constructions stand dry and useless, coated in a fine layer of salt and sand, moaning in the damp sea wind.

The inside of the crater itself is a remarkable prospect. You climb the outside of the volcano and enter through a narrow tunnel, the land dropping sharply away before shelving onto a wide plateau segmented into artificial salt paddies. From afar the whole thing looks almost achromatic but as you get closer extraordinary ranges of colour become apparent from deep blues to incandescent reds and pinks. There is also a stark difference in the levels of water which in places, noticeably the lake in the centre of the crater, is black and unfathomable, in others almost altogether absent, the ground a hard crust of crystallising salt. It is thought that the water here comes from deep in the earth as opposed to infiltrating laterally from the ocean, and from stepping into the crater lake this is wholly believable as beyond knee deep the water becomes bath-warm, the rapidly disappearing lake floor like a bed of hot coals; and because of it’s huge salt content, up to 40 times more than the nearby ocean, the buoyancy of the water is remarkable forcing you simply to lie back and be borne aloft, gazing at the sky.