If you’re subscribed to my newsletter, you’ll know that my recent holiday in Cabo Verde turned into a bit of a ‘Nightmare on the Island of Sal’.
An Escape for a Bit of Sun
Like many others, the Englishman and I were craving a break in the sun and decided to take a gamble to book a week away in January in Cabo Verde, where sunshine is almost guaranteed year-round. Miraculously, in spite of COVID and issues with family, we managed to get away.
Beware of the Island Surf
On Day 1, we went to the beach and after sunning ourselves for an hour or so, decided to take a dip in the sea. We are both strong swimmers, and not new to bathing in the Atlantic waters. There were a few waves, and we rode them while smiling at a father and his son, who were bodyboarding alongside us. The next thing I knew, a large wave overwhelmed me.
I thought I was going to drown.
When I surfaced, spluttering, trying to catch my breath, I looked around but couldn’t see the Englishman anywhere. A horrible thought entered my mind. No, no, no, surely he hadn’t..?
Before I could do anything, another wave overtook me and threw me into a summersault. When I surfaced from that, I was hugely relieved to see my Englishman – alive. But he was on his hands and knees, moaning and holding onto his head. I began wading toward him, he was only a meter or so away from me. Before I reached him, yet another wave hit me, but this time I managed to dive through it.
By the time I got to the Englishman, who was now sitting on the edge of the water, there were people talking to him. They fetched the lifeguard who after noticing there was blood coming out of the Englishman’s ear, took us back to the hotel. One of the staff drove us to a nearby clinic.
We were both covered in sand and seawater. There was so much sand in the Englishman’s ears that they had to wash them out before perforation of his right ear was diagnosed. His neck was sore; he’d hit his head hard on the seabed. He told me later he’d been afraid he’d broken his neck.
The Show Must Go On
That was the start of the holiday. For the next six days, we made the best of things and pretended to the world we were having a good time. What was the point in worrying our family if, as the doctor assured us, everything would be fine after a few days?
Not Fit to Fly
On the morning of our homebound flight, the Englishman’s condition had worsened. He now had an infection in both ears, and most probably on the inner ear too. A second doctor told us in no uncertain terms that he should not fly – that the air pressure on both take-off and landing might make him permanently deaf. Plus it would be unbearably painful. He could not tell us how long he’d be ‘Not Fit to Fly’.
We had to endure another week in ‘paradise’. Or, perhaps another two or three.
Paradisiacal or not, we could hardly enjoy the sand and the sea and the pool, or the rest of the fine surroundings of our five-star hotel on our extended break. The Englishman couldn’t swim, and he didn’t feel well to be in the sun. The strong winds, which are prevalent on the island, hurt his ears too. Naturally, there was no drinking.
I worried that we’d be stuck in Sal for several weeks. Apart from missing our family (who were wracked with worry), we had work to do and appointments to keep back in the UK. We could work remotely (who can’t these days?), but the Englishman was in no state to concentrate, and neither was I, really.
Not only were we ‘Not Fit to Fly’, but not really fit for anything.
There were so many questions going around in my head.
How were we so easily overwhelmed by the waves? We hadn’t even swum that far – I felt sure we were close enough to shore to touch the bottom of the seabed with our toes. The first doctor at the clinic told us that there is an undertow in the waves on the island which pulls you back if the winds are strong enough. So why didn’t anyone warn us? The holiday company, the hotel, or the lifeguard?
The What If Game
What if the Englishman had broken his neck? He could now be permanently paralyzed. What if either of us had drowned? Surely just a mere perforation and the subsequent infection is a small price to pay for the accident that could have been so much worse for us both? (I also hit my knee, but only realized after several hours it was bruised and hurting.)
Why, Oh, Why?
I keep asking myself why we went into the sea in the first place.
It was my idea. After breakfast, the Englishman asked which we should try first, the beach or the poolside. I chose the beach.
It was also my idea to go for a swim, it always is. I can’t sit still in the sun for too long, so I demanded that we’d take a dip mainly because I love swimming.
It was also my idea to travel to Sal. I’d been once before with my sister and wanted to come back to show the place to the Englishman.
I still feel guilty.
Boats, Trains and Automobiles
After the shock over the ‘Not Fit to Fly’ diagnosis lessened, we began making mad plans for traveling back to the UK by sea and land.
I found a site charting all current cruiseliners and their routes and found a ship that was due to dock at Sal in a few days’ time. It was heading back to the Canary Islands, from where we felt certain we could catch another ship to Portugal or Spain. Then it would be a small matter of taking the train (or hiring a car) and possibly another ferry back to the UK. The snag was that the ship would sail from Sal to two other islands in the Cabo Verdean archipelago, then onto Dakar in Senegal before turning North toward the Canaries. It would take nearly a week just to reach another group of islands in the Atlantic.
Those plans came to an abrupt end when the next day, in the middle of the night, the Englishman had a nasty attack of vertigo.
We accepted our fate and tried to make the best of another week in the sun.
All’s Well That Ends Well
Luckily, on the following Sunday, we had ‘Fit to Fly’ certificate and could finally return home. The Englishman’s ears are still not back to normal, but he is improving each day. My knee is niggly, but again, it’s getting slowly better.
Moral of the story?
Well, I can’t really think of one. I know we were careful in the sea and hadn’t swum out too far. We took all medical precautions and followed doctors’ advice not to travel home by plane.
The children have told us not to travel anywhere where we can’t get home by land (they are threatening to confiscate our passports 😬 ), but, honestly, I think that we were just very unlucky.
Typically for the Englishman, he joked while we were still stuck on the island, that he’s certain that one day, he’s going to read a novel written by yours truly about a couple who have an accident in the sea and get stuck in Cabo Verde for the foreseeable.
My reply was, ‘Too soon, too soon!’