19 February 2017

Museu Nacional and CACAU

Final post from our August 2016 visit to São Tomé and Príncipe with two places of interest in São Tomé town!

São Tomé and Príncipe's Museu Nacional is in the former fort San Sebastiao, built by the Portuguese in 1576 to fend off attacks by the French and Dutch. Outside the museum are three statues dedicated to three founders and/or discoverers of São Tomé, who arrived in 1470. The historical consensus is that the islands were deserted when the Portuguese arrived, and people were enslaved and brought over from Angola to grow sugar.

Fort San Sebastiao, site of the Museu Nacional
of Sao Tome and Principe.
After sugar production declined in favour of cultivation in Brazil's richer soil, the colony was largely left alone for a time, and escaped or freed slaves and their descendants were able to live relatively independently. Once cacao was introduced in the early 19th century, Portuguese returned en masse and usurped the land of free São Toménse and imported more enslaved people from Portugal's other colonies and, once slavery officially ended in 1869, then roped freedmen into indentured servitude.

Interior buildings of the fort and museum.
We had an informative tour, particularly since the lady who showed us around spoke French. The museum included many liturgical artifacts, wooden furniture, images of the various plantations, and the turtle room displaying the several species that lay eggs on the islands as well as the threats they face. Set in the old fort, the museum also had nice views of the bay and São Tomé town.

The one with the Prince Valiant haircut is Pedro Escobar, among those who discovered
Sao Tome and Principe. Compared to most places that were "discovered," the
 islands actually seem to have been uninhabited when they arrived.
The most striking room of the museum was one devoted to the massacre of Batepa, reprisals in 1953 by the Portuguese against São Toménse who were protesting against forced labor on the plantations. As you can see from the pictures, photography was limited to outside the fort.

View of Ana Chaves Bay from the Museu Nacional.

We also visited CACAU, or Casa das Artes Criacao Ambiente Utopias (“House of Arts, Creation, Environment and Utopias”), an arts center that provides training, residences for artists, and exhibitions on the art, culture and history of São Tomé and Príncipe.

A principal exhibit during our visit focused on tchiloli, or “the tragedy,” which tells the tale of how Charlemagne's son Dom Carloto killed his best friend Valdevinos while they were out hunting as Carloto had designs on Valdevinos's wife Sibilla.

Further information on the tchiloli phenomenon in Sao Tome and Principe.

What apparently follows (we missed the main tchiloli peformance season by a few days) is a courtroom performance featuring many political intrigues amongst courtiers maneuvering for influence after the murder of Valdevinos.

The pictures on display at CACAU were of actors in tchiloli performances and their families. According to the exhibit, all characters are portrayed by men, in accordance with medieval tradition. It is a popular play in ST&P, and is performed by troupes on both islands.

The tchiloli roles are hereditary and passed down from one generation to the next.

10 February 2017

Northwest Sao Tome

On to the northwest coast of São Tomé, in August 2016.

Main house at Roca Monte Forte ("Strong Mountain").

That's our room up there!
After our van arrived in Neves we took a longer than expected walk to Roca Monte Forte, a plantation outside town. Our stay was a very pleasant one, with tasty fish and chips for dinner, a nice old building (our room made it into the ST&P tourism board's official guidebook), and friendly staff. In fact, when we left the next day for the ecolodge down the road, the São Toménse manager Senhor Jeronimo said, "I wish you happiness and good luck. Boa viaje."

Official Bulletins of Sao Tome & Principe, sharing laws,
cacao production data, etc.

From the Mucumbli ecolodge we went on a couple of walking tours with Ildou. Ildou previously worked on Mucumbli's grounds as a gardener who also work on craft-making (our Portuguese and his French were not strong enough to get the full details). He said that there's sufficient tourism that he can work as a guide year-round.

Walking along the national highway outside Neves.

Donkeys need their images and treatment rehabilitated through Africa
("Donkey!" was a common insult in The Gambia).
Hills around Neves.
Our first hike took us through a couple of small communities based around former plantations. I confess to forgetting the name of the first one we passed through once we were dropped off, but we didn't tarry long.

Fishermen off the north shore of Sao Tome island.
Next was Ribeira Platacao Obo. Ildou noted that in the 1940s many Cape Verdeans from Portugal's other, drier, island colony came to work on plantations on São Tomé island. On an unrelated note, palm trees were introduced here from Liberia.

A charcoal-making pit.
Cacao pods mature twice a year.

Cacao seeds on a dryer.
Cacao care tips. The interval between breaking open the cacao pods and
putting the seeds in the fermentation box should not exceed five hours.

"We can carry out quality drying of cacao and earn more money."
After plantation Ribeira we continued back down the hill to a nice vantage point of Neves. From there we could see the oil containers for fuel delivered from Angola, STP's longtime ally (during the Angolan civil war, São Tomé received oil from Gabon).

View of Neves fishing boats and oil storage. 80% of Neves residents are fishermen.

Sap-sap fruit. Very tart.
The next day we went with Ildou on a hike around the aqueducts that power a hydroelectric plant that provides electricity to Ponta Figo, Neves and even the parliament and hospital in São Tomé town.

Sao Tome & Principe's parks are all called Parc National Obo,
since obo means forest.
The aqueducts were built by the Portuguese and made for nice cool water tunnels to walk through. We saw a number of bats and a beautiful waterfall.
Walking through the forest and onwards into an aqueduct!

Bats in the tunnel.

Some old machinery and a waterfall!

Strewn about near forest paths were large quantities of snail shells,
snails being a popular source of protein here as in Cameroon.
After returning to São Tomé town, we made a day trip to Guadalupe where we visited the former Rio do Ouro ("Golden River") cacao plantation, rechristened Roca Agostinho Neto, in honor of the Angolan independence leader who supported São Tomé and Príncipe's independence movement and fledgling government.

Relief of Agostinho Neto at the eponymous plantation.
The vast plantation now resembles a small town, and many parts of it are in disrepair. While the old buildings are certainly charming even in a dilapidated state, some might consider their current condition unfortunate.
View of Roca Agostinho Neto from above.
A storehouse.

While I'm sure lovingly restored or well-maintained buildings and grounds may be more attractive, I wonder whether São Toménse should feel any particular affinity for these old plantations. After all, they represent a long era of slavery and indentured servitude. São Tomé and Príncipe only became independent in 1975, so a lot of these experiences (foreign control of the plantations and natural resources) are recent and within people's lifetimes. With that backdrop, it's understandable that people in São Tomé may not be so inclined to preserve these buildings and lands.

Roca Agostinho Neto, with a renovated church to the right.

Buy cacao and gum here.

African grey parrot at restaurant in Guadalupe where we ate the
traditional Sao Tomense dish of calulu - a sauce comprised of fish, greens,
okra, onion, tomatoes, eggplant and spices. It was delicious!

08 February 2017

"Cachupa!" - Transport in Sao Tome

Continuing our August 2016 travels in Sao Tome & Principe...

"I'll call you back. I'm taking some people whale watching." - Nevo, our boat driver, fielding a call.

After waiting outside a small general store for a while, a minivan meandered down Porto Alegre's road and we hopped in for a ride to Sao Tome town and onwards to Neves.

The local road out of Porto Alegre (turn left).
The driver engaged in some boisterous call and response as we made our way through the town in search of passengers and back onto the main national highway - his phrase of choice was "Cachupa!" I of course have no idea what he meant. En route he invited himself to one roadside lady's breakfast bowl (a porridge), then picked up a cooking pot with fish and boiled plantains to eat on the way. The driver devoted most of his concentration to spearing the plantains on his fork, which meant that we made slow progress. After the meal he stopped when we met a vehicle going in the opposite direction and silently handed over the pot while stroking his neck up and down with his index finger. A short while later he admonished me for falling asleep in the front of the van, as I could have forced the van off the road while sleeping. He ignored my retort that I supposed it's okay to drive while attempting to capture plantains from a pot between one's legs.

The north-south highway.
Besides a few passengers, most of the northbound items were food and drink:

- a plastic bag with indeterminate items
- a plastic bag with gateaux/cakes
- 1.5 L bottle of palm wine
- 10 L jerrycan/bidong of palm wine

Now, a brief consideration of public transport in Sao Tome.

- vehicles don't wait until they're full before leaving - we had only five people when we set off.
- drivers routinely lower the stereo volume when people answer their phones
- there are less seats than usual. In many vehicles in the region, extra people are crammed into the rows, and improvised rows are added. This meant there was more space for luggage (and no luggage fees)
- moto-taxis only take one passenger, which is safer

- since ST&P is so small, there are few public transport vehicles and none to more remote spots
- rough competition for seats on busy routes. Once a van pulls up everyone charges for the door and you have to fight through the scrum to get a seat
- you need to find a moto-taxi for each passenger in Sao Tome town, which can be difficult once rush hour is over.

16 December 2016

Sao Joao and Porto Alegre

After a night in São Tomé, we made our way south to Sao Joao dos Angolares. The Angolares are reputedly descended from Angolans who made their way to shore from a shipwrecked slaving ship, but more likely were part of a community formed by escaped slaves who proceeded to lead raiding parties against plantations to emancipate enslaved people still under control of the Portuguese plantation owners.

Freshly extracted cacao beans.
Dried beans ready for export.

Given the relative dearth of public transportation, paired with a desire to check out an old plantation and natural feature (Boca do Inferno) en route, we agreed to our host's suggestion to hire his friend's driver Lady to take us down to Sao Joao. We took an impromptu tour of Roca Agua Ize, an old plantation that still grows and dries cacao for export. N.B. Roca (or plantation) is pronounced "rosa."

Machinery at Roca Agua Ize.

The colours of Lady's car complemented those of Roca Agua
Ize's warehouse quite nicely.
Boca do Inferno, where water spouts through holes eroded
through the rocky coastline.

Sao Joao is a pleasant town, and we enjoyed our stay at the Mionga
Hotel. This is our view out towards a small river and then the bay beyond.
Charming decor at the restaurant owned by the
"diminutive Pepe" (per the Bradt guidebook).

We stayed for a couple of nights, visiting the beach at Praia Micondo and visiting the grounds and having dinner at the pricier accommodation in town – Roca Sao Joao. Sao Joao has WiFi in its town square, which meant that there were quite a lot of people hanging out there to take advantage of the bandwidth, not just wait for transport.

Sliced pawpaw "jam" with sugar and syrup.

Tasty lunch shared with us by Karen and her family at Praia Micondo.
She was visiting from French Guiana and met up with her daughter's
family, who came over from Angola for a joint holiday. Breadfruit,
grilled and boiled plantains, salad, fish.

Bathtub bench at Roca Sao Joao.

Main house at Roca Sao Joao. The condition of plantations varied depending
on their current use - whether as still-functioning cacao plantations, hotels
for visitors, or house for Sao Tomense.

There wasn't much onward transport, but we were able to get a lift with a bus from the Pestana hotel in the capital, which was driving workers and tourists down to visit the Pestana resort on Ilha das Rolhas. I had an interesting chat with Waldimar, who lived in Santana but worked at the Pestana resort six days a week. The driver, Manuel, stopped frequently so that we and the other tourists could try to take photos of the Cao Grande formation.

A partially obscured Pico Cao Grande.

Once we reached Porto Alegre, where the other tourists continued to Ilha das Rolhas, we met up with the fisherman/tour guide who had been referred to us by a gentleman in our guidebook. An island visit, with services limited to those provided by the Pestana resort (many locals were relocated to the main island) didn't particularly appeal to us. Nevo and his friend Bruno took us out on Nevo's pirogue for a whale watching ride. We only saw one whale (an early morning jaunt would have been better), but we saw several spouts of water and had nice views of São Tomé island and Ilha das Rolhas. Nevo and Bruno said we could have stopped on the island to see the Equator mark (it's apparently off by a couple of hundred meters), but our boat ride sufficed.

Crossing the equator! Not once, but four times
(we looped around Ilha das Rolhas twice).
View from the south of Sao Tome's main island.

Cao Grande from the sea.

We then took a couple of motos to Praia Jale Ecolodge, just around the southwest corner of the island. We walked onwards to another beach, Praia Va-Inha, before having a tasty octopus dinner. Praia Jale's eco-friendliness comes in turtle care. Once turtles have laid their eggs (a December or January visit would allow viewings of this), the eggs are transferred to a holding pen where they are protected from dogs, birds and humans. The hatchlings are then released en masse, with a better chance of replenishing the population.

Praia Jale.

Door hanging with common features of life on Sao Tome and Principe:
coconuts, fish, turtles, octopus, boats, breadfruit.