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.

10 December 2016

Sao Tome town

Square on a corner in Sao Tome town.

Sao Tome's coat of arms with a falcon on the left and a parrot on the right.

In August we travelled to São Tomé and Príncipe for 10 days. Two small islands, they were the site of sugar and later cocoa plantations. These days São Tomé is a rather sleepy place, but with quite a lot to see both in the capital and around the island (we did not make it to Principe, which is expensive and/or time-consuming to reach and features mostly high-end tourist accommodation). São Tomé and Principe were formed by a volcanic mountain range that includes the extinct Pico Basile of Bioko Island (Equatorial Guinea), Mt. Manengouba, Mt. Oku and the dormant Mt. Cameroon (still on the list to climb!).

(Top) Buildings in Sao Tome; (bottom) Ana Chaves Bay.

Our trip was bookended by a few days in São Tomé town, and we enjoyed walking around and admiring the old housing, Ana Chaves Bay and bits of public art and murals, as well as trying out unfamiliar fruits (sap sap, jackfruit, breadfruit, etc.). São Toméans on the whole were very friendly, and many spoke a bit of French which helped as our Portuguese is very poor.

Jackfruit: tasty and extremely sticky.

Educate children so that it is not necessary to punish adults.
Sao Tome traffic.

Breakfast:yogurt, salami sandwich, sumo sap sap.
While most of the cacao crop is exported for refinement, some cocoa is used to produce chocolate on the islands. We went on a tour of one such chocolate factory owned by an Italian who runs Terreiro Velho, a plantation on Principe. Claudio Corallo was something of a cacao radical, very meticulous about his chocolate and indeed what should even be deigned chocolate. The presentation/diatribe was entertaining (and more comprehensible when he chatted with French speakers at the end) and the chocolate was very tasty. Of course, the old refrain about whether the workers who harvest the cacao can afford the final product is even more apt with non-industrially produced cocoa that serves a niche market.

Claudio Corallo, proselytizer for high-cacao chocolate.

While in town, we checked out the presidential palace and Parque Popular (the latter mainly known for its lunch establishments for government workers), considered taking a dip in the museum beach (it was a bit hectic so Blair took a swim further south), and visited the national museum and CACAU art space.

The main transport around town. Motorcycle taxis only accept one passenger -
quite different from Cameroon and other countries.

Transport around town was difficult later at night – with such a small population it seemed that motos turned in early. Restaurants serving dinner were not very plentiful either, at least outside of hotels (witness our ill-fated trek to O Pirata). But we usually found something good to eat (invariably seafood) and were offered several rides to our AirBnB lodgings outside the town centre (including a lift from Antonio who worked in the ministry of finance).

Delicious grilled fish and breadfruti lunch from a shipping on Ana Chaves Bay.

Food truck with painting of Cao Grande, a major landmark on
the road south to Porto Alegre.

School mural near our lodging: A book is like a window. Who does not read it is
like someone who was far from the window and can only see part of the landscape.
- Kahlil Gibran

Murals at Liceu Nacional, showing the importance of cacao, and safe sex.

Wherever there are women and men, there is always something to do,
there is always something to teach, there is always something to learn.
Home of an art gallery and bar, Pico Mocambo.

Our stay for the last few days was in a recently renovated house south of downton. Our
host, Edmin, had a birthday to celebrate so we were able to join the festivities.

Edmin's friend Rui arranged our stay, and we had a nice time chatting to him about São Tomé, London (where he has spent half his life), and central Africa. The party had an eclectic mix of boiled plantains, boiled snails (as opposed to the grilled “Congo meat” variety in Cameroon), birthday cake, and a large slab of prosciutto.
Prosciutto and birthday cake.

Interior and garden of our lodgings in Sao Tome town.

Sao Tome and Principe is among the small client-states that Taiwan
has turned to to argue their case in the United Nations. The Gambia
left the fold a few years ago in favor of China's largesse.

Poster for a recent art festival; colonial architecture in town.

On our last day in São Tomé we visited the Museo Nacional (forthcoming post), did a little shopping for tea, then went to check out Asas de Aviao. Unfortunately, this multi-faceted attraction was closed.

Asas de Aviao is a bar/restaurant/etc. built around two abandoned planes that were used by the Portuguese to supply the independence fighters during the Biafran War in the late 1960s. For reasons unclear to me, the Portuguese opposed the British and the USSR, and defied the embargo enforced against Biafra, with São Tomé as their waypoint and supply centre. The long-abandoned planes eventually were converted for use as a bar.

 The lunch spot we ended up going to instead was quite pleasantly arranged around a central tree, although the stray dogs were bothersome at times. (While Cameroon and other countries have stray dogs around, all with the same light brown hue, São Tomé has legions of them.) We enjoyed one more grilled fish meal, then headed to the airport.

We were promptly pronounced late for check-in, which ended 5 hours earlier with the incoming (perhaps inappropriately named as it's banned from flying to Europe) CEIBA Intercontinental flight, but were still allowed to board the outgoing flight. In some fortuitous timing, we were able to get a couple of Rosemas (referred to throughout STP as Nacional) to tide us over at the gate before the staff left for their respective breaks.

As backup lunch spots go, one could do worse (stray dogs not pictured).

Advisory in the men's room at Sao Tome International Airport.