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.

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