Today I would like to tell you a little something about the holiday that we've been planning for the past couple of weeks. We're going to a place I'd never thought I would visit: the São Tomé island. I think that most of you know little or nothing about this tiny country and I thought I'd give you some information, just for fun. So if you're not interested in São Tomé or the specifics of our journey, just skip this post please.
It's small, it's colonial, it's São Tomé!
The country consists of two big islands: São Tomé (859 km2) and Principe (142 km2), which are surrounded by several minuscule islets. They are all of volcanic origin and thus rather hilly. The highest peak is Pico de São Tomé (guess which island it's on), with its 2024 metres and, apparently, rather stunning views of the island. The country boasts about 150 thousand inhabitants, who, due to the colonial past, speak Portuguese.
A wee bit of history
The islands were uninhabited for a very long time, until discovered by Portuguese sailors, roaming around the Western coast of Africa, discovering how to take advantage. All this around 1470. These lovely European gentlemen brought some slaves with them (mainly from Angola, Mozambique and Cabo Verde), so that all the exploitation fun could start. While the African people mixed with the Portuguese, creating a Creole race that took over the islands, the colony as such lost its importance (Brasil was so much cooler!). Only in the XIXth century did it regain its appeal, quickly becoming the biggest exporter of cocoa in the world. It was at this time that huge plantations - roças - were created to cultivate both cocoa and coffee. Even though the workers officially weren't slaves (slavery was abolished in 1875), they were treated as such, which gave rise to independentist movements, and resulted in the revolution of 25 April 1974. A year afterwards, on 12 July 1975, the maps had to be updated to include the Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Principe.
What to do or our tentative itinerary
We've been doing some research into what São Tomé has to offer (mainly asking around) and we were recommended several beaches, diving, more beaches and expensive tourist resorts. That's all very well but we're just not the kind of people who wish to spend a week at the beach. We thus went through tons of poor quality webpages and guidebooks, which inform you, for instance, that regarding the landscape, the island is epmhasized by the exuberant green colour from the thick vegetation or that in such a irregular islands like São Tomé e Principe of volcanic origins, people couldn't help being invited and seduced for a walk. Well, the guidebook has me neither invited nor seduced, I must tell you.
Anyway, here's what we've come up with:
Day 1 (Sunday 21/02): arrive in São Tomé and visit the city (cathedral, museum, market, Claudio Corallo's chocolate shop). Rent a car.
Day 2 (Monday 22/02): drive south to Roça de San Joao dos Angolares (now you know what a roça is, right?). On the way visit Boca do Inferno (some pretty rocks and the ocean making a lot of noise together) and Roça Bombaim. Visit San Joao and sleep there.
Day 3 (Tuesday 23/02): drive south to Praia Jale and Praia Piscina. On way visit Ribeira Peixe waterfalls. Spend the day at the beach and go back to San Joao for the night.
Day 4 (Wedesday 24/02): go back to São Tomé city. Visit Roça Agostinho Neto and two beaches: Praia das Conchas and Lagoa Azul.
Day 5 (Thursday 25/02): visit Monte Café (the only coffee plantation that still works). Have lunch in the town of Neves and visit the Botanic Garden of Bom Sucesso (São Tomé is famous for its orchids).
Day 6&7 (Friday&Saturday 26-27/02): go hiking in the National Park of Obe. Climb the Pico de São Tomé: it takes two days with camping beneath the summit.
Day 8 (Sunday 28/02): a walk around the city of São Tomé, take a plane back to Gabon and get ready to go to work.
I'm very eager to tell you what parts of this plan we managed to realise. I'll post as soon as we get back!