Day 11 |
Apr 04, 2011

Sao Tomé Island, Sao Tomé & Principe

By Juan Carlos Restrepo, Geologist

Co-ordinates: N 00º20’47”, E 006º44’12”

Weather: Rainy
Air Temperature: 27ºC

Northern hemisphere here we come! This morning before dawn the Prince Albert II crossed the equator. It was still dark when we crossed the line, and honestly it doesn’t look any different, but it is significant nonetheless. This crossing marks the end of one season and the start of another one for the Prince Albert II.

Shortly after dawn I came to the Bridge to find a rather familiar sight. To me, the outline of the island of Sao Tomé is reminiscent of many islands in the Lesser Antilles of the Caribbean. The rugged landscape and the lushness of the land took me back to those beautiful islands in the sun. And we had sun indeed, and the sea was calm and the yellow-billed kites were flying all around us. Little did we know about the surprise Mother Nature had in store for us though….

Expedition Leader Robin West and myself picked up the officials at 7 am and shortly afterwards they gave us the ok to land. So at 07:45 we started with the disembarkation of our guests going on the different tours we had on offer for today. The options were: a Full Day Birding / Botany Tour, a Full Day Taste of Sao Tomé Tour, and a Full Day Sao Tomé City Tour.

After a short and easy Zodiac ride ashore, the birders went out first. Sao Tomé is an ornithologist’s paradise. Our birder Will and our botanist Hans-Peter, together with a local guide and 12 guests, set out on a tour that took them to the botanical garden. They saw lots of endemic plants and 3 species of flowering orchids. They also saw lots of birds, many of which were also endemic, and then... it rained. And not just a shower but a torrential tropical downpour that sent them back down to town as the roads were starting to turn into rivers.

Meanwhile I was at the coffee plantation, also up in the mountains and we managed to get down before it got worse. For a couple of the buses the ordeal was not as simple as driving back as there were rocks on the road and small landslides. For one of the buses the situation was a bit more interesting, a 30-meter fallen tree was blocking the road. It took a lot of pushing and sawing from Richard Sidey’s side, and the ability of the driver to get that bus back into Sao Tome city. What an adventure!

Established around the wide sweep of the Ana Chaves Bay in 1493, Sao Tomé became the capital of the island when the Portuguese left their first settlement Anambo, 30 km further north. The Taste of Sao Tomé Tour started with the waterfall first and then went to the Mount Café coffee plantation. This was once the biggest and most prosperous coffee plantation of Sao Tomé, and we got to see the old buildings and have a taste of their world famous coffee. Almost as good as Colombian coffee. (I had to say that…). After lunch at another plantation, the tour went to the village of Trinidade and down to Sao Tomé to visit the Chocolaterie.

The Sao Tomé City Tour I was on took us also to the Mount Café plantation and to the waterfall. Then we headed to town for a nice buffet lunch at the Pestana Hotel followed by a visit to the Cathedral and the Museum located at the Sao Sebastian fort. We had time to visit an art gallery where local artists were showing their paintings, sculptures, handicrafts and photography. Very interesting. We also visited the local market – full of colours and flavours - before heading to Praça de Independencia to watch “Danco Congo” a frenetic show of colours, movement and rhythm. It was a powerful theatrical-dance performance portraying the battle between good and evil.

As I learnt later on, down at the landing site a squall came through before noon while we were all out on tour. The conditions went from calm to 40 knots of wind and 3 metre waves breaking into the bay. For a while Zodiac operations had to be suspended. It was a beautiful display of the power of nature and a sample of what the tropics can be like.

I must say I enjoyed this day very much. Not having been in Sao Tomé before I feel like I must come back. What a wonderful place, peaceful and vibrant, green and wild. Warm and friendly people and scenery that reminds me a bit of my motherland, the Colombian mountains, the coffee plantations. I felt very comfortable in Sao Tomé and look forward to tomorrow in Principe.