A day full of variety
11.05.2018 - 11.05.2018 -50 °C
We wake to the sound of the waves and the chirping birds this morning, and sit on the balcony for a while just taking it all in.
São Tomé Prinia
Fishermen going out for the day's catch
São Tomé Speirops
An endemic subspecies of the Vitelline Masked Weaver
Newton's Sunbird - another endemic
Yellow Billed Kite
Pin Tailed Whydah
São Tomé Thrush - the endemics are out in force today, adding to my life list.
The leaves are still wet from the overnight rain and the birds are using the raindrops for bathing.
Evidence from last night still sits on the balcony table
The fishermen are out in force now, and from our elevated lookout point, we can so easily see where the shoals of fish are congregating.
Southern Cordon Bleu
Beautiful bougainvillea close to our balcony
Odd looking flowers
Some sort of a tomato?
Vitelline masked Weaver - an endemic subspecies
Yellow Fronted Canary
Yellow Billed Kite
I have no idea what they are, but they are pretty
Southern Cordon Bleu
We reluctantly tear ourselves away from the birds to go and have some breakfast.
I would love to stay here for another couple of days and just sit on the balcony watching the birds and listening to the waves; but we have places to go and things to see.
Our first stop is in the small settlement of Neves, which is a town of two parts, one of which is known as 'beer central' as it is the location of the country's beer factory, Rosema.
A collection of ramshackle but charming wooden houses make up this small town, and I make friends with a few children – and adults – as I walk through and 'talk' with them using sign language and a lot of smiles.
Even the pigs are cute
São Tomé Central Market
We are back in the capital much quicker than I expected, and it seems the market is in full swing today.
Private car ownership is fairly rare, and bus service infrequent and unreliable, so most people will take a taxi – or a motorbike taxi – when coming in from the outskirts to do their shopping in town.
The local bus service
We are not staying in town this time, but heading south along the east coast.
I am very amused by this improvised mud-guard.
We stop in the small town of Santana, partly to stretch our legs, and partly to hear the story of the statue of St Ana, mother of mothers.
In the 16th century, a statue of St Ana was discovered on this site, and a chapel was built on the spot to mark the discovery. For whatever reason, the statue was moved away at some point. As soon as the statue left, the rivers dried up and all the vegetation died. The people of the town all got together and demanded that the statue was brought back, after which everything came back to life again as normal: the river flowed freely and the vegetation flourished.
The old Sisters' House is now being used as a school.
Like most of the coastal villages, the people of Santana rely mainly on fishing.
Every day is laundry day at Abade River, with both banks full of people who come to clean themselves, their clothes, linen, and even bicycles, in the river.
As we turn off the main road to take a much smaller track winding its way through the rickety but charismatic small town of Agua Ize, I practice some 'drive-by-shooting'. Strictly with my camera, of course, through the open window of the car.
It looks like it is laundry day here too.
The whole town we see today was once part of a large plantation and the buildings were staff housing.
The plantations at the time were like complete communities, with schools, shops, doctors and two hospitals, a small one for the black slave workers and a much better and larger one for the white European management. Only newly qualified doctors and nurses would be employed in the smaller hospital, and as a result many people died due to inadequate treatment.
The hospital now lies abandoned and has become an unlikely tourist attraction.
While the building is no longer in use as a hospital, and is in a sad state of disrepair, it can not really be described as 'abandoned'. These days the former wards are homes to several families.
I channel my inner Urbex* as we ascend the rickety steps to the upper levels.
* Urbex = an expression given to photographers who explore abandoned buildings, usually by breaking in and often illegally in the middle of the night. The abbreviation stands for 'Urban Explorer.
Boca de Inferno
Boca de Inferno, or Hells mouth, is a natural phenomenon caused by waves finding their way into a small ravine that leads to a series of grottos in the rugged coastline. A narrow channel funnels the waves around an 'island platform' and under a bridge of basalt stones; later spewing the water out the other side roaring and spraying. Many people have been swept away to their deaths while trying to brave the elements down on the rocks.
We pass by the small town of Ribiera Afonso, one of the poorer areas of São Tomé. This place is inhabited by the descendant of the very first settlers, mostly shipwrecked Angolans, who fiercely cling to their traditional ways. Agostinho explains that they have only recently started wearing clothes.
He also recounts how these people live from hand to mouth, fishing to survive day by day and refusing to plan for the future or even the next day. The local women are said to sleep with the men 'for a fish', resulting in a number of unwanted pregnancies and questionable parentage.
Roça São João dos Angolares
We make it to this beautifully restored colonial plantation house in time for lunch. And what a treat lunch is. Run by the famous TV chef João Carlos Silva, this restaurant is firmly on the tourist circuit, and quite rightly so.
Let me take you on a gastronomic journey through Africa and Portugal with a fusion of Sãotoméan and contemporary cuisine plus elements borrowed from other parts of the world: all lovingly prepared by Carlos Silva himself and his small army of friendly staff.
While waiting for it to be our turn to be called up to the counter where the amuse bouche (which is charmingly translated as “spark of tongue”) is being served, I watch the Portuguese guests (part of a large party) screw their noses up and spit out whatever it is they have eaten. I am now very intrigued.
First of all we are given a cocoa seed complete with surrounding flesh, which we are to suck on to separate the sweet flesh from the seed. I know from past experience (at a cocoa farm in Ghana) that this is something I really enjoy.
After spitting the seed out, we take a small spoonful of grated ginger, a square of locally produced chocolate (chocolate from São Tomé is said to be world class) and a couple of peppercorns. So that is what disgusted the previous diners. It's an interesting combination, and both David and I love it!
A small glass of red wine completes the first of many courses.
The second amuse bouche (or is that the third or even fourth? I have lost count already) consists of a small sliver of fried breadfruit.
First starter: banana with Misquito flower (no idea), coranto leaf (also no idea), fish, onion, Taiwanese lemon, mango, passion fruit.
Second starter: green pepper, apple, coconut, courgette, sweetcorn, tuna fish, avocado, ginger, pepper, grated roasted popinki mushrooms
A small dish of fish roe is served with this.
I am impressed with how this well-oiled organisation works, even when people arrive late, the staff seem to know who has had what course and they are all attentive and polite, despite the mad rush to get everyone fed. It seems to run like clockwork.
Third starter: sweet potato, orange ball coated with manioc flakes, pineapple with coconut, okra, 'egg of fish', aubergine, watercress, cucumber. No being a fan of aubergine, okra or cucumber, this is the only dish I find less than superb.
Fourth starter: malanga root dough wrapped around bacon, marlin, mango sauce.
It soon becomes obvious that Agostinho comes here regularly, as he knows what all the ingredients are in the various dishes being served, and if he is unsure, the waiter describes them in detail. I am glad we have an English speaking guide though, as the waiters only speak Portuguese and French. My Portuguese is non-existent, and my French only marginally better.
Fifth starter: roast banana stuffed with bacon and cheese, tied with lemongrass, peanut and manioc flakes dipped in pepper.
Sixth starter: octopus in tomato sauce, green cocoyam leaves, brown bean pueée, rice and egg ball.
Seventh starter: tomato with misquite flower (still no idea), cheese and bacon; omelette with fever bush leaves (which I think is the same as cassava leaves), crispy deep fried taro dipped in tomato sauce with chocolate.
Eighth starter: Roasted pineapple with honey, chilli, salt; roasted guava
Ninth starter: roasted mango with passion fruit. Roasting it has made the mango incredibly sweet; I must try this at home.
Meanwhile, several of the staff gather at the railings and are looking out over the edge of the balcony – it turns out that someone has been having a crafty cigarette (I have only seen one person smoking in this restaurant, so no points for guessing who), and somehow dropping the cigarette down onto a ledge below, starting a fire! Doh!
So, we have finally come to the main course, which is served buffet style: fish and bean stew, sweet potato, rice, grated cassava, extremely strong pickled green peppers.
First dessert: crystallised green papaya, passion fruit sauce, Portuguese cheese.
Second dessert: banana with chocolate, cassava curl, honey sauce.
Third dessert: selection of ice creams – avocado, isakinki (?), frozen yogurt, lemon; cake, mango sauce
That finally signals the end of this amazing meal, consisting of 3 amuse bouce, nine starters, a main course and three desserts. SIXTEEN courses in total. That is certainly the most dishes I have ever had for a menú degustación meal.
We collapse into the narrow four-poster bed for a much needed siesta. The room is in a charming traditional colonial style, with no A/C, but a super-efficient ceiling fan.
Later in the afternoon we take a stroll around the plantation house and estate.
The gardens are filled with eclectic sculptures, some of which are a little too 'weird' for me.
I am not sure whether Roça São João dos Angolares is a gourmet restaurant with rooms or a hotel with a gourmet restaurant. It certainly has a completely different feel to it now that all the tourists have left and the balcony is almost deserted.
The main building has six quaint rooms; with a further three in the old hospital building across the yard.
The main building
The old hospital
We sit on the balcony with a glass (OK, bottle) of wine, watching the rain.
At dinner there are only three tables with guests and there is an air of serenity about the place that was most certainly not here earlier.
The restaurant is no longer a hive of activity with hoards of staff milling around, although there is still an impressive display of fresh fruit and vegetables, many of which are completely alien to me.
Mosquitoes are kept at bay by a whole host of water-filled plastic bags hanging from the rafters. We saw this in Haiti a couple of years ago too, the idea is that the reflection in the bags scares the insects.
This evening's meal is buffet style, and we start with a fish soup.
Marlin in a mango sauce with rice and 'shoo-shoo'.
Chocolate torte to finish
A few bats are accompanying us this evening, darting around at lightning speed, way too fast to even attempt to photograph. What an amazing day it has been, with such a lovely relaxing finish. Thank you yet again to Undiscovered Destinations for organising this fabulous trip.