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São Tomé city tour and Monte Café

An easy day


View São Tomé and Príncipe 2018 - the Lost Islands in the Centre of the World on Grete Howard's travel map.

I set the alarm for 06:30 this morning for some bird watching in and around the hotel grounds before breakfast. I am not disappointed.

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Yellow-billed kite

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Village Weaver

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São Tomé Prinia

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Yellow Fronted Canary

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Yellow Billed Kite

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Village Weaver

Four 'lifers' (new species to us) before breakfast on the first day! I also spot a couple of cute little lizards.

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Breakfast

Forte de São Sebastião

The old San Sebastian Fort has now been turned into a museum.

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The square outside is home to statues depicting the first settlers in São Tomé and Principe.

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São Tomé & Principe were both uninhabited prior to colonisation by the Portuguese in 1470 who came in search of land to grow sugar and as a base for trade with mainland Africa. São Tomé, being right on the equator and more than wet enough, fitted the bill perfectly. Slaves were brought over as forced labourers from Congo and Angola on the African coast to work the plantations. The first successful settlement was established in 1493 by Álvaro Caminha, who received the land as a grant from the Portuguese crown and by the mid-16th century the islands were Africa's foremost exporter of sugar.

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Attracting settlers proved difficult, however, and most of the earliest inhabitants were 'undesirables' sent from Portugal, mostly Jews, a great number of whom soon died.

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By 1515, São Tomé and Príncipe had become slave depots for the coastal slave trade centred at Elmina in Ghana. The interesting little museum chronicles the history of the country, but unfortunately photography is not permitted inside most of the rooms in the fort, so you will just have to make do with some external shots from the courtyard.

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Sugar cultivation declined over the next 100 years as a result of competition from the West Indies, and São Tomé was now primarily a transit point for ships engaged in the slave trade between the West and continental Africa.

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In the early 19th century, two new cash crops, coffee and cocoa, were introduced to São Tomé. Large plantations (known as roças), mostly owned by Portuguese companies, sprung up all over the islands. Soon São Tomé became the world's largest producer of cocoa, with 800 of these plantations, and although this is no longer the case (and so many of the roças lie in ruins), cocoa remains the country's most important crop.

The second room in the museum shows examples of the different types of cocoa beans (and there was I thinking a cocoa bean was a cocoa bean). The plant was originally brought from Portugal as an ornamental plant, and remained so until someone said: “You're wasting your money, this plant grows so well here you should start a plantation”. Experts were imported from other Portuguese colonies such as Mozambique and Angola, and the rest is history.

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Other rooms are devoted to Catholicism, the President, the Flag, dining room, culture room (including voodoo paraphernalia and mannequins in various traditional costumes) and a gallery of old pictures from the city.

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By far the most emotional and poignant of all the exhibitions, is the Massacre Room. I find most of the pictures too distressing to look at, yet again despairing at man's inhumanity to man.

By the time we get to the 'turtle room', my back is giving me a lot of pain. I had hoped the pain would be gone by this morning after a good night's sleep in a comfortable bed, but not so; it is getting worse and worse.

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São Tomé is home to five different species of turtles, and much education work is taking place to ensure their continuing conservation.

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I had no idea Leatherback Turtles could grow that big!

Climbing onto the roof is proving to be quite a task because of my painful back. It is worth it for the view though.

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The graves of some 'important people' of a bygone age.

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Catedral de São Tomé

The 16th century cathedral is the oldest on the island and is reputed to be the first Catholic church to be built in an African country.

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The original building was constructed from wood, but the church was rebuilt in a more durable material - concrete - in the 17th century.

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As a place of worship, it is popular, especially for Sunday mass, when the pews are full.

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Damaged by fire during a revolt in 1975, the church was repaired from donations.

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Beautiful relics from the Portuguese era.

Parliament Building

Photographing this building is not permitted, with armed guards posted outside. Despite my experience in 2011 when I was chased down the road by one such guard after taking a picture of a bank in Algiers, I risk a covert shot from a distance.

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Driving by the market and later past the popularly named 'Think Square' where Sãotoméans gather to work out a survival strategy when they have no money (unemployment sits at 70%), we head out of town and up into the hills. I am pleasantly surprised at the condition of the road: there is some sizeable areas of tarmac between the potholes. The first settlement of any size we reach is Trindade, the second biggest city in São Tomé, with 45,000 inhabitants. It was here that a rebellion took place in 1953, where hundreds of native Creoles were killed or captured and tortured to death (known as the Batepá massacre). Later their bodies were thrown in the sea, like animals. "Throw this shit into the sea to avoid troubles," the Portuguese governor was quoted as saying. A memorial has been built to mark the spot and its anniversary is officially observed by the government.

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Roça Monte Café

One of the largest coffee plantation on the island, Monte Café has now been turned into a museum offering a tour of the coffee production process.

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At 600m above sea level, the air is considerably cooler here than in town, and the climate is ideal for growing Arabica coffee.

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We are invited up the stairs of one of the old warehouses, to walk through the exhibitions with a Portuguese-speaking guide, and Agostinho as a translator. Here the men toiled the plantations while the women worked in the factory.

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I am in agony with my back now, and seek out a chair on the balcony after the first couple of rooms, especially as photography is not permitted inside the museum.

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Alei Coffe Shop

Despite taking a double dose of painkillers, my back is still going into spasms, unfortunately marring my enjoyment of the excellent lunch.

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Ceviche with marlin, passionfruit, onion and cucumber

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Red snapper with plantain, breadfruit and rice. The green stuff is described as a 'lusoa sauce' and is really quite nice. I have been unable to ascertain what it is in English - maybe the green tops of sweet potato.

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David tries the locally brewed beer, Rosema, which comes in unmarked bottles without a label.

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Passionfruit cheesecake

Passionfruit is grown in abundance here on São Tomé, and I am intrigued by the size of them. I had no idea there was more than one type of passionfruit.

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Miramar Hotel

With my back being so painful, we return to the hotel a little earlier than planned, where I have a short siesta and feel some better afterwards.

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Like last night, we wander onto the terrace for a drink outside before dinner. Tonight we choose some Portuguese Vinho Verde, which goes down very nicely.

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Dinner

I am assuming the hotel is not full this evening, as we are the only diners at 19:30. Tonight's special is chicken stroganoff, and we both choose that. It is very good.

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Coconut jelly on a biscuit base

The end of another interesting day in São Tomé, arranged by Undiscovered Destinations.

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Posted by Grete Howard 07:45 Archived in Sao Tome and Principe Tagged turtles fish fort museum cathedral africa birding parliament coffee trindade pain slavery ceviche defence canary plantations weaver massacre demonstrations cocoa bird_watching roca red_snapper undiscovered_destinations sao_tome batepa_massacre miramar_hotel prinia endemic_birds forte_de_são_sebastião sugar_plantations roca_monte_café vinho_verde passionfruit back_pain Comments (4)

Alta and Finnmark: Northern Lights!

♪♫♪ And there was dancing for my birthday, dancing in the sky ♪♫♪

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View Inside the Arctic Circle Tromsø & Alta 2015 on Grete Howard's travel map.

We both slept really well last night – the beds may be narrow, but those mattress covers on top makes them super-comfortable! That is, until 01:45 this morning when we were woken by a mouse! Yes, a mouse. He (or she) was in the rafters, gnawing away at the wood and the noise reverberated throughout the whole little cabin. After much banging on the walls, it finally scampered off and we were able to go back to sleep.

The original plan was to drive up to North Cape today, but after mulling it over we decided that it would be too much driving in one day. As the last part of the journey there involves driving in a convoy, it would mean (at least) a 13 hour day); which wouldn't be too bad if we didn't want to go aurora hunting this evening. Plus we have to drive back to Tromsø tomorrow.

Alta

So we decide to stick to some local sightseeing instead today, starting with the city of Alta.

Northern Lights Cathedral
Designed by architects Schmidt Hammer Larsen to apparently look like cascading waves of the northern lights, Alta's modern cathedral was consecrated in 2013.

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Sunrise

There's a beautiful sunrise today, so we spend the morning driving along the coast trying to capture it on camera.

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The sunrise goes from being pale and interesting to bold and dramatic! The whole sky appears on fire with huge swathes of glowing orange above the mountains.

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Reflecting in the broken ice on the Alta fjord, the sunrise is nothing short of sensational!

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Continuing on a small side road on one of the 'fingers' of the fjord, I make David stop every few hundred yards for a different view.

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Well, it is my birthday, so he has to be nice to me. Just for one day it won't hurt him, although he is finding it quite difficult! In reality of course, David is nice to me every day, and any comments are just gentle ribbing.

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David stays in the car, checking out the weather forecast for this evening while I run around with my camera outside in the freezing cold.

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The spectacular sunrise fades into a more 'pale and interesting' sunset.

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We are surprised at how little snow there is here compared with Tromsø. We are not disappointed that it is not snowing though. We want clear skies for later!

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At the end of the track at Russeluft we decide to head back to camp for an early finish today – the forecast is looking good for the aurora later, so it could be a long night.

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Post Boxes

Unlike England, where mail is delivered right through a slit in your door; in Norway often all the post boxes for a whole street are situated in a common and convenient place. Our road at home had ten houses, and everyone's letters were delivered to the collection of post boxes in the central part of the street.

Parcels usually have to be collected at the post office. It makes me very grateful for the UK postal service where the postman (or woman) will carry parcels right to your door and knock to ensure safe delivery.

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Shopping

Looking for somewhere to stock up on some food, we find everywhere closed as it is a Sunday. Eventually we end up in the petrol station where I get a few treats as well as tonight's dinner.

Troika
One of my childhood favourites, this chocolate is filled with three layers: jelly, truffle and marzipan. Interestingly enough, I don't like marzipan on its own, but love this bar!

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Finnmarksvidda

A bleak and unforgiving mountain plateau (Norway's largest), the temperatures can reach -50 °C on Finnmarksvidda in winter.

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So this is what it looks like where we were in the dark last night!

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Birthday Celebrations

Not since we were in the dry country of Sudan in 2004, have I had a birthday celebration without alcohol. Because of the strict drink-driving laws in Norway (0.02%), we decided we were better off not having any at all. And as we as are going out searching for those northern lights after dinner every evening there doesn't seem to be any point - or time - to imbibe.

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Villa Farris
So here I am with my non-alcoholic bubbles for the special day. Villa Farris used to be called 'fruksjampagne' (fruit champagne) when I was young, but had to remove the word 'champagne' for copyright reasons. I always enjoyed it as a treat when little, and it is still as good as I remember – a fruit flavoured carbonated drink.

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Pyttipanne
Swedish in origin (I believe), pyttipanne is a hash, usually made of leftovers. I add the sausages we didn't eat the other day to a mixture of onions and potatoes. And very nice it is too.

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It's GO for later according to the norway-lights website, so we take an afternoon siesta to prepare us for a long - and late - night. Not sure I will be able to sleep for the excitement though...

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After a delightful nap I have some much appreciated chill-time chatting to friends on Facebook and replying to numerous birthday greetings.

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Dinner
'Spekeskinke med eggerøre' – cured ham with scrambled eggs - has always been one of my dad's favourite dinners, and we used to buy a whole leg of ham every spring which would last us all summer. I am taken aback by the whiteness of the eggs - I am sure we once had a choice of white or brown eggs in the UK too! Now I only ever see brown eggs in the stores - I wonder why?

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Aurora Hunt

As soon as we have eaten, we set off into the wilderness again. Same place, same time, and soon the same car from last night join us too.

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So we sit and wait. And wait. And wait. I get out of the car to take a few test shots... and discover that in my excitement at the prospect of northern lights this evening, I forgot to put my jeans on. I do have two layers of thermal long-johns, but no trousers. Oh well, the underwear is black, it is dark, and we'll never see the other people again, so who cares.

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So we wait some more. We sing all the verses of 'ten green bottles'. We play 'I spy'. We reminisce about holidays past. An then we wait some more.

After about an hour and a half, I go outside to fiddle with my tripod. What is that in the sky? A thin green stripe? Excitedly I yell “aurora” at David and rush to take a few photos.

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It's not spectacular, but it is most definitely the northern lights. It is a fairly thin line which doesn't do much, but I have created this short time lapse video to show the little bit of movement we do get.


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While we are busy watching the green display in the sky, the dog team from Gargia Lodge come back from their evening exercises. We saw them go past earlier, with the dogs all tied together at the front, but instead of a sled, they are pulling a quad bike.

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OK, so they are not actually pulling the ATV, it is presumably there to emulate a sled for the dogs to have a purpose for their running. These are racing dogs, so need to be kept in tip top condition ready for the season.

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Ten minutes later and the light display is all over, so we get back in the car to warm up and wait some more. Twenty minutes go by before the lights make another appearance, this time they start fairly weak, get brighter and longer; and eventually the arc covers the entire horizon!

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The display goes on for 45 minutes this time, so I have the opportunity to play around with different foregrounds... such as David, or the car. Not much else available around here.

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With a three quarter moon, the foreground is lit up surprisingly well; in fact, I have never seen a moon shadow so pronounced before!

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Not before the last of the arc fizzles out do we go back inside the car and pour ourself a much deserved coffee! Two very happy campers, although David is disappointed that his video camera refused to play! I have therefore played around with another time lapse video from some of my shots.

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We don't even have time to drink the coffee before I yet again spot something in the sky. The people in the other car don't seem to be taking pictures, and I haven't seen them get out of the car yet. I wouldn't have thought they can see much outside with their headlights on.

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Feeling extremely happy to be witnessing this, I can't believe it when the lights suddenly increase in luminance, and start to dance across the sky, creating swathes of electric colour across the whole of the horizon from the south east to the north west. What an amazing display.

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As has been said many times, photos cannot do justice to the dancing lights, so here is another time lapse...

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Ecstasy sets in and I find it hard to control myself. The expressions “Oh my gawd”, “wow”, and “this is amazing” are somewhat overused this evening. The display is too big to fit it all in despite a 16mm lens, and I don't know which way to face my camera.

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I lock my main Canon EOS 5D III on continuous shooting and leave it to do its own thing while I set up the spare camera (a Canon EOS 6D) on another tripod facing the opposite direction. Because this camera is not fitted with such a fast lens, I don't find it as successful, and of course I only have one remote control so it is a bit fiddly with the 6D using self timer for each shot.

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All good things have to come to an end, and by ten o'clock there are no more green lights in the sky. We hang around for another couple of hours or more, with no further activity, before we call it a day.

Still on a high from this evening's display, I try to capture the glittering bits of ice on the side of the road, grasses and trees, sparkling in the car headlight beam. Truly an enchanted end to a magical day!

Posted by Grete Howard 05:15 Archived in Norway Tagged winter scenery sunrise holiday cathedral norway aurora northern_lights finnmark norge alta aurora_borealis gargia gargia_fjellsture altafjorden altafjord canon_eos_5d_iii Comments (2)

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