Sombre history and a west-coast hide-away paradise
10.05.2018 - 10.05.2018 -50 °C
Memorial dos Heróis da Liberdade
Yesterday, at Trindade, we saw the memorial at the site of the Batepá Massacre where hundreds of natives were killed by Portuguese forces in 1953 during a rebellion, and Agostinho was telling us how they were “thrown in the sea, like animals”. Today we visit the spot, at Fernão Dias on the north coast, where those murdered were transported by the truckload and their bodies unceremoniously dumped in the sea off the now-defunct pier.
A memorial has been erected here too, listing the names of all those killed in the fight for freedom.
An abandoned ship lies off the coast as if to pay tribute to the fallen martyrs.
We stop beside a tree, more than one hundred years old, for Agostinho to explain how they used to make canoes.
I am more interested in playing with a young kid who is selling fruit at the side of the road.
Named after a benevolent Angolan doctor (late president of Angola) who fought fervently in the battle against Portuguese colonialism, the roça (plantation) and surrounding village is now mostly in ruins and lies partly abandoned.
The abandoned hospital on the hill
The old botanical gardens is now the governor's house
Many of the picturesque old buildings (these would have been for the managers) have survived and are now in use.
The old hospital, built as part of the roça (plantation), now lies abandoned, with a number of poorer families having moved into some of its many rooms.
Unleashing my inner Urbex (Urban Explorer, a popular genre in photography), I wander around some of the abandoned halls and wards.
Love the home made bicycle
Categorised as a 'least developed country', São Tomé is mostly dependent on international aid, and is among the poorest in the world, with more than half of the population living below the poverty line, and 29% in extreme poverty.
Pounding the corn is extremely hard work, and the locals find it very amusing that I would like to have a go.
The population of São Tomé is relatively young, with children aged 0 to 14 years representing 44.4% of the population, yet only 38% attend secondary school.
This sheltered bay is popular with snorkellers as the pristine waters are teeming with fish.
An ancient baobab stands on the beach – those of you who have followed my blog for a while will be aware of how fond I am of baobab trees.
At a small picnic area, we make a quick stop with coffee, juice, fruit and biscuits.
This is the place where the Portuguese first arrived back in the 15th century.
Star fruit. I explain to Agostinho that, although we buy these fruits in the UK, I have never seen one actually growing; and he promises to look out for a star fruit tree for me.
Taiwanese guava, they taste a little like unripe pears.
Agostinho calls these carozo nuts, but I believe we know them as 'tropical almonds' (Terminalia catappa). They taste very similar to regular almonds.
Here they are, growing on the tree:
Dug-out canoes on the beach
The road hugs the coast on the north-west of the island and at one stage it goes through São Tomé's only tunnel.
It is a popular place to stop and take photos.
The coastline here is rugged, with some interesting rock formations and crashing waves.
As we head inland, we pass imposing old plantation houses and more modest wooden chalets.
Roça Monte Forté
The old plantation buildings have now been turned into a guest house and restaurant, with a small craft centre and a garden bulging with fruit and vegetables.
I love this place, it has so much character. The bedrooms look basic but more than adequate, with a bed, mosquito net and en suite bathroom.
Cashew fruit - the nut is the curious dark thing hanging down below the fruit
Love the modern TV screen on the rickety old veranda.
David takes a pre-lunch snooze while I wander around taking photos.
View from the balcony
This is the sort of place that we love staying in, but unfortunately it is not to be this time, as we are only stopping here for lunch.
Grilled bonito fish with onions
Pumpkin, carrots, cabbage and shoo-shoo (a type of courgette or marrow)
Dessert: cashew fruit and papaya
Another first for the Howards: eating the fruit from the cashew nut tree. It is obviously not that common over here either, as Agostinho takes the rest home for his children, who have never tasted it, plus some seeds to grow his own tree in his garden.
After a leisurely lunch we make our way to Mucumbili, our fabulous eco-lodge for the night. We check in and are shown to our room, a rustic wooden cabin built on the edge of the wooded cliff, with a balcony on stilts overlooking the valley and ocean beyond.
Each cabin has a name rather than a number and I am absolutely thrilled to find that ours is called 'Carambola', meaning star fruit.
Not only that, we have a star fruit tree right outside!
We spend the rest of the afternoon on the balcony with a bottle of chilled white wine, watching the birds and the fishermen.
São Tomé Prinia, and endemic to this island
São Tome Speirops, another endemic
Southern Cordon Bleu
São Tomé Sunbird - yet another endemic
Bronze Mannikin - not a very good photo, but it is the only one I manage to capture as he is hiding behind long grasses
Above us circle a couple of Yellow Billed Kites, and butterflies and lizards abound.
This is my idea of heaven: a gorgeous rustic lodge miles from the nearest habitation, lots of birds and other small critters to keep me amused, a glass of something enjoyable and the man I love with no other human sound (or sight) for hours.
What we do hear, however, is a strange clicking sound. We spend a long time trying to work out what it is. After a while it becomes obvious that it is coming from a bird, but which one? Eventually we discover the answer: the small São Tomé Prinia is somehow flapping its wing in a manner to make a fairly loud clicking sound. How bizarre.
The noisy little prinia
Northern Cordon Bleu
Sao Tomé Speirops
From our balcony we can see the fish jumping in the sea, causing small ripples on the surface of the water.
The fishermen all make their way towards that area, but by the time many of them have reached the spot, the fish have moved on.
Dinner is taken in the open-sided restaurant, with each cabin having its own dedicated table.
Pasta with crab, cream and Parmesan cheese
This is not quite what David was expecting when he ordered 'apple pie'.
After dinner we yet again sit on the balcony for a long while, taking in the sounds and sights of the jungle after dark. There is next to no llight pollution and the stars are out, but unfortunately so are the clouds for a lot of the time.
And so ends another delightful day in paradise. Thank you Undiscovered Destinations.