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Obo Nat. Park, then Accra - Lisbon - London - Home

Homeward bound

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

Having set the alarm last night for 6 o'clock this morning, I get up in order to do some bird watching before breakfast.

The first thing I notice, however, is what looks like a rat's tail under the patio door.


I try poking it with a stick. Nothing. I try again. Still nothing. It is obviously not alive. I shove it along a bit so that I can examine it, and it does indeed look like a tail from a rat. Not sure how I feel about that. Where is the rat? How did it get its tail stuck under the door? Did it chew its own tail off in order to survive (or have I been watching too many horror movies)? Did we do the damage when we closed the door last night? Was the rat in the room?


I open the door and tentatively walk out onto the balcony and look around. At first glance I can't see any evidence of a dead rat or one without a tail but with massive gnashers dripping with blood.

I feel a little foolish when I do spot the owner of the tail: an innocent, harmless lizard. Awww.


Although being without his appendage doesn't seem to impede him, I do hope I wasn't instrumental in him losing his tail, poor thing.

Anyway, back to the bird watching.

Village Weavers

Vitelline Masked Weaver

São Tomé Prinia

Village Weaver with its impressive nest

After breakfast we arrange for a late check out and then head for the hills.

Hotel reception

Nova Roça Coffee Plantation

We stop to look at the rows and rows of coffee plants. These are the berries of the Robusta coffee, one of two beans grown here – the other is Arabica.





Obo National park

Our destination for today is São Tomé's only national park, Obo.


Covering 290 km² (nearly 30% of the land area), the park is characterised by a wide range of biotypes, from lowland and mountain forests to mangroves and savannah areas. The park spans parts of both islands. This area, the high altitude rainforest, is popular with hikers. There is even a walker's café at the start of the trail.


David and Agostinho are setting off on a serious trek, to Lake Amelia. I stay in the extensive botanical gardens and the shade of an old plantation house, now used as the park headquarters.



Botanical Gardens
















David comes back, several hours later, absolutely exhausted. That was some serious hike Agostinho took him on!


The disappointingly dried out Lake Amelie

After a well deserved rest and a packed lunch, we set off again to explore a little more of the national park.

Cascata São Nicolau

With a drop of around 30m, this is São Tomé's highest waterfall.


It's in a lovely setting, a horse-shoe=shaped cove, covered in vegetation, and a set of steps lead down to the wooden bridge crossing the river just below the falls.


The area all around is full of the gorgeous flame trees too.



The beginning of the end

It's back to base for us, have a shower and change, check out of the room and wait in the lobby for Nino to pick us up for the last journey here in São Tomé: to the airport for our flight home.


São Tomé Airport

I am not sure why we are picked up at 16:30 for a 20:35 flight, especially as the airport is a mere 15 minutes or so away from the hotel.

We spend a lot of time sitting on a low wall as there are no seats outside, and the terminal building is not open yet. A self-appointed airport official (methinks there are some mental issues...) takes our passports and tickets and goes in to talk to the staff on the security desk just inside the door. Nothing happens. Some 20 minutes or so later he shouts “Go! Go! Go!”, but we only get as far as the door opening anyway. We chat to a couple from Austria/Germany while we wait, as more and more people arrive and join the queue behind us.


Our 'facilitator' keeps holding his outstretched palm up towards us and saying “wait”. As if we are going to storm the building or something. More and more staff stroll in, and eventually, after about an hour of waiting outside in the heat , we are allowed through. Our passports are checked on the door and the check-in is very smooth and easy. One step nearer.

Security, however, is not ready to accept passengers, so we join another queue and wait for them to open. Immigration on the other hand is manned and ready and they show us straight through.

Departure Gate

We are pleasantly surprised to find the lounge complete with comfy seats, efficient A/C, free wifi and a bar selling beer!


The journey home via Accra and Lisbon is uneventful, apart from the fact we are delayed in Ghana as two passengers 'forget' to get off in Accra.

The End

And that brings our São Tomé adventure to an end. We have thoroughly enjoyed this small, laid back country, with a reasonable infrastructure, beautiful scenery and friendly people.

Not so much a 'lost world', São Tomé is just slightly mislaid. Or as someone said: “STP has not been forgotten, it has never actually been discovered by mainstream tourism”.

Thank you so much to Undiscovered Destinations for bringing us here, and looking forward to arranging another adventure through this great little tour operator in the future.


Posted by Grete Howard 13:14 Archived in Sao Tome and Principe Tagged birds gardens flowers trek plants walk hike tail trail lizard birding path coffee national_park botanical_gardens plantations bird_watching sao_tome miramar_hotel missing_tail nova_roca robusta coffee_plantations obo obo_national_park Comments (1)

Rolas Island - São Tomé Town

Heading back to the main island

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

After having enjoyed a relaxing couple of days here on Rolas Island, it is time to move on, travelling back to São Tomé Town for our last night in this small African island nation.







All the luggage travels first, again on the smaller, open boat. We are a little concerned that once they reach the other end, our bags are going to be mixed up with those of the big party travelling with the Pestana bus (which is basically all the other passengers). Pestana owns three hotels on the islands and a shuttle bus ferries tourists between them.



The luggage boat goes off and the passenger vessel arrives.


We are grateful that it is not raining for our boat trip across to the main island.


This time we sit near the front of the boat to avoid getting soaked from the spray like we did on the way over. It may not be raining, but it is quite windy and the water is rather choppy.



Once we approach the bigger island, we see lots of fishermen, with their nets out trying to catch today's lunch and dinner. Most people in São Tomé live from day to day, just catching enough fish to feed their family.



Spotting Nino (our driver) on the jetty with a firm grip on our bags, we relax and realise our concerns were unfounded. It is comforting - and rather impressive - to know he remembered what our cases look like.


The Pestana bus is picking up all the other guests coming across from Rolas island, as well as bringing more tourists from the main island to take across to the resort. This, of course, means the entertainers are here again, singing their hearts out.



Having reunited with Nino and our bags, we offer a couple of the workers a lift to the next village. The extra manpower comes in handy when we get stuck on an uphill section of the gravel road with the wheels just spinning and spinning.

Pico Cão Grande

Translated from Portuguese as 'Great Dog Peak', this finger-shaped pinnacle is a volcanic plug. Created as magma hardened within a vent on an active volcano (now extinct), over the years erosion has worn away the surrounding rock, leaving this distinctive shape behind.


The peak rises dramatically over 370 m (1,000 ft) above the surrounding terrain and the summit is 668 m (2,175 ft) above sea level. It is well-known within the rock climbing community, its near-vertical walls having first been conquered in 1975. It is quite a landmark and can be seen for miles around.


Palm Oil Plantations

Like many other places, these palm oil plantations have ruined the local agriculture: while other trees have a symbiotic relationship with fruits and vegetables growing amongst them, nothing will grow underneath these palms. The result is that local people, who were previously more or less self-sufficient, are now unable to grow their own produce and have to pay for a taxi to travel to the market in town to buy (much more expensive) vegetables.



Another Laundry day

Every day is laundry day somewhere in São Tomé, and we stop to photograph people doing their washing and absolutions in a small inlet along the coast.









Hotel Miramar, São Tomé Town

Back in the same town, the same hotel and the same room – it's a bit like coming home after a holiday. We take lunch on the outside terrace, ordering from the bar menu . For someone (me) who is trying to cut out simple carbs, the choice of burgers, pasta and pizza doesn't really offer a lot of options.



I soon find out that the burgers were not a good choice in more ways than one, and spend the rest of the day in the room to be near a toilet.

I do make it for dinner, but don't eat a lot. In fact, the highlight of my evening is this amazing model car that our waiter has made, complete with a steering column, moving wheels and opening doors. All created from wood. He is obviously a very talented man.


Thank you yet again to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this trip to São Tomé for us.


Posted by Grete Howard 04:26 Archived in Sao Tome and Principe Tagged boat burgers washing laundry plantations singers boat_trip ablutions sao_tome hotel_miramar rolas_island pico_cão_grande volcanic_plug great_dog_peak palm_oil palm_oil_plantations Comments (1)

Rolas Island

Wedding anniversary

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

Happy 41st anniversary to my best friend and favourite travel partner, the love of my life: David.

Map of Rolas Island

We lie in bed this morning listening to the rain. Heavy rain. It rains when we walk to breakfast. We watch the rain from the restaurant. Heavy rain. It is still raining when we walk down to the bar. Then more rain as we make out way back to the room. We spend most of the morning sitting on the balcony watching – and photographing – the rain.








The hotel grounds are pretty 'free range', with all sorts of animals wandering around freely: pigs, goats, chickens, dogs and cats. And of course birds.



Cattle egret



Common Waxbill


Yellow Billed Kite


A few weeks ago I bought a second-hand camera converted to Infrared, and have been looking for a chance to put it though its paces. A grey rainy day is certainly not the best condition for successful infrared photography, but I wander around the grounds with it all the same.




Instead of lunch we take a long siesta, and when we wake up again, the rain has stopped so we head for the pool.





It starts to rain once more, making the water quite chilly, so we go back to the room and change, then head for the bar.


Tonight's buffet is extensive, and there is something for everyone.








My 'minute steak', cooked to order

We finish the evening off in the bar with a last drink of the day.



Happy anniversary!

Thank you Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this tour of São Tomé for us.


Posted by Grete Howard 12:43 Archived in Sao Tome and Principe Tagged animals rain africa dinner bar wine photography drinks swimming_pool infrared sao_tome rolas_island infrared_photography infrared_camera pool_time Comments (3)

Mucumbili - - Santana - Agua Ize - São João dos Angolares

A day full of variety

-50 °C
View São Tomé and Príncipe 2018 - the Lost Islands in the Centre of the World on Grete Howard's travel map.

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.

Laughing Dove

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.

Bronze Mannikin

Bronze Mannikin

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.




Cattle Egret

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.



Water melon


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.



Laundry day

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.







Agua Ize

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.








Ribiera Afonso

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.


Posted by Grete Howard 04:47 Archived in Sao Tome and Principe Tagged birds beer fishing statue market village river school africa wine birding photography chef fishing_boats chapel teaching hospital laundry abandoned blowhole santana hell's_gate bird_watching central_market neves eco_lodge urban_exploring undiscovered_destinations sao_tome urbex abandoned_hospital mucumbili twitching rosema rosema_beer são_tomé mother_of_mothers pupils agua_ize abade_river drive_by_shooting boca_de_inferno basalt rocky_coastline ribiera_afonso angolan_shipwrecks roça_são_joão_dos_angolares joão_carlos_silva tv_chef famous_tv_chef menu_degustacion tasting_menu sixteen_course_lunch Comments (3)

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.

Yellow-billed kite

Village Weaver

São Tomé Prinia

Yellow Fronted Canary

Yellow Billed Kite

Village Weaver

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




Forte de São Sebastião

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


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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



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.




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


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.


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


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


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

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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.

Ceviche with marlin, passionfruit, onion and cucumber

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.

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

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.



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.


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.







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.


Coconut jelly on a biscuit base

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


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)

Lisbon - Accra - São Tomé

Finally getting to our destination

-50 °C
View São Tomé and Príncipe 2018 - the Lost Islands in the Centre of the World on Grete Howard's travel map.

Having spent the night at an apartment in Lisbon, we arranged for the owner of the accommodation to pick us up at 06:30 this morning to take us the short distance to the airport. Ana is prompt and the journey only takes a few minutes. With no queues for check-in or security, we soon find ourselves in the Food Court, ready to eat breakfast.

One of the best things about Portugal is its Pastel de Nata, a delicious custard tart with a particularly crispy pastry casing.

Departure Gate

I begin to feel slightly concerned when the ground staff start walking around the passengers asking for hand luggage to be checked in. This is usually a sign of a full flight. I soon notice, however, some blatant racism going on: only when every single one of the black passengers have been approached, does the lady start asking white travellers. This is despite a few of the white passengers have considerably larger bags. The selection was so obviously not made on the size of the bags, but the colour of their skin. Disgusting! I vow never to fly TAP again.

TAP Long-Haul Flight

Thankfully the flight is not full as the aircraft is horrendously uncomfortable. The seats are very thin with little padding, absolutely no lumbar support and they don't recline. There is no head rest and no entertainment system. The legroom is ca. 2” shorter than my legs and with no padding on the back of the seats, I soon develop a bruised knee. These seats are no better than certain short haul European budget airlines. More reasons to avoid TAP in future.


I still manage to sleep, and wake up when the food trolley comes around. There is a choice of “cow or pasta”. I choose the cow, and she is delicious: chunky pieces of beef in a rich, slightly spicy, gravy with peas, carrots and mashed potato. The usual starter salad of a few lettuce leaves and a thin slice of tomato, stale bread roll, jelly, and cheese and biscuits.

The flight is reasonably uneventful until we approach our landing in Accra, when we have some of the best turbulence we have experienced in a long time, sending passengers into panic with women screaming and children crying. The same people give the captain a round of applause on landing.

Layover in Accra

Quite a number of people get off in Accra, the capital of Ghana; probably around 75% of the passengers. This is more of a refuelling stop than a proper 'layover' so all passengers continuing on to São Tomé are requested to remain on the plane. The crew are tasked with identifying each and every carry-on item left in the aircraft, which turns out to be a monumental task. Many people have moved to another seat than their original allocation, or are milling around the plane; thus are nowhere near their bags. It really would have been so much easier to get everyone to exit the aircraft (even if only down onto the tarmac), taking their luggage with them. By now I am even more unimpressed by this airline, it is not only racist and uncomfortable, but also totally disorganised.

Only a handful of passengers get on the plane here in Accra, and we continue our journey for the 1hour 40 minute flight to São Tome.

I am shocked to see the amount of pollution floating in the Atlantic.

São Tomé from the air

São Tomé e Principe

It is dry, but very warm and humid when we land at the small airport of São Tomé on the island of the same name.



Before being allowed to enter the terminal building, our passports are checked for visa status. He looks at several pages of David's passport, then checks that his picture matches his real-life face. The official takes my passport, looks at the outside, says “ah, Noruega” and waves me through without as much as a glance at my picture.

Inside, the queue for immigration is long and slow, and when we finally get to the front, the guy is very hard to understand. It is all very smooth and painless though, and we soon find ourselves outside, where a friendly-looking guy holds a board stating “Mrs Grete”. He introduces himself as Agostinho, who will be our guide for the duration, and leads us to a micro-bus and our driver Nino.

No visa was necessary after all that palaver before we left home

Miramar Hotel

From the airport it is a short ten minute ride to our hotel, through the sleepy capital.


As hotels go, the Miramar is very pleasant, quite up to usual international business hotel standards. The room overlooks the pool (which is full of water and very clean – some of you may remember the saga from Comoros last year), and the grounds are dotted with flowers, bushes and trees.





There are even sunbeds (again referring to last year's accommodation in Anjouan, Comoros)


The pool (bucket) shower


We take a quick shower and change before making our way down to the bar for a drink before dinner. This is where the differences with Comoros stops.

“Do you have local beer?” “No” I see rum on the shelf and ask about Diet Coke. Despite being shown on the drinks menu, the answer is negative. We settle for a Portuguese beer and wander outside.


Baron Restaurant

The menu is mostly in Portuguese, with some interesting translations. I order a steak with land snails, but they have run out of snails, so I choose a carpaccio of fish instead. David has vegetable soup, and we share a 'carbonara pizza', which is very garlicky.

The fish is absolutely delicious, very refreshing with a sweet and sour dressing made from pineapple.

When David tries to order a beer with his dinner, he is informed that they have run out. Yet again, David has drank the hotel bar dry on our first night.

By the time I get half way through the meal, I am in agony with back pain, most probably from the lack of support on the plane. We decide to go for a walk before bed, and stroll along the promenade and through the deserted streets around the hotel. The only people we come across are lovers snuggled up on concrete benches and security guards with snarling dogs outside large metal gates. We sit for a while listening to the waves and watching men with torches search for food (snails? whelks?) on the rocky shoreline.

And so ends the first day of our São Tomé trip as arranged by Undiscovered Destinations. So far so good.


Posted by Grete Howard 13:12 Archived in Sao Tome and Principe Tagged beer hotel africa pool ghana lisbon portugal accra miramar tap carpaccio sao_tome tap_airways hotel_miramar carpaccio_of_fish Comments (3)

Bristol - London - Lisbon

A painful start

-50 °C
View São Tomé and Príncipe 2018 - the Lost Islands in the Centre of the World on Grete Howard's travel map.

“Where are you going?” I laugh at the question, not because it is stupid or even funny, but in anticipation of the reaction when I tell them “São Tomé & Principe” (pronounced something like sang tomere ee prisp, with the emphasis on the last syllable). As usual I receive a blank stare in response. “Where's that?”

It is a reaction we are familiar with, however, as we do tend to favour the path less trodden over the mass-tourism destinations, and have travelled to a good few 'unknown' places over the years. São Tomé & Principe is no exception.

A former Portuguese colony, the island nation of São Tomé and Principe can pretty much be described as being situated in the centre of the world: the closest landmass to the point where the Equator and the Meridian meet, some 200 km off the west African coast.


As with most of these virtually unknown and little visited destinations, São Tomé is not an easy place to get to. We start our journey at Heathrow for a short flight to Lisbon.

Check in

As seems to be the norm these days, we are asked to print our own luggage tags using the automated machines at the airport. I explain to the chap directing the flow of passengers that we have tickets all the way to São Tomé, but would like to collect our bags in Lisbon as we are staying overnight there. “Go and see the man on the Help Desk”.

'Help Desk' is somewhat of a misnomer: as we approach the elderly gentleman barely looks up while spitting out a brusque “You need to check in on that machine”. I try to explain “We were told to come here...” Without enquiring why, or even letting me finish the sentence, he barks: “Check in there” while pointing at the nearest machine (which incidentally is out of order). Once again I start to explain and am interrupted, but eventually he has to concede and takes our passports without another word.

By this time Mr Officious is obviously stressed at the thought of having to do some work, and types away furiously on his keyboard. I have to repeat our destination several times. He flicks through every page in my passport before asking about visas. I show him my e-visa which I thankfully applied for after checking various websites and getting completely conflicting information (even the agents in STP did not know the definitive answer, the Foreign Office website said we didn't need one, whereas the Bradt travel guide said to ignore the FO site as they were out of date and to obtain a visa prior to travel). I guess that is one of the hazards of having a Norwegian passport, not many people from Norway travel to São Tomé via London. Now extremely flustered, Mr Officious stares at the piece of paper, which is mostly in Portuguese, trying to make out the dates. He then struggles to read the flight detail on the screen and I eventually have to lean across and point to the dates and assure him that “yes, we are only travelling for a week, and yes, the dates on the visa correspond with the dates of our travel”. Still not convinced, he goes off to check with the girl on the check-in desk. More furious typing ensues when he gets back, followed by an even more frazzled look. We go over the dates again.


Next our transit in Accra is questioned (he pronounces it “ack-rah”, with the emphasis on the 'ahh' at the end, making it sound more like 'Prague' as he mostly mutters under his breath by now). “Where is your visa?” Groan. We are only there for 45 minutes, I doubt if we will even be allowed to leave the plane. He looks at the flight details on the screen again and states “It's OK, you are only in transit”.

Finally satisfied that we are fit for travel, he prints our baggage tags. Or tries to. The printer jams and he has to start all over again from the beginning. On his forehead little beads of sweat are appearing. “Chug chug chug” says the machine, then silence. With shaking hands, and his face a dark shade of crimson, he pulls out the jammed labels and tears them up. His breathing is so laboured I fear he is going to have a heart attack. “Go to the desk” he grunts, pointing to the young girl who answered his questions earlier. With great relief, both for us and him, we leave Mr Personalityless behind and make our way to the baggage drop-off desk.

Smiling sweetly, she takes our bags, checks us in, gives us our baggage tags and boarding cards and wishes us a pleasant flight. If only everything in life could be as easy as that!

Apart from being pulled aside at Security and given a pat down and swabbed for explosives, the rest of our airport experience is uneventful.

Fish and chips at the airport

Milkshake served in a miniature milk bottle

Heathrow - Lisbon

The TAP Portugal flight leaves 1½ hour late, and is thankfully not full as the legroom is minimal and comfort non-existent. We have arranged for the owner of the apartment where we are staying tonight to pick us up from the aiport in Lisbon, which she duly does. A delightful girl, with excellent English, she drives us the short distance to an unassuming, dull-looking block of flats.

Lisbon Woods House

On the second floor, the apartment is small but delightful, and has everything we need for this very short stay. As we are required to be back at the airport in six hours' time, we go straight to bed, leg one of the journey completed.



Posted by Grete Howard 03:57 Archived in Portugal Tagged flight visa lisbon heathrow tap air_portugal sao_tome check_in Comments (3)

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